Review | LEGO 2K Drive
It's a world of blocks
It only feels yesterday LEGO 2K Drive was first shown, as its brief marketing timeframe is already turning into the release window. It’s been compared to many things: classic LEGO games like LEGO Island, LEGO Racer, but also Forza Horizon, The Crew 2, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and more with its open world, transforming vehicles and so on. But can 2K’s main sports game developer tackle an open world LEGO racing game? Let’s find out in XboxEra’s review for LEGO 2K Drive, tested thoroughly on Xbox Series X!
Ready… set… (LE)GO!
California-based Visual Concepts Entertainment may be familiar to some of you as the team behind 2K’s NBA and WWE games of the last decade and beyond, with their last non-sports game dating back over 20 years. And despite the lack of experience with LEGO, open worlds or racers, as soon as I jumped behind the wheel of a blocky vehicle, I felt that they were *exactly* the right developer for this job. The colourful and blocky visuals, the intentionnaly choppy stop motion animations of the LEGO figurines, a fast yet accessible pure arcade racing model and a lovely open world full of everything LEGO: houses, trees, civilians, turbo ramps and more. Call it LEGO Island 3, call it a full-blown Forza Horizon LEGO, call it whatever you like. It works.
One of the decisive moments in judging a racing game is when you first approach a corner, and have to test out the game’s driving model. And to be frank, at first, I wasn’t particularly impressed with LEGO 2K Drive there. With the starter car made of LEGO, the cornering felt a bit stiff and understeering at first, but that turns out to be entirely by design: standard turning is actually meant to be used for less extreme manouvers. Aside from the Mario Kart-esque drifting, which makes these sharper turns more manageable and rewards players with extra speed boosts, there’s even a quick turning that allows the vehicle to take almost 90 degrees sharp turns even at high speed. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once mastered, this mechanic combined with drifts practically makes sure players will never have to bother with obsolete concepts such as braking or no longer pressing the accelerator. Cars can even jump, and much higher than you’d normally get in kart racers, with track designs also offering elevated shortcuts and aerial power-ups to encourage such behaviour.
But it’s more than just driving fast sport cars made of LEGO, because as soon as the wheels touch an offroad section, our vehicle turns into another blocky vehicle, this time a 4×4. And as soon as the game drives us towards a river, fear not – the car will not drown, and will in an instant turn into a speedboat. All vehicles control quite similarly, with the obvious levels of difference in grip, so it feels as natural, just like it does in a similar concept in the much beloved Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The only thing missing are flying vehicles, though there is some level of flying which we’ll discuss later. These transformations look cool, are instantaneous, and keep the racing fresh and varied. And regardless of what sort of vehicle the player is in, there’s always Mario Kart-esque power-ups making the races even more chaotic: rockets, mines, shields and more can turn the races around in an instant.
Everything is awes-… err… shiny
If the player chooses the story mode, and they absolutely should start there, they’ll find themselves in a pretty standard plot, with a new rookie racer in this world of LEGO trying to obtain the much hyped Sky Trophy throughout many races. Expect the intentionally tacky villainous race driver to beat, the charming allies, and also many curious rivals to beat. Each of the game’s races has the player needing to beat a specific rival in a grid of 8 racers, which means that while payouts are larger for a win, to progress it’s enough to cross the finish line ahead of the car to beat. Inbetween races, sometimes there’s various fun little minigames in the open world to complete, such as stopping alien robot invasions or saving civilians from animatronics gone rogue. It’s all in good, cheeky, LEGO-style fun though. And fans of LEGO will be happy to hear the familiar voice of Will Arnett, who’s not only immensely famous for his role in Arrested Development, but more relevantly voices Batman in pretty much all LEGO projects and is the host of the USA version of the show LEGO Masters.
Did I mention open world? Sure did. The easiest way to describe LEGO 2K Drive’s world is Forza Horizon, but with multiple smaller hubs and collectibles to a point that it may seem like a collectathon akin to Banjo-Kazooie. Aside from being able to discover and reach events, or the now modern classics of short time trials and long jumps to clear, there’s a staggering amount of bizarre things to do in this new LEGO venture. Push around a giant egg into a similarly oversized frying pan; deal with savage (LEGO) animals in the wilderness; use gliders and bat-gliders to fly over the overworld and collect seeminly out of reach collectibles. The game’s variety, frankly, surprised me positively. And it looks convincingly LEGO-like too, with the plastic surfaces of the LEGO items reflecting the lights just as you’d expect them to do.
