Racing games are incredibly fun – especially when they lean towards the arcade style of things. I’ve never been a huge fan of the more sim-like racing experiences but sit me down in front of a title like Mario Kart or even the critically under-appreciated Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and you’ll see me filled to the brim with glee. Then, telling me that such an experience will one day involve LEGO? Christ, I’d have combusted.
Thankfully I have managed to avoid turning into a spontaneous pyre with the release of LEGO 2K Drive, if only because I am positive I’d have a ton of trouble continuing to play it as a pile of ashes. That’s the verdict – the game is so damn good it has convinced me to continue existing just so I can partake in its brick-based brilliance.
Thanks for the terrifying warning, Skeleton man
The game immediately throws you into a deep end of plastic playthings, with the premise that this world is one obsessed with racing – basically everything revolves around fast cars and the thrill of competition. You are the protagonist, a voiceless (and somewhat formless) new player on the block and lucky enough to be picked up by racing superstar Clutch Racington and his goofy robot assistant, S.T.U.D. (I see what they did there). With your mentor and personal assistant on board, the world is your racing oyster – a thrilling set of open zones that can be traversed at a breakneck pace however you please.
Each of these zones is beautifully rendered, melding the familiar brick-built elements with a slightly more grounded landscape. You see, not EVERYTHING is made from LEGO bricks – you will often pass mundane, everyday things strewn across these vistas – sort of suggesting that maybe this stellar adventure is taking place in the real world, albeit with a hefty dose of child-like imagination. A garden hose snaking through some water creates a fun racing hazard, while succulents in plant pots add some fun greenery to a city centre. It’s just neat to see and interact with.
And interact with this world you shall, whether by screeching tyres or by ploughing through parts of it. While finding rivals and beating them in a race may be the core progression of the game, the ability to explore and experience a myriad of groovy activities is implemented exceptionally well. I’d even go so far as to say that the dedicated narrative portion of the title – a fun little BECOME THE BEST story – may even be considered only a minor part of the content on offer in the game. And this is not to its detriment, more an indicator of how much thought was put into making sure this game can offer something for everyone who may intersect the Venn diagram of RACING and LEGO. Activities range from various ‘get there quick’ offerings, to more creative instances of destroying stuff or rescuing townsfolk from robotic hordes. The quality of the activities may vary a little, but it’s still a very acceptable gamut of ‘good’ to ‘great’ fun.
Power-sliding is cool – but BOOST power-sliding is cooler
All of this wouldn’t have a plastic leg to stand on if it wasn’t for a solid set of core racing mechanics. The crew at Visual Concepts have managed to distil the bedrock expectations of arcade racing whilst also somehow innovating just enough to make it distinctly theirs. Powersliding is present and oh-so satisfying, while a dedicated ‘Tight Turn’ button provides a hairpin level of control when needed. In less speed-intensive gameplay this unique turning button makes for a convenient way to rapidly re-orient yourself, perhaps to eyeball your next smashing target. A masterstroke comes in the form of actually embracing smashing through things in the game – where doing so will both repair your car AND fill your boost meter, turning carnage into something a little more strategic. There is also a dedicated jump button that rockets you to a height that would make a Mario Karter jealous – ideal for trying to avoid hazards or climbing weird vertical sections of the open world map for secrets.
This level of control is ideal for getting around and leans beautifully into the gimmick of how your vehicle actually reforms itself when dealing with particular racing surfaces. Any legend who has played Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed will be familiar with such a mechanic, but within the world of LEGO it is represented as your bricks rapidly reconfiguring to best handle your racing conditions. Have you migrated from the familiar bitumen of a road, into a dusty and dirty side path? A flurry of brick activity will see your vehicle shift into something more accommodating of the apparent off-road needs, with 4×4 wheel control and traction. Take a dip into the wet stuff, and your wheels will vanish entirely – shifting to something more buoyant and ready to smash waves. This all happens without any player input, seamlessly morphing you into whatever pre-selected form you have in your loadout. In some content this will also serve as an instigator of player choice, when a track may offer unique paths that make use of a particular vehicle type – and at breakneck speeds you will need to make a decision while at full tilt. It rocks.
Throughout the game you will of course unlock an assortment of weird, wonderful, and wacky vehicles – all sporting their own set of stats and bonuses. I was only a paltry handful of hours into the game and I had already witnessed the magnificence of a car shaped like a burger, and before I had even finished considering it to be one of the greatest things I had ever seen – a taco with wheels appeared. You can equip these to each of your vehicle type loadouts, and watch as they dynamically manifest when needed. Or, you can dip your toe into the garage and create your very own masterwork of bricky brilliance.
Random henchman guy just loves all this attention
I cannot overstate how incredible the building system within LEGO 2K Drive is. The very nature of using LEGO bricks lends itself perfectly to a snap-build system, and combined with a super generous library of familiar foot-destroying elements you can really get your creative juices bubbling. Hours of my life melted away as my inner child emerged and excitedly experimented with just how crazy and detailed I could make my creations. The magic was made double-incredible by the presence of my daughter, who was on hand to supervise and add her two cents when things might be looking “too silly”. Before I knew it, I had hand crafted a vehicle for each loadout within the game – right down to painting and applying stickers. The intuitive nature of the tools at hand means that your only limit is your imagination – and perhaps a handful of bricks that are locked away in the in-game shop.
For those that perhaps don’t wish to plummet down the rabbit-hole of brick-building for hours, the other fantastic facet of this creation system is the ability to take a vehicle you have unlocked and wheel it into the garage to be modified however you wish. This can range from simply changing colours through to wholesale replacing bricky elements to your liking. The accessibility has been carefully considered to make sure the telltale magic of LEGO is present for the game’s entire audience, and it is to be commended.
It’s a block builders dream
Something altogether less magical however is the presence of the in-game shop. This somewhat grimy corner of the game is an uninteresting portal to buying a range of superfluous guff. On the shelves is a variety of vehicles that could make their way into your loadout, driver minifigs (oddly enough, you can’t wholly create your player model) and as mentioned above, small bundles of random brick types that are not immediately available in the build system. For the most part, just about everything can be bought with the LEGO funny money that constantly trickles your way for just playing the game – so I can’t wholly condemn the store, more so just question its existence. It is an oddly ‘adult’ element within a game that seems more set on offering freedom in just about every way you can imagine, so before long I learned to just ignore its existence and instead revel in the generosity of free unlocks throughout the game’s sprawling world.
The only other gripe I could dig out of the brick pile was some odd graphical oddities – UI elements doing strange things on one screen, and then behaving fine on the next, or ground clutter randomly popping in from time to time. I wondered if maybe my PS5 was running hot, but these tiny gremlins would happen so rarely and sporadically it was hard to track down. Being an Unreal Engine 4 title, the pop in is instantly familiar – but the weirder items just felt like minor oversights that may well vanish with a day one patch.
LEGO 2K Drive is joyous escapism made manifest by way of building bricks and burning rubber. Every corner of its gorgeous world promises something fun to do, with supporting systems that gleefully hand over the keys to creativity and ask very little of you in return. You may find yourself losing hours of your life to its charming, studded wiles, but really in retrospect you would never consider them wasted – It’s just that damn fun.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Visual Concepts
- 2K Games
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / Switch / PC
- May 19, 2023