Lego 2K Drive Review – LE(t’s) GO!
A Lego driving game, by 2K? I would have not put this on my bingo card of interesting games coming out of 2023 but here we are. While the brand of plastic construction set has many video game adaptations over the decades since, to most of the mainstream gaming audience Lego games have been defined solely by the efforts of WB Games and TT Games.
So it’s refreshing to see a different team was given the keys to the Lego IP. In this case, car keys. Lego 2K Drive is an arcade racing and driving game that marries the conventions of modern racing games (like open-world design) and tried-but-true mechanics (like race-changing power-ups).
Developer Visual Concepts (and the many other co-developers that also contributed) has made a solid start for what will be many more Lego games to come under publisher 2K.
Lego 2K Drive understands what it needs to do to make a compelling and fun racing game not only for the younger audience but for racing game fans as well. But maybe they need to step off the GaaS* pedal a bit.
(*That’s games-as-a-service. Otherwise known as live service.)
Lego 2K Drive is unmistakenly a Lego game. But not only in the visuals, but the tone. Depending on how you feel about The Lego Movie, you either click and snap into place in a satisfying way and enjoy the zaniness, or be immediately put off as if you just stepped on a loose Lego brick. If you think Forza Horizon had overly-positive good vibes, Lego 2K Drive brings an even stronger dose of that. Everything is awesome, and all that shebang.
But back to the visuals side, it’s neat. The world of Bricklandia is based on real-world terrain littered with Lego parts. So you get to see the mish-mash of a pot of succulents next to a major town filled with Lego brick-built buildings. The plastic bricks look well-represented. Not enough dings and blemishes, but the pieces have all the nooks and crannies you’d expect a real Lego brick to do.
The Lego minifigs, the people, can either be animated in a stop-motion way where it looks jittery and active, or move really, really, smooth and fast. Somehow, both ways of animating work well to accentuate the personalities you will meet in the Story Mode.
Sound-wise is where it lacks a bit. I don’t know why but characters sound… flat? It’s not the actors’ performances sound bad, but the audio itself seems a bit muffled and fuzzy. In pre-rendered cutscenes they sound okay. Sometimes even the vehicle audio sound overly compressed as well.
The music is eclectic with so many different original songs playing, but the quality and use of it are all over the place. You can hear music fading in and out softly when in the garage designing a vehicle, which hides some of the best music the game has in my opinion. The end-of-race jingle, win or lose, is all upbeat and swinging. The open-world music is just… there. But some of the races have good tunes, as long as it doesn’t involve the overly used orchestra music. This is the sort of game where you don’t feel guilty for just having your own Spotify playlist on blast.
The game performance is solid on PS5, it can maintain 60 fps, or something the eyes perceive as 60 fps that is, with no noticeable frame drops. Loading isn’t quite instantaneous, but fast enough.
Lego 2K Drive lets you drive street cars, off-road cars, and boats on water. You can tackle the Story Mode, the main mode where you become the protege of Clutch Racington as you prove yourself to be fast enough to compete in the Sky Grand Prix.
But from the get-go you can do individual races and championships, like the arcade racers of yesteryears. So if you’re expecting a Forza Horizon-style campaign, or the modes you expect from a kart racer like Mario Kart, you’ll be pleased either way. It’s nice to be able to get a cake and eat it too.
We Drivin’ Drivin’
The vehicle physics is on the arcade side, no surprise, but it is fine-tuned to be easy, predictable and most importantly, fun. The turning radius is not good as the game expects you to drift around bends. By default, it’s not tap-to-drift, it’s hold-to-drift. With some practice, the wide angle of the drift will be something you can be used to, and you should. The open world has so many switchbacks demanding you to do touge runs up and down hills, and the drift physics works pretty well to instill sheer driving pleasure once you’re able to consistently pull off monster drifts. Which is by no time at all.
There is a sharper method of turning that’s by quickturn. It’s like handbrake turning but even more precise and stops all momentum when you engage it long enough, making it useful for some quests and mini-games where precise manoeuvring is key.
You can also jump. All vehicles can jump, used for some light platforming when exploring the world, during races for a cheeky shortcut, or to get some of the power-ups.
You don’t just drive a car, but a loadout of three vehicle types: street, off-road and boats. That doesn’t mean there’s no flying, you can find jetpack unlocks in the open world, and there are plenty of aeronautical-themed cars and boats to compensate. You just don’t get to fly freely. It’s Lego 2K Drive after all, and I think you drive boats around but not planes.
