LEGO 2K Drive hands-on preview – the racing game you didn’t know you needed
We’ve already spent a few hours playing LEGO 2K Drive, and it’s shaping up to be the LEGO racing game you never knew you needed.
Officially announced by the LEGO Group and 2K Games today, LEGO 2K Drive channels the DNA of Mario Kart and – of course – LEGO Racers, but also evokes titles including Burnout Paradise and Forza Horizon. If that sounds like a promising pitch, it’s because it is: and one that developer Visual Concepts could easily have struggled to deliver on. But from the few hours I’ve spent with LEGO 2K Drive so far, it looks to be worthy of taking home the chequered flag.
That’s not just a thematic analogy, but a direct reference to the goal of LEGO 2K Drive’s story mode. While the core gameplay is anchored around exploring its open world, completing challenges and winning races, it’s all wrapped up in a story that will guide you through multiple regions, effectively serving as an excuse to try out everything the game has to offer. And believe me when I say: it’s a lot.
LEGO video game veterans won’t be surprised to learn that LEGO 2K Drive is packed with things to do, in the same way that most of us (hello) are probably still chugging away at collecting every prize in LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. But where that game sinks into padding by its 500th Kyber Brick, the challenges I came across at almost every turn of Turbo Acres and Big Butte County (and yes, the script leans into that name) felt consistently fresh.
That’s not to say they won’t feel tired after 30 or 40 hours with the game, but it does help that LEGO 2K Drive isn’t leaning on a formula we’ve all been playing for the past two decades. The LEGO Group’s reported decision to terminate its exclusivity agreement with TT Games – which allegedly gave the studio power to veto other LEGO video games – is already starting to pay off, just because this feels unlike any other LEGO video game we’ve seen before.
At the core of it all is the driving, and given controlling vehicles of any kind in TT Games’ efforts is typically painstaking (and often excruciating), expectations for the racing were not especially high. But Visual Concepts has threaded the needle almost perfectly, balancing the bombastic feel of racing destructible LEGO cars with the smooth, responsive controls required to make any driving game genuinely fun.
Did I say destructible? Yep: LEGO 2K Drive leans into the bricks in all the ways you’d expect, and then some. Your car (or boat – more on that in a moment) can take a real beating during races, which are suitably chaotic for an arcade racer, with LEGO pieces flying off left and right. There’s something very funny about crossing the finish line on only a chassis and four wheels – but lose enough elements, and you’ll be forced to respawn on the track, sacrificing a precious few seconds of race time (and, likely, your position in the pack).
The solution is simply to smash into stuff, because – brilliantly – destroying inanimate objects automatically repairs your own vehicle, cannibalising pieces from the environment to rebuild your racer. It’s one of several small touches dotted throughout LEGO 2K Drive that ensures you never forget you’re playing a LEGO racing game, rather than just a racing game. But there’s one big touch that will help you with that, too.
When you first drop into LEGO 2K Drive’s tutorial in Turbo Acres, you’ll be cruising along the road. So far, so good. Turn your wheel (nudge the joystick) and head off the beaten path, and things start to get a little wacky. LEGO 2K Drive has three different terrains: road, off-road, and water. And by default, your ride will switch between three pre-set configurations the moment you switch from any one terrain to another. Zoom off a low cliff on to the open water and watch as your wheels disappear and a boat hull emerges.
It’s not a simple flash, either: the animations to shift between vehicle types are a lightspeed disassembly/assembly of LEGO bricks, with all the accompanying (and satisfying) clicking noises you’d expect. This is the big, unique selling point of LEGO 2K Drive, and potentially the feature that might open it up to a wider fanbase. Visual Concepts Art Director Emmanuel Valdez confirmed to Brick Fanatics that while auto-switching between terrains is on by default, there is another way to play.
“You could actually turn it off and get a little bit more control,” Valdez says. “So when you get off-road, if you time it just right, you hug the dirt right away, and you get a little bit more of an advantage. You feel like you’re a lot more in control of the timing. If you’re in a race, you get that little bit of edge to maybe help you get ahead.”
While I didn’t get chance to test out manual switching, the baseline level of control the game offers – there are separate buttons for drifting and handbrake turns, for example, while boost is plentiful but still requires careful management – suggests there’s scope for LEGO 2K Drive to reach the competitive heights of kart games like Crash Team Racing. It helps too that some of the races can be genuinely challenging (occasionally for technical reasons, but fingers crossed those issues are ironed out before release in May).
All of this will likely come to the focus in the game’s online multiplayer mode, which allows up to six players to race competitively across LEGO 2K Drive’s wildly varied tracks. There’s also a local co-operative mode for two players, though I didn’t get to try that out, so exactly what it will involve is a little more mysterious for the moment.
Less mysterious is the story’s structure, which emerges very quickly: win races to collect new cars, characters and chequered flags. Collect enough flags, and you’ll unlock each region’s Grand Brick Arena. Win those races, and you’ll progress to the Sky Cup Grand Prix. It’s a simple, linear progression path that allows the rest of the game to breathe, including the challenges, which are littered at every turn and offer opportunities to earn Brickbux, LEGO 2K Drive’s in-game currency.
You’ll use that cash to unlock new stuff and upgrade your inventory, which shouldn’t be a new concept to anyone who’s played a video game in the past 20 years. But where LEGO 2K Drive races to pastures new is in its garage, which allows players to build their own car completely from scratch. You’ll apparently have over 1,000 different LEGO elements to choose from in the final build, and even the 100 or so available in our hands-on session kept me busy for a good while.
I can’t show you the car I put together – 2K Games didn’t allow direct capture during our session, so the images here are all screenshots provided by the publisher – but that’s probably for the best. (I am no builder.) What you need to know is that LEGO 2K Drive’s building tool is as deep as any digital software you might have used, and certainly as deep as it needs to be. But how easy is it to control, given the vast majority of gamers won’t have the convenience of using a keyboard and mouse?
Well, almost inevitably there’s a learning curve to things, and certain parts of the builder won’t necessarily feel so intuitive at first grasp. But you can also tell Virtual Concepts has spent a lot of time thinking about exactly which tools and shortcuts would be most useful, prioritising the functionality that would be most regularly used across the limited inputs of a PlayStation or Xbox controller. Some things require too many button presses – rotating hinged pieces, for example – but on balance, they’re generally commands you’re going to use far less frequently than, say, changing the colour of the piece you’re using. And that’s much easier to do.
“You’ve got to be really cognisant of the user experience,” Valdez confirms. “Building stuff in 3D is very hard. Imagine doing it with fewer buttons, and no keyboard and no mouse, and you only have the limitations of what you have on a controller. The garage team just did an excellent job of taking a very complex thing like building things from scratch brick by brick, into a system as intuitive as possible on a console.”
Without getting into the nitty gritty, the fact that 2K has pushed to add a building tool to this game at all is impressive – and for those players patient enough to wrangle with the limitations of a controller, will provide the kind of depth and longevity we’ve never seen from a LEGO racing game before.
I was playing an early build of LEGO 2K Drive, which wasn’t without its hiccups – notably, frame rate drops when too much was happening on screen – but those issues were few and far between, and everything else here feels polished and worthy of the triple-A title status the publisher is gunning for (including the dialogue, which feels straight out of The LEGO Movie).
If this is the future of LEGO video gaming, I’ll see you at the starting grid.
LEGO 2K Drive launches on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on May 19 (Standard Edition), or May 16 (Awesome Edition and Awesome Rivals Edition). Click here to find out more about the game, or head here to check out all the different versions and pre-order bonuses.
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