Review: Lego City Undercover — Amazing despite technical limitations

Lego City Undercover has to be the best Lego game in recent years due to its sprawling open-world design. The title puts you in the shoes of Chase McCain, a police officer sent away from Lego City a few years prior to the events of the game. McCain returns at the request of the mayor because the place he loves is suffering from an extreme crime wave. McCain’s archenemy, the villainous Rex Fury, seems to be behind it. Mayor Gleeson entrusts Chase to find him and bring him to justice once again.

Lego City Undercover has to be the best Lego game in recent years

The majority of Lego City Undercover focuses on hunting down Rex Fury, but there are subplots like trying to make amends with Natalia Kowalski, McCain’s ex-girlfriend who was forced into witness protection after he accidentally revealed her identity on national television. There are also numerous side quests and other challenges to keep players busy for hours. While Lego City Undercover may not have made a substantial technical leap to next-generation consoles, the game still retains its appeal and charm.

Even in an open world environment, the core Lego gameplay remains the same. Players must repurpose existing Lego structures to come up with ingenious solutions to pressing problems. For example, how do you get the Police Chief’s attention? Well, you break apart his cupboard and turn it into a boombox. Lego City Undercover has an over-the-top and hilarious tone just like other games in the franchise. It doesn’t appear as though Lego City Undercover uses random audio clips like other Lego games so the voice acting helps it stand out. For example, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens seems as though it just took sound bites from the film and randomly integrated them into the game. Lego City Undercover has proper and stellar voice acting which elevates it above other Lego games when you take into account the freedom of exploration the title offers.

Lego City Undercover has stellar voice acting which elevates it above other Lego games

Every Lego game allows players to swap out their character, but in Lego City Undercover the ability plays an integral part to the story. Instead of playing as other characters, you have different disguises that serve you well when you’re trying to fit in among a group of criminals or in a particular setting. As the title suggests, you have to go undercover and you need disguises to do that! It’s an interesting twist to the staple mechanic.

Chase McCain is still a police officer and has other tools at his disposal. Scanning for footprints, criminals and evidence plays an important role in the game. Apart from tracking down Rex Fury, you have to capture many other perpetrators and need these tools. For example, early on in the game you gain the ability to send images back to headquarters of suspected criminals. You have to scan a number of people in order to identify who you have to arrest. The fact that Lego City Undercover incorporates actual police work—despite the fantastical elements—adds another layer to an already great game.

You’re playing an Xbox 360 game for Xbox One prices

Lego City Undercover released as a Wii U exclusive in 2013 so it’s understandable why it may not look stunning on new devices. However, the developers could’ve put in more work to make the title stand out like Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Xbox One. The game costs $60 on consoles so it should look the part for a game coming out in 2017. It doesn’t though and gamers will be disappointed because of that. You’re playing a title that looks like it’s on Xbox 360 but you have to pay Xbox One prices. Visuals don’t matter more than gameplay but there’s still a certain standard you expect for next-generation machines.

Lego City Undercover runs smoothly on Xbox One but there are some noticeable frame rate drops when you’re driving around and exploring the open world. One of the strangest issues pertains to indoor and outdoor environments. When you’re inside, the frame rate is locked at 60 FPS. When you’re outside, the frame rate is locked at 30 FPS. Gamers will appreciate the 60 FPS chunks but it’s a little jarring to witness the transition again and over. Since this is a remaster of a Wii U game, the entire experience should run at 60 FPS on consoles. This is another example of a lack of optimization which doesn’t utilize the power of the Xbox One well.

Transition to next-generation hardware isn’t the leap gamers were expecting

Overall, Lego City Undercover is an amazing game despite the fact that the transition to next-generation hardware isn’t the leap gamers were expecting. The title still looks like the Wii U version, especially when it comes to lighting. Had the game not suffered from a somewhat blurry visual presentation on Xbox One and exhibited an improved frame rate, it would’ve easily been one of the best open world games available on the console. Unfortunately, technical limitations bring an otherwise amazing experience down.

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