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Lego City Undercover on Switch holds up well against PS4

It’s been fascinating to see just how well Nintendo’s Switch has adapted to existing engine technologies. So far we’ve seen the machine cope admirably with Unreal Engine 4 and Unity, and we were curious to see how the Traveller’s Tales Lego engine holds up. Lego City Undercover is actually a four-year-old Wii U release, recently revamped with the latest version of the Lego engine and now available on PS4, Xbox One – and of course, Switch.

The core gameplay remains much the same as it was back in 2013 on Nintendo’s last machine, but the Lego titles do feel somewhat timeless: on current-gen systems, this release still feels fun and fresh and the comedy is evergreen. From a technical perspective, Traveller’s Tales and co-development studio TT Fusion might have been tempted to roll out a straight Wii U port for Switch – it’s not as if we’re short of them on the platform – but in fact, the latest Nintendo machine has most of the feature-set of the PS4 and Xbox One releases, with a couple of surprises in places.

For the most part, Switch dials back on some visual elements – as you would expect from a less powerful piece of hardware. However, the developer mixes and matches level of detail settings, so while PS4 and Xbox One are typically richer from a visual perspective, there are some surprises – mesh fences draw in sooner on Nintendo’s machine, for example. Then there’s resolution: Switch in docked mode is a match for PlayStation 4’s full 1080p (it’s native 720p on the go) but curiously, the Xbox One release uses anamorphic pixels, meaning a sub-native horizontal pixel count. Resolution is only one element of a game’s visual make-up –
and to be clear, the Xbox release is preferable to Switch overall – but the fact that the Nintendo version is seemingly pumping out more pixels than Xbox One is something we didn’t expect to see going in.

Lego City Undercover’s 2017 revamp also gives us some indication of how far the engine technology has moved on in the last four years. The lighting system is completely revamped, with a move to physically-based rendering. The effect on the game is transformative in this respect, and the inclusion of more refined ambient occlusion adds subtle depths to the nooks and crannies too. The effects pipeline, the quality of the shaders, the detail in the core art assets and normal maps – everything gets a substantial upgrade. With Lego City Undercover essentially re-architected for a more modern engine, there are other enhancements too: moving out of the centre of Lego City, more of an attempt has been made to show far-off detail in the game areas.