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It’s rather apt that the last time we saw Lego take on the driving genre was as DLC for Forza Horizon 4, as with hindsight, it now feels like a practice session for Lego 2K Drive.
Lego 2K Drive is an open world racing game from Visual Concepts – who usually develop sports games such as NBA or WWE – making this endeavour a little out of their wheelhouse. But you certainly wouldn’t know it, as they’ve created an enjoyable, if flawed, racer that’s not afraid to embrace Lego’s creative roots.
The main story doesn’t waste time getting you into the action. A short introductory race is followed by exploring Turbo Acres, the first Lego 2K Drive map, and a gentle nudge in the direction of the next race. However, as you explore the open world, you’ll quickly come across more challenges, quests, and activities automatically marked on your map. Soon enough, you’ll have glowing gates, markers, and collectibles all vying for your attention.
This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s brilliant that there is a lot to do away from the main quest almost immediately, but it’s also a little overwhelming to decide exactly what to do first. To be fair to Visual Concepts, it’s a great virtual replica of the feeling you get when opening a large box of mixed Lego bricks in the hopes creativity will carry you through, rather than a specific build in mind.
There’s also a commendable variety and inventiveness in these side missions and tasks – one minute you’ll be clearing weeds from a garden, the next chasing down cats for an old lady. Harking back to that Forza Horizon comparison, it’s impressive that there are so many different things for you to do in the traditionally limited framework of driving a car.
Environments are another place where the variety shines through. While there are only four biomes (one being the tutorial island, another a desert, a mining county, and a haunted, Halloween-type biome), each one has a huge variety of locations to race around, including mountains, mines, rivers, and towns. The game does a great job at making these places feel like playgrounds that could’ve been built by (very dedicated) Lego builders while also being just locations that are a joy to drive through. It’s helped enormously by the fact that breaking bricks helps build your boosts, so when in the open world, barriers become but mere suggestions as you bust through the environment, destroying everything in your path with a satisfying smash.
When it comes to handling, realism isn’t the order of the day here, for obvious reasons.The floaty handling model is more akin to a kart racer than the Lego DLC for Forza Horizon 4, with perhaps the closest comparison being to the excellent Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed. This is even more of an apt comparison when you take into account the vehicles automatically change between different forms depending on if you’re racing on road, off-road, or on water, with a satisfying quick-build effect. Which brings us nicely to the extra little bit of nitrous in Lego 2K Drive’s tank.
See, it’s a Lego game where you can design and build your own vehicles out of Lego. The game comes with a fully realised car designer. You pick if you’re making a street car, boat, or off-road vehicle, and can then pick a frame and build from scratch. Alternatively, you can edit any of the many, many pre-made cars you can unlock through races and exploration. Of course there are limits – each brick has a value, and certain bricks can affect the stats of your vehicle – but it’s an incredibly powerful and impressive editor allowing for all manner of creations. We can only assume it’ll be a matter of time before people are showing off some insane builds based on real-world cars (there’s already some in the game based on real Lego sets like the McLaren Solus GT) and ones clearly based on movies and TV shows, such as the’ Royal Outtaliner’ which bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1960’s Batmobile.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though, as bafflingly, there isn’t any way to share creations with friends. Aside from taking part in a multiplayer race and competing against them, that is. Before you can take them to these online modes, they have to be submitted for approval (understandable, lest this family friendly game be filled with lewd karts you wouldn’t want kids to see), but there’s no way to share your creations with friends when they’re not in the same race as you.
The second issue is in many ways expected and understandable given how powerful the tool is, but the process of building can be very fiddly. On console especially, lining up bricks is a bit of a process, and while there’s a degree of help (one nifty feature is where you can rebuild any vehicle step-by-step to see how it was made and potentially recreate it yourself if you have some Lego lying around), be prepared to put a lot of time into the editor if you don’t want to come out with something that looks like ‘The Homer’ from the Simpsons. Unless that is, of course, what you were going for.
Other criticisms? Well – the game does suffer a little from an identity crisis where it’s very family friendly and appealing to kids – but sometimes the difficulty of the races can be unexpectedly high and at odds with its happy-go-lucky atmosphere. There’s definitely some rubber banding, and though it claims to have a feature called Race Difficulty Assist that claims to adjust the game to your level rather than traditional difficulty modes, it’s hard to notice much of a difference whether it’s on or off.
And being a 2K game from the NBA 2K and WWE 2K developers, microtransactions are an inevitable part of the game. Thankfully, they’re not quite as egregious as those that have plagued the former series over the last few entries, but they do feel uncomfortable given the likely audience of the game. Currently, you use them to buy a currency known as coins, which can (for now) only be used to buy stacks of Brickbux, another in-game currency which is earned by just playing the game. Winning races will earn you more, so there is an element of skill involved if you decide not to invest any real money.
But of course, you earn them much slower grinding them in the game than you would buying them – to give you an idea, after about eight hours of play, I only had 13,000 Brickbux – and one of the bundles on the store costs 22,400. It’s not hard to see how a really desirable bundle might cause young kids to make an “accidental” purchase or two, which is a great shame.
Lego 2K Drive is actually an impressive debut racing game from a developer not known for their expertise in the genre. It’s got a lot to keep kids interested – even if it can get a little tough – but it’s got that most important Lego factor, in that it’s easy to just pick up and play and it won’t take long before you’re having a fun time. There’s a couple of minor faults that prevent it from being a must have, but there’s something to be said for boosting over a ramp in a car you designed, as you race against a horse driving a convertible.