Over 800,000 new LEGO bricks will be produced before you’ve finished reading this article. The diminutive plastic blocks are ubiquitous, enjoyed equally by children letting their imagination run wild and adults who try to recreate their favourite racing car at home.
So imagine what happens when you combine this much-loved toy with a video game. And not just any video game, either, but an open-world driving game with online co-op and Mario Kart-esque racing?
Welcome to the world of LEGO 2K Drive, and it could knock your socks off…
The elevator pitch
LEGO 2K Drive signals the beginning of a partnership between the Danish brick-makers and the American gaming giant.
It’s a family-friendly, AAA (in 2K’s own words), vehicle-based title that aims to be an approachable entry point to driving games for all to enjoy – but importantly, not just for children.
From the outset, as you begin your journey through Bricklandia (an open-world split into four distinct biomes), its intentions are clear.
This is ridiculous, over-the-top, fun without the burden of taking itself too seriously.
Your overall goal is to reach the Sky Cup Grand Prix, but before you do that, you must progress through a series of lower-tier races and challenges, with Clutch Racington as your helping hand.
The former racing driver now acts as an introductory racing coach, and along your way, you’ll encounter a series of rivals such as antagonist Shadow Z. Each has a distinct, over-the-top, personality, and during the races, there is punditry from Vikki Wheeler and Parker Carr.
It’s not one big open-world map, but rather four main islands that you can hop between, plus a smaller fifth used for the introductory tutorial sections. We were able to explore Turbo Acres and the first main island, Big Butte County.
As you explore these regions, you find cash, earn XP, level up, complete supplementary tasks and win chequered flags. Earn enough of these and you unlock the main race series events, and winning those will eventually open the Sky Cup Grand Prix.
As you would expect, everything you see has been fashioned out of Lego bricks, the level of detail even including the tiny company logo on each brick, creating a distinctive look.
Created by the Visual Concepts studio, if you’re thinking that the developer known for the WWE and NBA games isn’t a natural fit for a driving game, you’re correct. It isn’t.
This is why Lego 2K Drive, a project that has been five years in the works, has a dedicated team, recruited with driving and open-world games in mind.
Those are the basics, now, what’s it like to play?
In a word: varied.
We were able to try an early build of this brick-themed epic for a limited-time hands-on recently, using a powerful Corsair One PC. Optimal conditions for a preview, full disclosure.
As you traverse your vivid surroundings, initially in a supercar, everything you see has been lovingly recreated in the colourful construction toy. LEGO can be built, but also disassembled, so you can also drive through pretty much anything you see apart from solid structures such as buildings and bridges.
Much like smashing bricks with a lightsaber in one of the LEGO Stars Wars games, driving into objects and seeing them break into a thousand individual pieces is more enjoyable than watching endless cat TikToks.
We could see a younger audience simply driving around and laughing hysterically as they destroy items, only to see them respawn and break them again.
There are hundreds of smaller missions, which you must discover. Some are simple, such as going from point A to point B within a time limit, whereas others are suitably daft such as smashing 20 giant mushrooms or using a giant egg into an equally large frying pan like a culinary episode of Top Gear car football.
This all helps you level up and gain access to the main race events, where you will find two key mechanics: power-ups and swapping vehicles based on terrain.
Competing against a field of rivals in varied Lego-based machines, the aim is to win the race. Simple.
Adding to the frenzied nature of the action is a boost system, regenerated by drifting or smashing objects, and the power-ups, which can be used to impede rivals such as missiles or a spider web.
It’s this element of the game that reminds us of the 1999 PlayStation and Nintendo 64 game LEGO Speed Racers, only more excitable.
Alongside this mayhem, you will also switch vehicles on the fly.
This happens wherever you are driving in LEGO 2K Drive. If the wheels of your sportscar touch dirt, it instantly transforms into an ATV. Splash into water, and it flips into a boat, this time reminding us of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
These three main vehicle types – street, off-road and water – mean that almost everywhere you see, you can go, and it also makes for some differentiated race events. For those who are of a more advanced skill level, the option of manually switching between the vehicle types is also available.
