Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

LEGO City Undercover

Review: LEGO City Undercover

11:00 AM on 03.11.2013 // Jim Sterling

Once around the block

TT Games has enjoyed years of success turning licensed properties into LEGO adventures. In many ways, it seems like quite an easy gig -- simply take an existing license, be it Batman or Lord of the Rings, and give it a makeover with colorful bricks and slapstick humor. What could be simpler? What, indeed, could go wrong?

Considering it sits comfortably on a sweet gravy train, one has to respect TT for being bold enough to eschew an established license and try something more original with LEGO City Undercover. Based instead on one of LEGO's own toylines, TT has more creative freedom than once it did -- but with that freedom comes a greater accountability and less brand recognition, as well as a need to craft its own story, characters, and universe with which to succeed. 

Fortunately for TT, the gamble paid off. Mostly.

LEGO City Undercover (Wii U)
Developer: TT Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: March 18, 2013
MSRP: $49.99

LEGO City Undercover takes place in an original open-sandbox world, marking the first big departure from previous LEGO games (though the groundwork was laid in LEGO Batman 2). As maverick cop Chaise McCain, players have free run of the titular LEGO City, a sprawling world of color and distraction, littered with pedestrians to laugh at, cars to commandeer, and collectibles to nab. It's a reasonably large playground, bustling with plenty of life and no small amount of personality.

Taking some cues from the likes of Grand Theft Auto and L.A. Noire, McCain roams the city in his search for fugitive criminal Rex Fury, taking on missions and posing as a crook himself to infiltrate LEGO City's underworld and get closer to the target. Undercover's story is littered with silly humor, and even manages to crack a few jokes that made me laugh out loud. A supporting cast of lunatics and hammy villains, not to mention a variety of movie spoofs designed to fly right over the heads of younger players, make for a presentation guaranteed to at least raise a smirk or two. 

Presentation is easily Undercover's strongest suite. Its got a great vocal cast, further confirming what a wise decision TT made when it stopped relying solely on visual gags, and an excellent soundtrack consisting of both licensed and original music. LEGO City itself is well designed, and littered with things to collect, building bricks to earn, and "Super Build" constructions upon which to spend them. The ten-hour campaign alone will unlock tons of vehicles and costumes, with hours and hours more on top of that to really keep one invested. The sandbox approach makes for a more dynamic and endearing environment, aided by the ability to jump from car to car, destroy scenery, and ride about on animals.  

It is a bit of a shame, then, that much of LEGO City Undercover's freshness is to be found solely in this surface-level presentation. When it comes time to engage in the game's story mode and actually complete missions, things quickly fall back into the familiar format established in pretty much every other LEGO game. Early missions involve chases through the city and GamePad-infused detective work, but these unique additions largely give way to the same old structure of going from room to room to break things, build things, and complete rudimentary tasks masquerading as puzzles.

It's not as if the gameplay is bad, but it's a lot more familiar than first impressions promise, as L.A. Noire-style pursuits and Assassin's Creed-flavored rooftop acrobatics diminish in importance to make way for yet another walled playground of simplistic brick-based hurdles. After a while, LEGO City Undercover is less a sandbox LEGO adventure, and more of an old-fashioned LEGO adventure interrupted by sandbox elements. This is a disappointment, but fortunately the classic framework is still robust enough to make for a consistently entertaining time. 

True to its name, Undercover is all about using disguises to get ahead. Over the course of the campaign, Chase will unlock a variety of costumes with their own unique skills. As a robber, he can use a crowbar to open doors, as a farmer he can water potted plants to create climbable surfaces, and as a fireman he can break down barricaded doors with an axe. Quickly switching between these costumes is key to getting through most levels, and naturally each one can be replayed later once players have a full wardrobe, should they wish to reach previously inaccessible areas. It's all clearly signposted, simplistic, child-friendly stuff -- though nonetheless as cathartic and satisfying as all LEGO games tend to be.

When it's not treading old ground, Undercover does genuinely please with its new ideas. Whether scaling buildings and performing free-running stunts using simple contextual button presses, tossing foes to the ground and slapping cuffs on them, or spying on unwitting criminals, players get to really have some fun out on the streets. The GamePad is used sparingly and wisely -- mostly to house the map, but occasionally called upon to scan the area for hidden items or secretive dialog. Performing these tasks is as easy as holding the controller up, moving it to the required position, and pressing a button to scan. Not exactly groundbreaking, but as pleasantly unobtrusive a mechanic as one can hope for.

The game is at its best when McCain is simply cruising the streets between missions, looking for pigs to fire out of cannons, stunt ramps to ride off, or previously blocked areas that new costumes can access. The controls for driving are stiff enough to give it that "LEGO" feel while remaining elegant enough to stay fun in spite of the mild chaos. Undercover's emphasis on destroying the environment to maintain a score multiplier and earn more building bricks helps balance out any excessive stiffness in the controls -- even if you're in a car that's skidding out of control, you're likely to still be rewarded for it. 

