Lego 2K Drive review: Brick ‘n’ slide
Colourful and chaotic racing guaranteed to entertain young Lego fans
What if Forza Horizon merged with Mario Kart and made all the cars Lego? Sounds pretty good, right? It’s also the simplest way of describing Lego 2K Drive, the slightly out of nowhere open-world kart racer from 2K and Visual Concepts. Serving up a series of sizeable and aggressively colourful biomes to explore, and the kind of drift-heavy racing that seasoned Mushroom Kingdom drivers will feel right at home with, the first game to emerge from a new partnership between 2K and Lego is definitely onto something. And like any good Lego game, it absolutely encourages you to smash everything in sight.
Before you get too carried away though, you should know that Lego 2K Drive doesn’t quite make the lasting impression of either of the series we just mentioned. Unfortunately it also can’t help but try to tempt its younger target audience into spending even more pocket money – but it’s still a delightful early summer surprise, and the kind of game that a now 11-year-old will be all nostalgic for in 15 years’ time.
Welcome to Bricklandia
The main pull of Lego 2K Drive is its story mode, in which your Lego driver – anyone from “Default Dude” to a robot cowboy and a mask-wearing stunt person – is tasked with earning enough medals to compete in the prestigious Sky Cup. You do this by winning enough races in four distinct open zones to compete in each area’s arena, besting rivals with excellent names like Clutch Racington, Max Speed and Bertie Backfire.
When you’re not racing, exploring the open world will unlock diversions and quests, a la Forza Horizon. These range from pretty standard time trials and longest drift challenges, to trying to shepherd a giant egg into a frying pan, rounding up escaped pigs and trying to land in the middle of a target after launching your vehicle across a canyon. As you complete these activities you’ll watch your level go up, although Lego 2K Drive also does the Forza Horizon thing of regularly showering you in XP-collecting achievements for seemingly just existing in its world. Restarting on-the-go challenges is near instant too, which gives the game big one-more-try energy when you’re going for those gold medals.
The open zones themselves are all well-designed visual feasts, if not always obviously Lego-y. There’s a desert area, where you’ll cruise past sandstone cliffs lined with dinosaur statues and massive cacti, and the mining region of Prospecto Valley, whose enormous gold rock centrepiece pierces through the blocky clouds and is visible from almost anywhere on the map. Our favourite, though, is Hauntsborough, a haunted region where the spooky residents visit a drive-in cinema, flying ghosts circle the cemeteries, and you drive through murky swamps full of trees decorated with the webs of giant spiders. The whole region is soaked in black and purplish hues and it looks fantastic. We just wish more of the areas went so hard on a theme.
Story cinematics usually kick in ahead of a big race, with Lego 2K Drive seemingly attempting to channel the knockabout humour of the Lego movies. Younger players will no doubt get a kick out of some of the gags and a few definitely made us chuckle, but we started to zone out the dialogue after a while. The high-pitched robot assistant named S.T.U.D. that guides you through every step of the game also starts to grate pretty quickly.
Drifting for gold
Lego 2K Drive might be an open-world game, but you’ll have the most fun when you’re racing. Your vehicle consists of three types: street, off-road and water. Most races encompass all three, and by far the game’s best trick is the way your vehicle seamlessly morphs into a different type to suit the terrain. Hit a dirt section and your coupé instantly becomes a quad bike, and then a speedboat the second it touches a river. It makes complete sense given the Lego-ness of it all, and in our 10-15 hours with the game we never stopped being impressed by the animation.
Races are always a varied affair that ask you to handle multiple vehicles. Drifting is your best option, as it builds up a turbo meter that you’ll want to burn through as often as possible. Cars can also jump, which helps with getting out of a difficult spot, while you can pull off a very tight turn with a single button press if you’ve misjudged an angle. The game is very forgiving, always trying to nudge you back on track rather than derail you, and in true Lego video game fashion, most obstacles can be smashed through so they don’t halt your progress. In fact, bad driving isn’t really frowned upon at all here. A generous amount of rubber banding means you’ll never be too far behind or ahead of the action, which leads to some brilliantly tense duels later on in the game, even if you know you’ll usually just about edge it with some well-timed drifting on the final few corners.