Speaking of vehicles, while the majority of content we saw was from the LEGO City and Lego Creator ranges, we did see a licenced McLaren Solus GT. The hypercar made in real-world limited quantities is also currently available as a model in LEGO’s Speed Champions range of models.
So there’s scope for at least some car brands to be included throughout the game, and we’re excited to see if this is a one-off or if there are more to come.
However, you can have the most wonderfully energetic and pretty environments – and the two biomes, or islands, we saw were distinct from each other – but it all comes back to the way it drives as to whether there’s a lasting appeal.
Naturally, this is an accessible game. The aim is to create something that is easy to play for all ages, and to that brief, the target has been achieved.
In fact, it’s so benign that you never need to brake for a corner while racing. Simply hit the accelerator with the right trigger and the left trigger acts as a drift button in combination with the left analogue stick to steer.
Full throttle, approach a corner, keep it pinned, press and hold the left trigger to drift around the curve – building boost as you do so.
It can feel a little lumpen with less precision than our current yardstick for a toy-based driving game, Hot Wheels Unleashed. Slow-speed manoeuvring while exploring Bricklandia isn’t the smoothest experience.
But, it means that at higher speeds and in a race scenario you flow from one corner to another, and once you’ve adjusted to its idiosyncrasies, slewing sideways through a corner while simultaneously boosting and avoiding rivals is compelling.
Speaking of which, multiplayer is a riot. Admittedly, we played this in optimum conditions against people in the same room, so the final network code is yet to be tested. However, it was hilarious.
Also, we weren’t able to procure footage of it in action, so you’ll have to take our word for it that. despite routinely being beaten by GameSpew’s Kim Snaith, there’s frenetic racing action and detailed environments for up to six players.
Our full online multiplayer impressions are on the Traxion.GG website, linked in the video description.
There aren’t just multiplayer race events available either, as the entire open-world can be played with up to six online players too, cross-platform, minus the Switch. Imagine two or three families teaming up across PC, Xbox and PlayStation to explore the world, find challenges and then dipping into a series of energetic competitive races. Sounds fun to us.
We weren’t able to try the online co-op yet, which can also be played in local split-screen for the entire story mode too, but in theory this could be a significant selling point.
Let your imagination run wild
But what’s LEGO without being able to create? The Builder within 2K’s first game in this multi-title toy brick partnership is powerful.
You select from the three vehicle types and a series of blank chassis strips. Then, that’s it, go build.
There are hundreds if not thousands of real-world LEGO bricks, including some Technic items, all faithfully recreated.
Much like emptying a box of random pieces and trying to build something that looks vaguely like a vehicle, imagination and creativity come to the fore. A shame that we don’t have much, as our attempts looked like a cross between a hatchback and a tank.
Unlike buying a real-world set, there aren’t instructions to follow. At least there’s zero chance of you losing a bit underneath your couch…
It’s extraordinarily powerful, and while there’s a tutorial, we hope to see some example builds in-game or further handholding come the title’s launch.
That’s a lot to digest, but there’s more! So, here, in rapid-fire form, are the further details you need to know about LEGO 2K Drive.
- It’s releasing on the 19th May 2023 worldwide, yes, that’s really soon!
- It’s coming to, deep breath, PC (Steam and Epic), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch
- There’s an in-game currency system, but whether or not you can use real-world money to purchase it is yet to be confirmed
- There will be a season pass of DLC post-launch, called the ‘Year 1 Drive Pass’, which will include a fifth biome for the map
- Alongside the standard edition, Awesome Edition and Awesome Rivals Editions include the Drive Pass plus three-day early access, from the 16th May 2023
LEGO 2K Drive is a brave, surprisingly characterful, driving game that melds open-world exploration with unprecedented levels of customisation and recognisable kart racing. There’s an alacrity that aligns with the childish sense of fun you get from building bricks.
It will no doubt appeal to its targeted family audience, but, we hope, it will also appeal to hardened racing game fans too and sustain its brio over the full length of the career mode. We’ll find out in just under two months’ time.