LEGO 2K Drive review: Family comes first

Thomas Harrison-Lord
The open-world driving game by 2K sets off the LEGO partnership with a solid foundation that’s best played when not taking it seriously.
LEGO 2K Drive review: Family comes first

So often, open-world driving games go for a gritty aesthetic or some form of authentic angle – which is a bit of a misnomer really because, by definition, an expansive virtual environment is anything but realistic.

Never mind hitting a police offer, five miles an hour over the speed limit could see you behind bars in the real world.

So why not just go all-out, over-the-top, daft? Removed from the shackles of a street-racing scene, LEGO 2K Drive flourishes, and while not designed specifically for children – the creator Visual Concepts is at pains to explain this is a family experience, not a kids one – if we were 10 years old again, we’d be beside ourselves in pants-wetting excitement. Here’s why.

LEGO 2K Drive splash screen

The basics

For those out of the loop so far, let’s briefly recap what we’re looking at here. LEGO 2K Drive is the first game in a multi-year, multi-title partnership between the diminutive brick manufacturer and the publisher of wrestling and basketball games.

Not known for its driving titles, its mere existence is a surprise – but fret not, a team that mixes both open-world and classic arcade vehicle game veterans was assembled over the past five years to create what’s released today, 19th May 2023.

LEGO 2K Drive open-world

You play through a story as a no-name rookie rising the ranks of a toys-to-life motorsport scene within the overtly fictional world of Bricklandia.

Apart from the ground, everything you see is built from LEGO bricks, and not just in a ‘fake’ way, but if it wasn’t possible with actual pieces, in theory, it’s not here. And in the way the LEGO Star Wars or Marvel action and adventure releases manage to tap into, satisfyingly you can smash most of what you see into tiny plastic smithereens.

The environment isn’t one space, but rather broken down into four islands which you ‘fast travel’ between, and each biome has a distinct flavour. From the mid-western US of Big Butte County to the ghoulish surroundings of Hauntsborough.

LEGO 2K Drive Hauntsborough

You must earn access to these, by competing in races, which unlocks not just experience points for levels, but also cash for customisations and flags. Flags are key, as they are they act as keys to earn access into bigger, tougher, race events, culminating in the Sky Cup Grand Prix where you take down antagonist Shadow Z.

Easy does it

One of its greatest strengths is progression. There’s the narrative – driven by ex-racer Clutch Racington and TV presenters Vikki Wheeler and Parker Carr – but the pacing of game mechanics is also metered out.

The ability to use jetpacks, for example, isn’t presented to you until around 10 hours in, likewise upgrading the vehicle class from C to B, and ultimately A, which essentially determines the difficulty and speed of events.

Vehicle perks are tied to the class and your XP level. These are added to the mix later in the game alongside different abilities such as Brickbashing – a higher form of boost if your gauge is full and you have a long enough straight to use it.

LEGO 2K Drive gameplay

You’re constantly finding hidden collectables, completing on-the-go challenges (think short time trials or long jumps to receive either bronze, silver or gold) or finding esoteric quests (pushing a giant egg into a pan…) amongst a deluge of incentives.

It balances the instant gratification required in the current era of gaming (well done you), with an underlying old-fashioned slow pace to feeling like you’ve really earned something.

Finding the flow

The aplomb with which LEGO 2K Drive handles its structure and delightfully endearing visuals could all go to waste, however, if the driving experience isn’t up to the same lofty heights.

It’s not, sadly. But, it’s close at least.

For an approachable title based around toys, the vehicle handling is rightly benign. The controls are logical, and drifting around corners – one of two methods of earning boost, the other smashing road-side furniture – is initiated by simply holding down the left trigger.

LEGO 2K Drive build a car

Despite some vehicles being rated as ‘heavy’, they all somehow feel light through corners. A lack of precision is notable at slow speeds, with cumbersome turning. You can use a handbrake of sorts, entitled a ‘Quick Turn’, but there are times when you don’t need to screech 180 degrees – in particular, while trying to round up a herd of blue cows…

Indeed, something like Hot Wheels Unleashed manages to be easy to pick up, but also possesses a greater depth of handling prowess.

Unlike that title, however, here your ride changes – by default, automatically – on the fly, when you change surface types. Off-road UTVs, boats and then cars for traditional asphalt, and each can be a unique loadout.

It’s neat, and it’s the boats that are our preferred mode of transport, the water best matching the game’s vehicle physics system.

LEGO 2K Drive Clutch Racington

Part of the development team has worked on some seminal racing games like Hydro Thunder. Released in 1999, you raced high-speed powerboats, collected power-ups and even drove over ludicrous jumps.

There are clear parallels between the two titles, decades apart, and that same sense of outrageous frivolity has been transferred across.

Looking back to go forward

Speaking of the past, the ability to create your own vehicle from scratch and then race against rivals reminds us of Lego Racers, also from the late 90s. The tools have been upgraded since then, with hundreds of different real-world Lego pieces available to create something from a bare chassis, and the polygon count is significantly higher too.

But, the beguiling nature remains constant.

Lego Racers PS1
Lego Racers, PlayStation, 1999

Yet in 2023, that’s not enough. To that extent, there is online multiplayer racing, which is cross-platform apart from on the Switch no-less. The action is frenetic, and if there isn’t a full lobby, AI-controlled rivals substitute.

It should be noted, however, that the maximum lobby size is eight and whether it’s online or offline, the power-ups seem to be a derivation from Mario Kart – there’s nothing particularly unique in this area.

LEGO 2K Drive splitscreen

Yet, that smaller number of online players does allow for a group of players to enter Bricklandia via the internet too, not just race events. The entirety, apart from the initial tutorial, of the career can be played in local split-screen too – which is vital for a family-friendly title.

In practice, most of the levels or side-quests don’t appear to be designed, in terms of the goals, with two players in mind, sadly. It just turns into a race of who can get to the objective first, rather than teamwork.

Roadmap

Then we get to the pesky subject of DLC. While the total environment is varied, you’re left with a nagging doubt that an extra biome wouldn’t go amiss and what do you know, one is set for release as a paid extra later this year, part of a Drive Pass.

LEGO 2K Drive Unkie's Emporiim Store

At the time of reviewing ahead of a general release, while we could use in-game credits to purchase shiny new cars, the ability to use actual currency wasn’t possible. Ranging from £4.99/$4.99 to £44.99/$49.99 for packs, our initial feeling is that the reward pay-outs can be a little stingy compared to the price of vehicles. We’ll have to see how this balancing plays out over the next few months.

Despite some hangups, the structure and world that LEGO 2K Drive has created for its desired audience is very much assured. For those who are advancing in years, perhaps you can see through some of its overly-simplistic handling or DLC models – but play it co-operatively with someone younger and watch their imagination light up.

Don’t take things seriously, switch off, unwind and explore a world made from LEGO – the stuff of dreams.

The Traxion.GG Review Verdict: Wishlist
Developer2K Visual Concepts
Release date19th May 2023
Available platformsPS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC
Version testedPC
Best played withGamepad
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