By default, the vehicles will transform automatically as you hit the different terrains, but you can manually change into the three forms with a button press as well.
What’s impressive is that all these elements at play, races are chaotic fun. Enter and maintain a long drift around the bends (which is so satisfying when you nail one), boost out of the corners, jump to reach the floating power-up that sneakily floats higher just as you are approaching it, shoot the power up, avoid a missile power-up by timing the jump just right, then switch to off-road as the course takes a different turn, only to then take a bigger boost jump right into a body of water, where you switch into boat form and immediately slide through another corner.
You get to do this all the time, juggling through the inputs. You may not be timing revs to shift gears, but the driving here is just as involved, even if it is regarded as an arcade racer. Of course, some of these can be automated and made easier, but if you want a challenge, you can get one.
The AI rubberbands a bit, but not necessarily in an annoying way. I have instances where I pass the checkered flag first by just a hundredths of a second as I boost through the final straight. Though I did encounter several instances that go the other way. For most of the races, the rivals- all with hilarious punny names- will always be a factor, and their presence around you, manufactured by rubberbanding or otherwise, truly amps up the excitement of every race.
The tracks are also impressive. Some are very tightly designed with small loops, but others can be deceptively wide and filled with opportunities for corner-cutting. Not just shortcuts, straight-up corner-cutting. The checkpoints are very lenient in that the hitbox for the checkpoint is bigger than the marked areas suggest, and they are placed sparsely so that intrepid racers looking for an advantage will surely cut corners. Look, why would I take a long boat drift around a hairpin corner when I can jankily jump over the alligator sitting where the hairpin goes around?
Drive The Open Roads
Lego 2K Drive has an open world, but not one contiguous open world. Instead, you get access to four different biomes (three if you don’t count the small tutorial world you start in). I bet this is done more so that it alleviates the headaches of having to figure out how to blend these disparate biomes together. But I’d be surprised if the reason is a technical one.
The way the open worlds are designed is interesting. What I like most is how involved the water features are, enough that there are reasons to be driving around in a boat more often. There are not enough racing games with an open world where you get to drive a boat, and where the boat driving is limited because there are not many rivers and sea areas to make full use of it. Lego 2K Drive is not like that, and that’s impressive.
Just like any open-world racer, Lego 2K Drive has its fair share of challenges that you can do while driving around. The game calls it On The Go Challenges and I think these are some of the most creative ones we’ve yet to see. There are a few “go through these checkpoints” and long jump challenges like Forza. But Lego 2K Drive goes harder. Drive up a mountain while avoiding mines. Push a giant golf ball into a hole. Drive around town full of smashable objects and control the urge to not smash into anything. Drive into a tunnel really quick but -plot twist- it’s just a wall with a tunnel painted on it.
There’s more variety here that will entice you to give them at least one solid try.
But there’s more. These On The Go Challenges have a quality-of-life feature that I wish Forza Horizon has: the ability to restart instantaneously or abandon them immediately, via a button press. It’s a small feature, but it’s such a useful one. If you’ve played as much of Forza Horizon 5 or 4 as I have, you know the dread of having to do these sorts of challenges over and over again but it takes forever to reset. And having a button to just abandon them means you don’t have to actively avoid those large challenge gates should they be in your way.
There’s fun to be had cruising around the world. A lot of objects are smashable and like a good Lego game usually do, smashing stuff feels cathartic and satisfying. Go to town for a joyride and you can figuratively go to town by driving like a hooligan out for blood, smashing anything and everything in your wake. Traffic cars crumble upon contact with your chosen steed. Traffic lights, gates and other decorations made out of Lego bricks tear apart. The people scream in terror, flying away when bumped (but they’ll respawn instantaneously and laugh it off so it’s fine). The amount of destruction you can do is tremendous. If you spot a celeb dropping by the theatre in the town in the Big Butte Valley map, that’s a good time to go ham and smash everything up. It’s not like you get much out of it in in-game rewards, if any. It’s just really fun to be a kid again and engage in violence against plastic toys.
Overall, the gameplay of Lego 2K Drive is solid. An impressive feat for a developer not known to make games in this niche genre. It has enough depth for those looking for a challenge but is easy enough to pick up and play.
Lego 2K Drive’s Story Mode takes about 10 hours to beat. It’s a span of about 20 races or so, sometimes padded out by having mandatory quests. For a racing game, that’s good enough.
Aside from races and On The Go Challenges, there are also quests and mini-games to take part in. Some of the quests are mandatory, usually involve fighting against robots, and are a fun diversion which lets you channel your penchant for destruction.