Controls are a little less pleasing during missions at times, with a few random and dodgy animations sometimes having Chase fall off ledges or miss platforms through no fault of the player. These instances aren't regular enough to ruin the experience, but do provide occasional irritants throughout. As with any LEGO game, animations are exuberant and physics are over the top -- certainly delightful from a stylistic angle, not always the best choice from a practical one. 

A few technical limitations also hold the experience back. Some of the loading times between exterior and interior environments can be agitating in their length, and framerate dips are a common occurrence while navigating the city streets. The slow movement of manual camera controls -- with no option to tweak the sensitivity -- is also a frequent pain. As with every other downside to this game, none of it's a dealbreaker, it's just a bit of a letdown in an otherwise charming package. 

For all its faults, charming is absolutely the word best describing LEGO City Undercover. While more could have been done to exploit the sandbox scenario, and while it sticks a bit too nervously to formula than it could have, Undercover is nonetheless a frequently pleasurable, occasionally hilarious little romp in a new LEGO world full of potential. Should TT Games get another chance to revisit this idea, I hope for -- and expect -- a lot more of an expansion on the concept, and a lot more focus on the fresh elements that provide Undercover's highest points. As for this first try, we have a pretty damn good effort that I'd love to see more of. 

It is, as they say, a noble start -- the first brick, if you will, in what could become a most piquant creation.



LEGO City Undercover - Reviewed by Jim Sterling
Likable - That's a seven, which is actually a different number than five. It's more than ok. We like this game. I don't want to play it every day forever and ever, but it's definitely worth the time I invested in it, and I'll be picking it up again to relive the fun sometime down the line.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
 Follow Blog + disclosure JimSterling Tips
Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

destructoid's previous coverage:
LEGO City Undercover

  Feb 26

No license? No problem! LEGO City: Undercover preview

From a stuctured experience to an open world

  Feb 04

LEGO City Undercover assembles a new trailer

The basic story unfolds in this video

View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:

Please contact Crave Online, thanks!

So I Got a 3DS

Negotiations are over. Rainbow Six Siege is a no buy from me as of now.

Cheat Codes Podcast - Ep. 72: Sexy Dog

Meesa Back! (or, here, or something.) Dev Log #1

Cblogs of 11/23/2015 + Sexuality in Videogames

Better with Age: Classic Games Just Look Better... For Now


Secret Santa with your favorite Destructoid ho-ho-hoes!

An overdue, informal introduction

Obligatory Introduction

 Add your impressions

Status updates from C-bloggers

SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
Why is every Quickpost now spaced out like poems with random amounts of stanzas that never ever rhyme?
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
Was anybody else here extremely disappointed by the ending of Assassin's Creed 2?
Parismio avatarParismio
Just tried Fallout 4 on my PC Via my Cousins steam account and nope, it does not run for me very well. Buying the PS4 version it is!
OrochiLeona avatarOrochiLeona
You know who never took any shit from anybody? Dr. Blight.
Terry 309 avatarTerry 309
Am I the only one who has to pull up their sleeves to play competantly at videogames? When my hoodie's sleeves are down I play like a piece of shit but when i pull them up, I have more flexibility.
Shinta avatarShinta
PSA: Just picked up Falco amiibo at Best Buy. They had about 20 Tom Nook, 10 singles of Splatoon Boy/Girl, the Splatoon triple pack, about 30 Marths with a big sign saying "Look Who's Back!," Dark Pit, and probably about 15 others. Not too shabby.
Fenriff avatarFenriff
I long for the day that people get over their weird circle jerk hatred for FFXIII related things and just ignore things they don't care about.
Rad Party God avatarRad Party God
I'm upgrading my PC on the cheap and I'm going with AMD, out of these two CPUs, wich one is better?, A8-7650K or FX-6300?
Logeon avatarLogeon
Huh, I think we broke LightningFarron19, you guys.
Archelon avatarArchelon
KeithTheGeek avatarKeithTheGeek
Being a video game-focused website, it's not often I get to gush about Godzilla. So have a link to one of my favorite tracks in the entire series:
ChrisHannard avatarChrisHannard
Fallout 4 really does bring back memories. Specifically, memories of finding unlikely loot on a animal's corpse. I'm just grateful that Bloatfly didn't know how to use that 15 pound flamethrower it was apparently carrying in its bum bag.
LinkSlayer64 avatarLinkSlayer64
I no longer require seasoning for my Thanksgiving dinner because between the Lightning post here and Undertale beating Fallout 3 in the "best game" vote on GameFAQs, I have all the salt I need. (Image) [img][/img]
Sir Shenanigans avatarSir Shenanigans
ikiryou avatarikiryou
Pfft, who needs context. [img][/img]
voex avatarvoex
Yeah...fuck the NES Castlevanias! Think I'll skip straight to Symphony of the Night.
SirDavies avatarSirDavies
No more heroes. Wii or PS3 version?
Amna Umen avatarAmna Umen
Thanks for that Mother 4 article yesterday I've been listening to nothing but GBA-era soundtracks, truly my golden years of gaming.
GoofierBrute avatarGoofierBrute
If you stop to think about it, Thanksgiving is basically #Darksiders2: The Holiday.
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Your daily reminder that my band can beat up your band.
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -