Traveller’s Tales brings its tried and tested Lego game formula to the world of undercover policing, and produces one of its most consistently enjoyable and amusing titles for quite some time. If there’s a famous cop-based drama or game set within a criminal underworld, Lego City Undercover will probably have a cheery pop at it, and the game is all the better for it. Yet the ghost of the game’s past haunts it, like a hefty evidence file on a dirty cop.
Lego games with open world areas have proved to be a mixed bag. In the majority of titles post-Lego Batman 2, they usually act as hubs to unrelated story missions, and are teeming with the kind of predictable filler that ruin the feel and flow open world should bring. There’s a disconnect between story and setting that dulls the enjoyment. Lego City Undercover is in the minority because it embraces its game world as a vital cog in its bright-bricked machine, even if it does continue with the slew of collectables and basic building to a similar degree.
It’s no surprise to hear, then, that the game’s original release on the frustratingly underwhelming Wii U saw it rightly revered for these reasons. By bringing it to other formats polished up a bit, the game is granted a much wider audience to appreciate it, whilst showing up other Lego games for the routine procedurals they are.
You play as a singular character in Lego City Undercover, rather than choosing from a wide selection as in other Lego games. That character is Chase McCain, a disgraced cop brought back into the fold to catch a master criminal he put behind bars once before. Lego City Undercover is a rarity in that it isn’t beholden to a license, so TT gets to go freeform with a template that is essentially ‘’Lego does crime procedural does GTA’’. The TT way of mocking and poking fun at pop culture references is alive and well though, almost immediately after you begin, the game is already having a sly dig by gleefully lampooning GTA IV’s intro scene set to ‘Walkin’ on Sunshine’, you’re introduced to the ‘protocol’ you’ll need to follow for solving crimes and busting perps in your hunt to recapture your nemesis. This protocol sees you learning about Chase’s various crime fighting abilities and tools. It’s much the same controls and interaction as any regular open world Lego game, but there are some tweaks and additions that help Undercover stand out.
Chase’s tools and abilities are an important addition in this regard, lending to the feeling of TT’s lighthearted skewering of cop-based drama. They all aid you in tracking and catching criminals in various ways. Scanners allow you to pick out ne’er-do-wells from the crowd for example, while elsewhere Chase can follow footprints to unearth clues (and, quite often, a ruddy grand special brick). One of our renegade cop’s best moves is his ability to jump from one vehicle to another whilst moving at high speed, like a simplified Pursuit Force recreated in brick form. Chase can also pick up disguises that come with their own special ability, from picking locks to teleportation.
It’s a simplistic setup, with little actual work going into puzzles and traversal that isn’t signposted heavily. That’s nothing new for Lego games, of course, but the sheer variety of things to do and ways to move make for a more engaging Lego game overall. On the movement side, there’s grappling to ledges, parkouring, tackling criminals and cuffing them to name but a few, and that variety, alongside the mission and exploration structure, prevents Lego City Undercover from falling into the usual pattern of ‘smash everything for points’ other Lego titles are almost honor-bound to do. It’s unfortunate that in the four years since the Wii U release, Lego fatigue has really set in, regardless of quality of the product (Lego Dimensions, Star Wars and Avengers all polished and tweaked the formula further in more traditional ways), and sadly that, along with the way games have moved on outside of Lego, means Undercover’s fresh, buoyant spin loses some of the impact it once held.
Further debilitating the reputation of Lego City Undercover are some minor technical issues that are of little consequence alone, but combine to aggravate and disappoint. Crashes occurred seven different occasions for me. Could be bad fortune, could be an inherent problem, but know that you’ll be playing Russian Roulette on that particular gripe. More concrete issues come in the form of the porting. While looking cleaner and sharper than the Wii U version, there’s a lot of evidence this was a game made for an inferior console. Textures haven’t really been buffed up, draw distance remains in the poor state it already was, and the loading times are often excruciating. Audio levels are inconsistent, with music overriding voices, and vice-versa, and this seems to be a by-product of the setup of the Wii U and its tablet-style gamepad having some audio going through . This is something that annoys me far more than any of the other grumbles I have because it would be so simple to just run that audio through the Dualshock 4’s speaker.
It all adds up to make it seem a little late in the day for Lego City Undercover to reemerge, looking for a second chance. There’s no denying it’s one of the best Lego titles of the past five years, but it should be treated as such in its porting to PS4. A touch more time and effort into cutting load times and updating draw distance at least would have made a big difference. Still, looking past these faults, you have a consistently funny open world Lego cop game that integrates said open world far better than any other Traveller’s Tales Lego title in memory. Viewed as the family game it is, it’s the best of what Lego games can be, but it has enough of the worst to make this less essential than it should have been.