The mini-games are only fun with friends. There’s a red-light green-light one, where you get zapped into smithereens if you are caught driving while on a red light and start back from the beginning, which isn’t as fun when doing it solo.
On another note, I feel like that are so many collectables to collect. Too many. Some of the types can go up to 50, like the one where you smash pumpkins around the spooky-themed map which the collectable item is called “Smashing Pickups” (Somebody once told the devs they cannot call it Smashing Pumpkins I reckon). Collecting one collectable doesn’t reward enough to compel me to collect them all.
You can buy new cosmetics in the in-game store using in-game currency, but the in-game currency drop is such a slow drip feed as it is right now. You can get a couple of bucks for a collectable, maybe half a thousand for winning a race for the first time, but the shop prices start around 4000 bucks. Vehicles start at 10,000 bucks. Oof.
The other problem I have is how the vehicle builder is so robust and powerful yet so limiting at the same time. The building mechanics are all well and good. The problem is that you don’t get access to the full list of available bricks from the get-go, with no clear direction on how to find and unlock them all. Some need to be purchased at the store. Some are unlocked from winning races in Story Mode. Some remain missing, which I highly suspect will be made available to unlock when the Drive Pass seasons- the post-launch content for the game- become available. And boy, does the game really loves promoting the upcoming Drive Pass a lot if you play online. Too much, I feel.
If you’re not into building cars and boats yourself, at least in that regard the rewards are plentiful. You’ll be amassing a good selection of cool and/or silly vehicles as you play through Story Mode. Some are recreations of actual Lego sets, some are original creations for the game. And man, some of the original creations are brilliant. The burger-on-wheels, brilliantly named the Hamburghini, as well as the giant chicken truck are some of the ones you see in the marketing for the game. But there are more cool and/or silly creations to see and unlock.
Even cooler is that the game auto-generates instructions to create these vehicles so that you can learn as you build and maybe get some inspo to create your own creations. And if you only want to do slight modifications to any of the existing vehicles, say change the paint of the McLaren F1, or make a cooler wing for the default sports convertible starter car, then you can do that too.
It’s just a shame that looking at all the cool creations, you realise that you cannot create some of them from scratch due to the limitations of the vehicle builder.
Also, you can’t customise your minifig character as well. You have to unlock or purchase created figures as your avatar. The game tries its best to sell you on how cool these created minifigs are, like a guy named Kyle Arson (somebody on the writing team’s been watching NASCAR). But I feel like not having minifig customisation is a missed opportunity.
I enjoyed my time with Lego 2K Drive, and that’s to be expected as I am a fan. I played Lego Racers 2 as a kid, I love seeing people being enthusiastic about cars, I casually watch and follow motorsports and I have purchased a good share of car-themed Lego sets myself. So clearly, this game is intended to cater to people like me.
And to that point, I feel thoroughly catered. The vehicle physics is fun to have casual joyrides in and go sweaty in races. The track designs are solid (the power-ups are just meh though) and so is the actual racing.
The writing is totally for me, but I also understand it may not be for others. There’s plenty of wordplay at play here, subtle jokes as well as obvious ones designed not only to give kids a chuckle but also their dads and moms, as well as pun connoisseurs. Punnoisseurs.
The Story Mode cutscenes, the pre-race banter between the news anchors, and the rival chats showcase that the writing team was having a blast doing all these corny jokes. And the puns, my goodness the puns. I know a racer named Max Speed is already a strong one, but I watched enough motorsports to know that this isn’t far from real life.
But Vincent Van Go? Now that’s the art of pun-making on full display there.
Overall, Lego 2K Drive succeeds in creating an open world driving game and a arcade kart racer that’s fun to pick-up and play. Everything you’d expect from a racing game of its kind, this game does with competency. This is an amazing feat considering the developers are not known to make games in this genre before.
The charm of a Lego game and the aesthetic of these plastic bricks should give kids and adult fans of Lego should evoke the same joy as the actual toys. Though there are limits to how far you can customise your wheels, with no option to make your own minifig racer.
Plus, the aggressive monetisation where it keeps pointing out new content to pay for, together with a noticeably slow rate of earning in-game currency, should ring some alarm bells for the more savvy gamers out there.
Should your expectations be tempered, Lego 2K Drive is worth a pickup if you’re looking to change gears for an arcade racer. The racing is fine, the driving is fun and there are enough things to do to keep you busy.
Reviewed on PS5. Review copy provided by the publisher.