Game Title: LEGO City Undercover
Developer: TT Fusion, Warner Bros
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Download: 7.6 GB
Availability: Retail (North America, Europe), Digital (North America, Europe)
Battery Life: 2.5 – 4.5 Hours
Supported Modes: TV, Tabletop, Handheld
Lego games have been a pleasure of mine for quite some time. On the PSP, I spent dozens of hours into Lego Star Wars 2. On the Vita, it skyrocketed through Lego Marvel, Avengers, Batman 2 and 3, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Star Wars TFA, and the list just keeps going and going. You could say that I am almost a fanatic when it comes to handheld LEGO games, considering I still have yet to play a console Lego game outside of Lego Star Wars 2 back on the PlayStation 2 and if you don’t count playing the Vita games on a PlayStation TV.
Now that the Nintendo Switch is melding console and handheld gaming, we can look forward to much more extensive and in-depth LEGO experiences on the go. The Lego PSP games didn’t have any open world or sandbox elements, and only a single PS Vita LEGO game had it, which was LEGO Marvel’s Avengers. As great as it was, its size pales in comparison to true open world LEGO games.
In comes the newest LEGO game to join the handheld world. Having been ported and enhanced from Wii U to consoles, here is my review of the so-called “Lego version of Grand Theft Auto”, LEGO City Undercover!
Undercover adapts the many play-sets dubbed “LEGO City” from the real-world into a world of its own. You play as a policeman named Chase McCain, whom was transferred away from LEGO City PD after bringing down a huge criminal and accidentally revealing a witness’ identify on live TV. However, when said criminal escapes from prison, they bring him back in order to track him down and put him back behind bars.
The story of Undercover can be more defined by saying that it is a giant love letter to action movies and science fiction movies. Across the game’s various story chapters, there are always big references to all kinds of movies and video games. Off the top of my head, I recall deliberate references to Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Metal Gear Solid, The Shawshank Redemption, and pretty much every Arnold Schwarzenegger of all time. (I’m not kidding. They make references in one story level to at least a dozen of his movies, from Jingle All the Way and Twins to Predator and Pumping Iron).
These two factors really come in nicely. You’ve got the serious crime tone of the actual story along with constant laughter from all the references and tongue-in-cheek humor. Any Shawshank fan just can’t hate a game that has a Morgan Freeman lookalike that freaks out in-game about Morgan Freeman’s lawyers listening in on them and worrying about being sued.
LEGO City Undercover is an action-adventure game like any other LEGO game. However, it is also an open-world sandbox game made in the image of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. So, while many LEGO games do have open-world elements with large hubs, LEGO City Undercover is a true open-world game where the majority of missions are built around the open world itself, as opposed to always being in enclosed areas.
Progression goes between exploring the Open World and going towards story objectives that are labeled on your map. In this way, the game mimics the gameplay of the GTA series. You are placed on this giant map and can “steal” any car that’s driving down the road simply by walking up to it and jumping in. You can drive vehicles like cars and motorcycles, boats and aircraft , trains, animals like pigs and horses, and even disability vehicles like wheelchairs you can grab and drive. And, like GTA, you can drive any of these vehicles into others to destroy them (I tested this by destroying a bus with a wheelchair, which turned out hilariously well).
What all you choose to do is up to you. The first half of the open world is available to you until you get through the first 4 or 5 hours and then the second half opens up. But on the open world itself, you have story objectives, but you also have a lot of secrets, side missions, and collectibles to go find. Most of these will be in locked areas you cannot access until you get a new power from Story Mode (some locked until post-game)
If you choose to do Story, which you inevitably will have to do to unlock powers for the majority of the game’s secrets, you will have story objectives that you can either travel to or will need to build transportation to. Many of the areas may require a Ferry to travel to, or a Bridge you need to build to cross over to the Dojo. This is where currency comes into play, which is a bit different from previous games.
In most LEGO games, you have one currency: Studs, which are used to purchase unlockable characters, extra Gold Bricks for completion, and new vehicles. This game also has Bricks that drop from special collectibles littered around the open world and from destroyed objects/vehicles. These are used for Super Builds, which will make all of these bridges, vehicle spawn points, ferries, and other big objects you need to advance the story.
Eventually, this will incorporate exploring the open world into your story progression. Finish a Story Mission, and then you need 20,000 bricks for a bridge to access the next Story Mission, so you go around and collect bricks until you have enough to make said bridge and advance the story some more. That way, you can’t just power-play the story without being introduced to the exploration elements that the open world has to offer.
Though missions is where things can differ. Some story missions have you in the open world, like driving a police truck back to the station while being pursued by robbers, while many of the others are in large, enclosed areas like a Fire Department, Apartment Buildings, or Underwater complexes. That is the main and pretty much only time you’re taken out of the sandbox and put into an enclosed environment, though you access these areas via the open world, so the integration is still there.
