Grand Theft Auto has evolved a lot over the years. Nowadays, it’s mainly known as a humongous open-world multiplayer game, but that was only sometimes the case.
My relationship with the game started when it transitioned from relatively simple gameplay to its trademark 3D sandbox style. This change happened with Grand Theft Auto III, which I spent many days dreaming about in class as I couldn’t wait to go home and dive back into it.
Many of the game’s fans and critics focused on how the game allowed players to live out their most destructive fantasies of violence and mayhem. While that was a lot of fun, I loved the game’s story more. It followed a silent protagonist after his girlfriend betrayed him following a heist. The protagonist then worked through the ranks of the city’s various criminal outfits to get revenge. The story was simple and well told, and I began to feel pride in the character’s journey.
These two elements, a strong story, and open-world urban gameplay, instantly made me a fan of the series. So it felt odd years later when those two same things are what also made me fall in love with LEGO City Undercover.
LEGO City Undercover came out at a time when LEGO games were beginning to transition from fairly simple formats to something a bit more complex. Early LEGO games had no voice actors, but LEGO City Undercover went all in on creating an intricate plotline that could rival any big-budget Hollywood crime movie.
The only difference was that the tone of the story fell perfectly in line with LEGO’s childish humor. Besides the plot, though, I sometimes got lost just driving around the city and causing mayhem like any other Grand Theft Auto game. Yet it somehow felt even more satisfying destroying cars and buildings when they collapse into LEGO bricks rather than a flaming pile of rubble.
There’s something gritty about GTA that’s difficult to replicate. Plenty of games have tried to create an open-world sandbox experience involving crime in an urban setting. The problem is that GTA takes a very laid-back approach to its intense subject matter that’s hard to match, but LEGO was created to be laid back.
So while other games were just too serious when it came to depicting crime and criminals, LEGO City Undercover was able to quite easily deliver the feeling of GTA but with LEGO’s trademark kookiness.
- Strong protagonists
- Full-fleshed out backstory
- Urban/Crime Environment
- Open World Gameplay
- Fun/carefree tone.
- Targeted demographic (GTA is NOT for kids)
- Length of play (GTA is longer)
- Zaniness (GTA is fun, but LEGO is a whole other level of quirky)
- Attitudes toward sex
Lego GTA Game Explained
One of the main and obvious differences between Grand Theft Auto and LEGO City Undercover is that GTA is really about criminals, while the protagonist of LEGO City Undercover is a cop. There are a bunch of reasons for this, the main one being that a LEGO game is supposed to be for kids.
So it wouldn’t make much sense to have a kid committing crimes. Fortunately, LEGO City Undercover’s protagonist still aligns with the GTA tradition of having quick-witted, charismatic main characters.
His name is Chase McCain, and he is based on the rogue cop trope that movie lovers like myself grew up on. I always appreciate a good story, which is why I enjoy diving into LEGO games that are based on franchises that I’m already familiar with.
LEGO City Undercover’s story is completely original, but right from the start; I appreciate the work they put into Chase McCain’s character.
At the start of the game, he is returning to LEGO City after having been kicked off the police force for two years (which I’ll get into later). Chase isn’t some generic blank slate, either. He’s a fully fleshed-out character with an ex-girlfriend and undercover skills, which definitely come in handy throughout the game.
In a movie or life-like video game, Chase’s character would probably be met with disdain. He’s just such a stereotypical action-hero cop that even I would be annoyed seeing him on the big screen.
Fortunately, LEGO City Undercover’s goofy and tongue-in-cheek world is perfect for Chase, and he comes off as likable instead of contrived. It’s no wonder that he’s responsible for a lot of the game’s success.
What’s great about LEGO City Undercover’s storytelling is that it ties Chase McCain’s backstory directly into the game’s plot. Chase returns to LEGO City to recapture a criminal named Rex Fury, whom Chase arrested before the story’s start.
Having the game start with Chase’s return to the force immediately sets up a homecoming vibe reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto. Chase’s ego is already big, to begin with, so the fact that he has returned to lock up Rex sets the villain up as the perfect arch-enemy.
I’m also a fan of Chase’s journey throughout the game. One fun aspect of Grand Theft Auto is how a character upgrades his skill set and abilities over the course of the game. Chase goes through something similar after his initial encounter with Rex Fury ends in his defeat. He gets trained by a kung fu master/plumber to learn how to fight.
I love the pure ridiculousness of this situation that follows the formula of Grand Theft Auto while also embracing the absurdity that’s become synonymous with LEGO.