If I mentioned Banjo-Kazooie out of all collectathons out there, it’s not a coincidence. Much like in the third mainline installment Nuts & Bolts, LEGO 2K Drive offers players an incredibly robust vehicle editor, which allows them to use a massive selection of LEGO pieces, tools and more to create street cars, road cars and boats as well. The editor itself is very versatile with tools to recolour multiple bricks at once, mirror the two sides of the car, flip and rotate individual bricks and much more, with even the position of the driver that can be anywhere – or even nowhere at all. Each creation than has convincing damage models, as during the races and the open world exploration the player will slowly see the various bricks fall of the car after crashing, slowly deconstructing to the point of having pretty much only the base plate and the wheels attached to it.
Smash into pieces
The destruction of LEGO bricks plays an actual part in the races as well, because it’s not just merely a cosmetic choice, despite the handling not actually being impacted by the falling bricks. Whether you’re in a race or exploring the opwn world, damage can be repaired via crashing into desctructible LEGO items – street signs, trees, statues, you name it. On a similar note, while exploring the open world, players can mow down entire fields of weed which will stop to a car to a near halt when hit during a race. Doing so will instead turn them into magical plants that recharge the players’ turbo, offering a competitive advantage to the player in outside parts of the circuit where the AI rarely dares to go.
There’s over two dozen different racetracks, which are effectively isolated segments of the various open world hubs. Not only said hubs already cover a decent amount of biomes, such as desert, green pastures and city, but each area further presents vastly different visuals and styles. There’s a spooky region called Hauntsborough for example, which is already pretty dark and features gothic castles, ghosts and more, but in particular it features a swamp zone, a graveyard and so on, with each of these sub-areas offering a rather distinct racing event due to this. The track configurations aren’t many compared to, say, Forza Horizon 5, but on the flipside each track is rather unique in visuals and style. Funny detail that each race in the story mode also has its set of AI drivers with their own themed vehicles and funny names that perfectly fit into the event’s style.
All races can also be played singularly or in a Mario Kart-esque cup format against the AI, even in local splitscreen, but this mode offers no unlockables worth mentioning, so unless you’re playing with a friend I strongly advice just grinding the open world events instead. There’s even an online multiplayer suite, but given the pre-launch review window I was not able to test this with players across the globe to try it out properly. I’ll surely give it a shot after launch and will report back in case there’s grave issues with it. Going back to AI, I do want to point out that while the game does allow both fixed AI difficulties and an adaptive one, the general difficulty seems oddly unbalanced at times, with the opponents struggling on certain tracks while lapping like Ayrton Senna on others.
Seems like a common scenario in AAA games nowadays, but the most concerning aspect of the whole LEGO 2K Drive package has to be the monetization. For starters, it’s a full priced game launching at 70USD/EUR, with special editions going as high as a hundred dollars/Euros. It’s not a cheap game, yet it already features a Fortnite-esque store with items rotating in and out which can be obtained via the game’s own currency. Now, said currency can be obtained via races and open world exploration alike, but the earning rate is staggeringly low in comparison. It takes like a dozen hours of open world progress to make up the cash that you could buy in an instant for like 5-10 bucks. The store includes exclusive vehicles, drivers and even brand new LEGO pieces to add to your car, and while they aren’t mandatory to finish the game or to win races, it feels a bit devious to have such a model in a full-priced game aimed at kids.
And to be fair, the open-ended design of LEGO 2K Drive does feature a handful of hiccups that can, presumably, be chalked down to the limited experience of the developers with such a game. For one, as opposed to virtually all open world games on the market involving cars, when placing a marker on the map there aren’t any indicators as to where you actually need to, just a giant smiley that appears in the distance. In some areas with bridges and mountains, it can become a bit difficult figuring out how to reach the actual spot. Likewise, a handful of locations have some finicky hitboxes and shapes, and in general the management of the map could be more intuitive UI-wise. Still, fairly minor hiccups in an otherwise lovely open world.
But despite the questionable MTXs and some “rookie errors” when it comes to the open world, I had a blocky good time with LEGO 2K Drive in the past week or so. A bright, colourful and exciting open world that spreads LEGO love from all its pores is explored via an excellent driving model with transforming vehicles, which is then also applied to high-octane and high-destruction races across vastly different biomes. Content drought is also not a term the game should ever be bothered with, as there’s already plenty of events, big open world hubs with tons of collectibles, an online suite, an incredibly power vehicle editor and a robust post-launch plan lasting at least a year of upcoming additions. I could barely be happier with the end result, and so even with a few hiccups, LEGO 2K Drive is one of the most fun arcade racers in recent years and already one of my favourite games of 2023, and one that I really hope to see become a long-lasting franchise.
LEGO 2K Drive
Xbox Series X
- A fantastic world made of LEGO
- High-octane racing with power-ups and transforming vehicles
- Tons of secrets and collectibles to find
- Plenty of content already with more to come
- Extremely robust LEGO vehicle editor
- Concerning monetization in a full-priced game aimed at kids
- Bizarre difficulty spikes
- A few small design hiccups in the open world