Navigating these missions is pretty on-par with what previous LEGO games had. Outside of the open-world missions, you’ll be inside an enclosed set of areas where you have objectives. These are normally either navigating an area or opening new areas to be able to access whatever you’re there for. Puzzles and Combat both come into play here, and they’re all around the different character types you get, which are called “Disguises” for Chase, each with their own powers. Police Disguises let you use a grapple gun, Robber Disguises let you break into buildings, and there are others like the Fireman Disguise with an Axe for breaking down blockades.
This back-and-forth goes on for about 17-20 hours until the story ends. I did exploration every so often and I cleared the story after a little over 17 hours of gameplay. Once you get the story done, Post-Game opens up. There are a lot of areas and a lot of hidden collectibles that do not become available until you hit post-game and unlock the main villain as a disguise. That is when the game really starts to get lengthy, because when I cleared the story, I was around 24% completion and got to 30% after about 2 hours of exploration and replaying old story missions with new powers. So, there’s A LOT to do.
Controlling the game is pretty nice and optimized. The only downer is the fact that you need 2 sets of joycons to do the in-game co-op. TT Fusion and WB came out not long ago, as they found no comfortable way to explore a 3D sandbox game with a single joycon (basically without a second analog stick to control the camera), especially since single player play uses almost every button on the Switch.
The Left Analog Stick is used to move around environments and the Right Analog Stick is used to move the camera. The D-Pad / Directional Buttons are used for your Data Pad for the camera, taking calls during Story Mode, and using Scanning to eavesdrop on conversations or to find hidden Lego Bricks. Then the four triggers are also used. L is used for honking the horn for vehicles and R is used for hopping while you’re driving. They’re also used for swapping the equipped disguise. ZL is used for the Brakes and ZR is used to Accelerate (Or Descending and Ascending in Aircraft).
Finally, the face buttons. A is used to interact with objects and B is used for jumping. X is used for pulling up the Character Palette to swap to a specific disguise, and Y is used for melee attacks. Finally, the + button brings up the Pause Menu (and allows a second character to join in) and the – button pulls up the map. So, given the fact that literally every button is used, you can see how TT Fusion had issues getting Single Joy Con Co-Op to work.
Ah, presentation. Here’s where my nitpicks are going to be. First off, the game looks very nice, visually. There are virtually no imperfections in character models. A few tiny jaggies in Handheld Mode, but nothing that notice-able.
First, let’s talk about music. When you’re in a mission, you have very colorful music that really fits the action theme of the game. However, when you’re exploring the open-world, you don’t have ANY music at all. And that’s one thing that really is a downer for me. When you’re in GTA, you have the radio as you’re cruising through Los Santos or Vice City, but in LEGO City, you get sound effects and nothing else.
Next, let’s talk load times. Loading the sandbox and missions can vary. I’ve had loading sequences that ranged from 25 seconds to a full minute, most of which were more around 25-30 seconds. But still, that’s a long time to wait for a static screen, especially in handheld mode.
Next, the long-discussed Frame-Rate. LEGO City Undercover runs at a native fps of 30, but will often drop to around 25 when exploring the open world. This is a constant, whether you’re in Docked Mode or Handheld Mode, and whether you have Airplane Mode on or off. It’s nothing that’s going to make the game unplayable, but the fact that it’s not constant isn’t a great way to start your game. Hopefully, TT Fusions can patch it like Nintendo did for Breath of the Wild.
And while I’d like to say those are all the problems, they aren’t. LEGO City Undercover has a habit of crashing, both in handheld and docked modes. During my first couple hours of playing the game, it crashed on me three times, but then was fine for the next 16 hours or so, but it’s crashed twice for me since I hit post-game. It’s something to really look for and it’s not triggered by a specific event. Sometimes, it crashes when accessing the Helipad for Aircraft while other times you’re just roaming around and it crashes.
As far as battery goes, I’m fairly happy with the results. You’ll get more battery than Zelda, but instead of talking about it, let’s just show you the results. Here are the Battery Times from 100% to 0%:
• Max Brightess + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 46 minutes
• Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 03 minutes
• Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 9 minutes
• Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 26 minutes
The great thing is that you can squeeze about 4 and a half hours out of the game and the fact that most environments are bright means you can use it comfortably in non-cloudy weather. It’s not the best the Switch has seen but it’s far from the worst.
In conclusion, LEGO City Undercover is a great “GTA for the Family” game crammed with content that’ll take dozens of hours to complete. The Switch version is quite glitchy with its loading times, frame drops, crashing, and lack of overworld music, but any handheld LEGO fan would be a fool not to grab this gem.