Perhaps the story’s biggest Grand Theft Auto plot point is when Chase has to go undercover to infiltrate Rex’s organization. This premise feels like a GTA development. It smartly allows the player to get the feel of what it’s like to be a criminal while not having crime as the ultimate goal.
An added benefit to the undercover nature of the game is the many costumes and skins that Chase gets to where. Personally, my favorite is the samurai warrior, although it doesn’t have as much practical application to get through the missions as the others.
Like most newer types of sandbox LEGO games, LEGO City Undercover essentially has two different types of gameplay modes. The first is a carryover from the older games: the missions.
Some of my older favorite LEGO games, such as first Batman, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars were all about the missions. They had a centralized tub where a player could roam, but for the most part, the missions were where the bulk of the action took place.
LEGO City Undercover’s missions are particularly fun as they have Chase McCain going undercover and investigating Rex Fury’s criminal activity. My favorite mission is the last, which has Chase McCain arrive on the moon. I love the James Bond Moonraker vibes that make the story so silly, as Chase and Rex fight using a giant mech suit and robot dinosaur.
However, where LEGO City Undercover really shines, and what I really love about the game, is the nonlinear gameplay that comes from having an open-world sandbox to roam. And this is how LEGO City Undercover reminds me of Grand Theft Auto.
Back when I had tons of free time and no responsibility in my youth, I remember just roaming the streets of GTA’s Liberty City, just getting into trouble any way I could. This kind of play allowed me to enjoy the game long after I finished its excellent story.
While the mischief and mayhem one can cause in GTA is certainly different than that of LEGO City Undercover, the idea behind the two games essentially remains the same. I can hijack, I mean “commandeer,” any vehicle and take it anywhere in the city. Joy riding includes crashing into any number of objects, reducing them to nothing more than piles of bricks in my wake.
But more than just endlessly wandering the city, there are tons of little extra gameplay features to occupy my time. These features include vehicle stunts and hidden collectible bricks. As a kid, I was obsessed with completing a game 100%, which requires players to find every last disguise, vehicle, and collectible the game has to offer. While I no longer have the time or drive to do that, LEGO City Undercover is special because I can pass that tradition down to my kids.
They also love to drive through the streets of LEGO City and just have a good time treating the city like a playground. And the great thing about this game is that it has localized co-op, so I can jump in with them anytime. There are also no restrictions on how far two characters can venture from each other within the city.
This freedom means my kids and I can play side by side while also doing our own thing. Of course, we can team up to complete a task together or jump into a mission. Old-school Grand Theft Auto games couldn’t allow that, but the new games thrive on multiplayer. So enjoying LEGO City Undercover with others aligns with that new GTA multiplayer tradition.
The Final Word
The bottom line is that hardcore Grand Theft Auto fans will probably not see any value in LEGO City Undercover. They love mayhem and destruction on a gratuitous level that LEGO City Undercover can’t replicate because of its targeted demographic.
However, gamers who love GTA for its freedom, which allows players to treat the city like a playground while getting into mischief, can appreciate what LEGO City Undercover has created. It is about as close to a LEGO Grand Theft Auto game as one can get, and if classic GTA fans like myself, who are now grown up with kids of their own, want to pass this kind of play on to the next generation, then I can’t think of any game more worthy of that role.
Other Games You May Enjoy
LEGO Batman 2
Although this game is older and may have dated graphics, it was the first real test of developing a sandbox play similar to LEGO City Underground.
The open-world, nonlinear gameplay from LEGO Batman 2 was expanded upon in this game, which had characters walk, fly, run, and swing through Manhattan. Even the X-Men Mansion in Northern New York was featured.
By the time Jurassic World came about, LEGO games were at the top of their game. This one featured an open world within the dinosaur theme park, allowing players to explore and play levels from all four movies.
Question: What GTA City is LEGO City most like?
Answer: Definitely Liberty City, which was featured in GTA 3 and GTA 4. It resembles New York, while San Andreas and Vice City resemble Los Angeles and Miami.
Question: Will LEGO ever do anything official with Grand Theft Auto?
Answer: That would be fun! But I doubt it. LEGO is ultimately a wholesome brand heavily geared toward children. I doubt they would want to be officially associated with something as adult-oriented and controversial as Grand Theft Auto
Question: Is there a LEGO City Undercover 2?
Answer: Unfortunately, no. Fans often share their desire for a sequel (I’m one of them), but there are no announced plans for a follow-up. However, the possibility is always on the table.