And the Mario Kart comparisons don’t end there. There are also power-ups, such as homing missiles and spider-webs that can obscure the vision of your opponents. There’s nothing as potentially race-deciding as a Spiny Shell, and Lego 2K Drive’s arsenal doesn’t equal the comedy chaos of the best Mario Kart races, but it’s always satisfying to send a rocket into the back of the racer just ahead of you right at the death. As you level up you’ll earn perks that can be activated to, for example, boost your top speed or make you more aggressive in collisions, but we didn’t notice any of them making a huge amount of difference.
Unfortunately, you can’t make it through the game on winning chequered flags alone. The game also occasionally forces you into completing some decidedly less enjoyable mission-based sections, often some form of tower defence or saving people from killer robots by driving them to safe zones. These would be fine as optional challenges, but sometimes you have to do them to get your rank high enough to move on to the next set of races. All the gating feels a bit unnecessary in a game primarily intended for children.
Away from the story mode, you can play cups and races in any unlocked region either offline or against real people on the servers. We didn’t spend much time online, though, mainly due to how long it was taking to find anyone to race against, even since launch.
Got to build
As you’d expect, Lego 2K Drive has you getting behind the wheel of a wide range of vehicles, from McLaren supercars and 4x4s to bizarrely-shaped Batmobile-alikes and hamburger vans that you’ll try precisely once for the novelty. You unlock new cars and boats fairly regularly; each handles a little bit differently and comes with its own advantages and limitations in a race. You can cycle between three different loadouts at any given time, which encourages you to try everything in your collection.
This being a Lego game, though, building is also a big part of the experience. As well as modifying any vehicle in the game with, say, jet fins, decorative elements and new bricks, you can also create your own from scratch. The game includes some handy tutorials and you always start with a basic foundational template, so it’s really easy to start creating stuff to add to your loadouts, if a bit fiddly with the analogue sticks. The editor is very user-friendly but we’d love to be able to build on a more intuitive platform, such as a tablet or smartphone, and import our creations into the game. Perhaps in a sequel.
For all its vibrant landscapes and playful humour, Lego 2K Drive does have a somewhat darker side, which brings us to Unkie’s Emporium, the cheerfully-named online store that parents will hope their kids don’t discover. It’s here that you can purchase season passes for the game you already paid full price for, along with new vehicles and various cosmetic items.
As you play through the story you earn in-game currency which can be redeemed in the store, so you don’t technically need to spend a penny, but it takes so long to earn the kind of cash needed for the really fun stuff, we can easily imagine youngsters pleading with mum and dad to let them drop the best part of a fiver on some minifigure or a cool car. To be clear, you can have a great time in Lego 2K Drive without going near this store – we certainly did – but something about it just feels a bit off given the likely average age of the player base.
Lego 2K Drive verdict
Lego 2K Drive is big, polished and so colourful that we actually had to lower the contrast on our test telly so as not to sear our eyes. There really is a lot to like here, and it’s a complement to the game that throughout our time with it we really hoped that the Mario Kart team was taking notes for its next entry.
Despite the generous difficulty, racing is brilliant fun, and the real-time vehicle transformations are a masterstroke. It’s just unfortunate that a lot of what you’re doing away from this can feel like filler, which is harder to swallow when you’re forced to engage with it. The building tools are also great, and a great way of getting kids to flex their creative muscles.
The looming presence of unnecessarily greedy microtransactions somewhat sours the overall package, but not so much that we wouldn’t recommend the game to anyone looking for an all-ages kart racer that pulls from some of the best in the business, while having plenty of its own ideas to boot.
One of the most enjoyable new kart racers in years, and one we wish would ditch the needless microtransactions
Gorgeous art style
Chaotically fun racing
Awesome Lego vehicle transformations
Non-racing content can be tedious
Microtransactions taint the experience