As well as being the world’s most iconic toy brand, Lego has a long history of licensed tie-in games from Star Wars to Jurassic World. Aimed at younger players, these games follow a tried and tested formula of platforming and puzzle-solving. But before we were oversaturated with formulaic licensed LEGO games, there was LEGO Racer.
One of the earliest LEGO video games, LEGO Racer’s gimmick was the ability to build your own car out of LEGO bricks. It was popular enough to spawn several sequels, but the series has laid dormant since 2002’s Drome Racers.
LEGO returned to the racetrack in Forza Horizon 4's divisive LEGO Speed Champions expansion. It teased the potential of what a modern full-on open-world LEGO racer could look like. With the surprise arrival of LEGO 2K Drive, this dream is now a reality.
Announced in March after five years of secret development Visual Concepts (best known for NBA 2K and WWE 2K), LEGO 2K Drive has come out of nowhere to challenge Mario Kart and Forza Horizon. But is everything awesome in LEGO 2K Drive?
A virtual Legoland
LEGO 2K Drive's main story mode sees you play as a rookie racer working your way to the top to win the coveted Sky Cup Trophy. As we’ve come to expect from LEGO games, the story is lighthearted and filled with irreverent humour, quirky characters, and plenty of groan-inducing puns.
The juvenile humour is clearly aimed at children, but jibes about video game tropes such as mandatory tutorials and non-playable characters might give adult gamers a chuckle.
Coupled with its colourful visuals, LEGO 2K Drive is brimming with charm and personality - something modern racing games often lack.
LEGO 2K Drive mixes Mario Kart’s power-up racing with Forza Horizon’s open-world exploration and ModNation Racing’s extensive customisation. You’re let loose in Bricklandia, a vibrant open world split into three distinct areas that unlock as you level up.
After completing the opening tutorial world, you’ll travel to Big Butte County (LEGO 2K Drive’s version of the Arizona desert), the Wild West-inspired Prospecto Valley and the spooky Hauntsborough.
Earning flags by winning races qualifies you to enter each biome’s final grand prix, culminating with a spectacular race in the clouds in the Sky Cup grand finale. You can swiftly fast travel to garages but it’s a shame the biomes aren’t connected to let you drive seamlessly to different areas.
Bricklandia may not be the largest open world, but it’s a joy to explore and there’s always something new to do. LEGO 2K Drive wants you to have fun as often as possible.
Outside of races, you’ll meet characters who give you fetch quests such as rescuing runaway pigs or chasing and collecting rockets. There are also side “On-the-Go” challenges to complete such as time trials and jumps alongside hidden collectables to hunt. This all earns you XP, which you’ll need to enter later races as you level up.
There's a feeling of progression but levelling up between story events can be a grind. XP rewards are often low, meaning you’ll sometimes need to repeat races and some minigames are more fun than others, but there’s enough variety to prevent you from getting bored.
Impressively, every environment is also fully destructible. Hitting fences, trees and traffic cars causes them to explode into hundreds of LEGO pieces. With no slowdown on PS5, LEGO 2K Drive’s destruction is an impressive spectacle. Smashing into the scenery is not only fun and cathartic but also encouraged as it fills your boost and repairs your vehicle.
Fun for all ages
LEGO 2K Drive is clearly aimed at younger players, but the driving and racing are deceptively deep. Vehicle handling is tight and responsive, and each vehicle has unique characteristics - heavy and light vehicles feel noticeably different to drive.
Timing drifts and quick turns, which are mapped to separate buttons, right to gain advantage takes skill and getting gold in some of the side events will challenge even experienced players.
Taking cues from the superb Sonic & Sega All-Stars Transformed, vehicles automatically transform between street, off-road or water vehicles depending on the terrain. Switch from road to water, for example, and your vehicle transforms from a sports car to a boat in a slick animation, allowing for seamless exploration.
These transformations happen automatically by default, or you can activate them manually, but this requires precise timing to pull off, adding another layer of challenge.
Racing is fast and chaotic thanks to speed boosts and powerups such as homing missiles and shields scattered around each track. Obvious AI rubber banding means you'll rarely lose a race in the early stages.
In these races, the leader has a huge speed advantage, only to slow down towards the end of the last lap, resulting in a tense photo finish. This makes the racing close and exciting for younger players but there's no option to adjust the AI difficulty for players who want a tougher challenge.
As you unlock the higher B and A class events, however, the difficulty increases considerably, yet remains fair and well-balanced. In later events, the opponents are noticeably faster and harder to beat - you'll need to boost almost constantly and time powerup attacks perfectly to finish first in the harder events.
Tracks also get increasingly complex, with shortcuts to utilise and obstacles to avoid from giant fly swatters to fire traps.
LEGO is all about building anything your imagination can dream up, and LEGO 2K Drive fully embraces this. Car-building was a staple of the original LEGO Racer games, but LEGO 2K takes it to the next level.
Most racing games give you a simple livery editor to change colours and add decals, but LEGO 2K lets you build your dream ride from scratch.
After choosing a chassis, creators can assemble a street car, off-roader or water vehicles brick by brick using up to 350 pieces. With a massive library of parts and accessories to choose from, the possibilities are almost endless. It’s comprehensive but never overwhelming thanks to easy-to-understand tutorials.
Once you’ve built your dream creation, you can test it on a track. Sadly, it's not currently possible to share your creations with other players online, but this is planned for a post-launch update. Positioning bricks can be fiddly on a controller, but it’s one of the most advanced car customisation tools in any racing game.
Characters don’t have the same level of customisation, sadly. Instead, you’re limited to a small number of pre-designed mini-figures, with no options to change clothes, accessories or facial features.
Oddly, there are no licensed vehicles except for the McLaren Solus GT hero car and McLaren F1 LM. This blatant product placement sticks out alongside the fictional vehicles.
Given how many real-life cars have had the LEGO Speed Champions and Technic treatment, the lack of licensed cars from other brands is a missed opportunity. 2K Games is probably saving them for post-release DLC.
Hitting a brick paywall
Not everything is awesome. As you explore and win races, you earn Brickbucks, an in-game currency to buy brick pieces, vehicles and minifigures. Payouts for winning events are extremely low, meaning it takes several hours of grinding if you want to buy a new car or minifigure unless you buy coin packs with real-world money.
This aggressive use of microtransactions is nothing unusual in 2K’s sports titles but it's particularly egregious in a family game primarily targeting children. On top of that, some content can only be accessed in the paid Drive Pass and multiple deluxe editions – the most expensive of which costs an eye-watering £104.99.
As a safeguard for parents who don’t want their children maxing out their credit card, the in-game store can’t be accessed unless you register a 2K account. But for a full-priced game, locking content behind season passes, deluxe editions and microtransactions leaves a sour taste.
Malicious microtransactions aside, LEGO 2K Drive is a brickin' good time. The humour and accessible difficulty make it ideal for children and casual gamers but there's enough depth, challenge, and variety for experienced players to enjoy.
It doesn't quite reach the same heights as Mario Kart or Forza Horizon, but the expansive open world puts a fun new spin on kart racing, the racing is fast and chaotic, and the comprehensive car builder is worth the asking price alone for creators.
No matter your age or skill level, LEGO 2K Drive is a ludicrously fun time that lays the foundation for a future franchise to challenge Mario Kart and Forza Horizon.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Reviews page.