The LEGO games are famous for their humorous adaptations of popular movie properties and comic book characters, but in more recent times developers TT Games and TT Fusion have begun creating their own LEGO adventures. This year's LEGO Worlds saw the franchise's detailed take on Minecraft, and only a month later the distinguished brick's first completely new story has made its way to the PlayStation 4. LEGO City Undercover was originally released on the Wii U back in 2013, and at the time was heralded as one of the system's best exclusives. Four years later, can the title reach those same heights?
You don the badge of police officer Chase McCain, who has returned to LEGO City to fix the wave of crime spreading across its streets. McCain's arch enemy Rex Fury is the villain behind it all, and with the added incentive of rekindling an old flame with ex-girlfriend Natalia Kowalski, Chase sets out to rid the city of evil.
Without an already existing license to pull from, LEGO City Undercover relies on bringing its story to life with a copious amount of jokes, clichés, and references. The plot itself takes you on a bonkers ride that wouldn't look too out of place in a James Bond or Mission Impossible film, and this is then supplemented by the character of Chase McCain whose quick-witted personality and cheesy dad jokes help to turn everything into more of a parody of older crime fighting movies, rather than a serious detective report. And with the supporting cast putting just as much effort into making every pun and one-liner hit, TT Games has crafted a tale full to the brim with humour that will have kids laughing and parents chuckling as some gags fly straight over their child's head.
Chase McCain's policing duties play out almost exactly the same as in every LEGO game that has proceeded this one, but with a slight open world twist. The sandbox is more of a backdrop to the main missions which take place in separate, self-contained areas where you'll carry out the typical tropes of a LEGO game, including beating up henchmen, gathering bricks, and solving puzzles via either breaking or repairing objects in the environment. In this aspect, LEGO City Undercover fails to provide any real innovation and instead decides to stick to its tried and tested formula - something that's become far too stagnant for some players over the past few years.
In true LEGO game fashion, you can dress up Mr McCain in a number of different outfits and play as someone entirely different. McCain's wardrobe includes his typical police uniform which gives him access to a grappling hook and a detective and criminal scan, an astronaut outfit which comes with a jet pack and a laser gun, and a fireman attire which comes equipped with a fire extinguisher and the ability to save cats. As well as a number of other ensembles for McCain, you can also play the game as a mammoth 290 other characters.
While LEGO City Undercover remains true to its roots in a number of ways, its open-world allows the franchise to expand a little. The game features over 20 different districts which take inspiration from cities throughout America, and within these are a number of hidden areas and secrets to discover. Side quests can also be found dotted around the world and these have you doing all manner of things, from taking part in a cop car chase to launching pigs back to their farm with a cannon. The elusive gold brick also makes its return, with 450 to collect throughout LEGO City. Regular LEGO bricks can also be collected and traded in at super build points which when constructed allow you to call upon any vehicle that you have unlocked. The story itself can be completed in around 15 hours, but with this amount of side content on offer, you can add another 10 to that playtime.
The original Wii U version of LEGO City Undercover didn't come with any sort of co-operative feature, but this has been implemented into the current-gen re-release. However, it all feels a little tacked on, as upon a second player joining the game, they're treated to a simple palette swap of Chase McCain and nothing else. They're simply a bonus, with the game continuing as it would if there was only one character on screen, rather than taking advantage of the second player's presence. We guess that the co-op inclusion is neat, but it's only there to bring the title up to the standard set by previous LEGO games.
However, the main offender of this package is its frequent load times, which can last up to a minute. Needless to say, they completely pull you out of the experience and can become incredibly frustrating when you're greeted by one every five to ten minutes. This was also a problem in the Wii U version, and so it's disappointing to see that it still exists in this enhanced port. Elsewhere, the technical side of things fares a little better. The game runs at a smooth 30 frames per second, and while the graphics haven't been touched, it still reaches an acceptable visual benchmark.
It's easy to see why some would outright dismiss LEGO City Undercover purely on the basis of it being a LEGO game. The formula has gotten a bit too stale over the years, so if you're looking for something fresh in the LEGO universe, Chase McCain's adventure won't satisfy you. But if you're still interested in some brick hunting and cop action - and you can look past some awful load times - then LEGO City Undercover will serve you nicely. Its charm, humour, and open world nature was, for the most part, enough to win us over.