Forza Horizon 4’s excellent 2019 Lego expansion worked so well that it seemed obvious that an open-world Lego racing game should become its own thing. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long to see that become a reality. Visual Concepts and 2K Games have announced a multi-title partnership with The Lego Group that begins with the open-world racer Lego 2K Drive, which launches on May 19.
I was recently flown out to 2K’s Novato headquarters to go hands-on with Lego 2K Drive ahead of its announcement and came away impressed. The Lego and open-world racer combination still works quite well, harkening back to some great-playing racing games with aesthetics and a car customization system that gets as much mileage out of the Lego association as possible. Whether you’re a fan of this new wave of open-world racing games or want to build and then race the weirdest Lego creations possible, you’ll be thoroughly entertained by Lego 2K Drive.
Entering a Lego world
My hands-on time with Lego 2K Drive encompassed the game’s opening hours. The central premise is that players are trying to qualify for the Sky Cup Gran Prix, a race in the sky that only attracts the best drivers from this Lego world. To qualify, one must win four Grand Brick Arena circuits in each of this game’s biomes. But first, I had to learn how to drive. After designing my Lego character, I was let loose in Turbo Acres. In this smaller open-world area, it’s manageable to learn the basics from an experienced Lego driver named Clutch Racington.
“We wanted to feel like you are playing with your Lego sets in the real world”
Lego 2K Drive is very arcade-like in its handling. Boosting is vital to success, and I had to gain that boost by drifting and smashing through all of the Lego objects in the game’s world. It opts for the approach we’ve seen from other modern Lego titles like Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, where the environments look somewhat more realistic, but all of the people and buildings in the world are built with bricks.
While the contrast between the two might seem jarring, the Lego figures and buildings blend in quite well with the pretty landscapes of the game. Creative Director Brian Silva discussed how tricky balancing this was with Digital Trends, ultimately comparing the game’s look to playing with Legos in your backyard.
“We did our best to tilt those more realistic environment pieces toward a Lego look, so everything is large, square, and blocky to help it fit in our universe,” Silva tells Digital Trends. “The thought in the back of our mind was: ‘What if you had your favorite Lego sets and you went into your backyard?’ We wanted to feel like you are playing with your Lego sets in the real world and tap into this childlike imagination of how it would all look.”
I eventually went off-road and saw my car transform from a regular vehicle into an ATV. Then, curious to see what would happen, I decided to drive into the river surrounding this tutorial area. To my surprise, my car went from its off-road form into a boat. It compliments the game’s vehicle variety and customization as well, as players essentially will have access to three primary vehicles they can design at all times.
While real car models are featured in the game, players can build their own too. Lego 2K Drive’s kart creation and customization go very deep, as there are tons of Lego pieces at your disposal, and its menus are intuitive enough to use to where it’s easy to create some wacky vehicles fast. I was able to build some rough-looking harp and pizza cars in the limited time I had with customization, so I can only imagine the amazing-looking vehicles and horrifying monstrosities those who have time to master this creation suite will make.
Big Butte begins
If you’ve played Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, this game’s vehicle-switching game feel will be surprisingly familiar. In structure, Lego 2K Drive is much more similar to the Forza Horizon games. Various challenges and races are all scattered around its open-world areas, and I just had to drive up to them to start. The courses all twist and turn through their respective biomes, giving players even more familiarity with the area.
This gameplay loop affirmed itself as I left the tutorial area and explored the first biome of the game: Big Butte County (this game is full of humor aimed at kids). Big Butte is a desert biome full of large Sandstone rocks and enormous cliffs and canyons to drive off of. I mainly went off-road in this biome as I completed races and earned the currency needed to level up. I also had the chance to drive around in multiplayer, seeing other players move around as they completed stunts and challenges and seamlessly starting races with them.
When racing against real people, properly boosting and drifting becomes way more important, as does using offensive and defensive items that pop out on the track. There’s mission variety outside of standard races too. In one story mission, I was driving through hordes of invading alien robots to defend three generations. Another one called “Red Light, Green Light” references Squid Game, challenging racers to move only when the light is green, blowing up drivers that are still moving when the light turns red. Lego 2K Drive will even have a dedicated minigame mode at release, although I didn’t get to try it out.
Kids’ first Forza Horizon
Other open-world racers games like Forza Horizon 5 and The Crew have more realistic aesthetics and race types, so these kart-racer-like game systems help Lego 2K Drive stand out in that space. Kids and casual gamers should be fine picking this game up, but its deep customization, vehicle stats, and race difficulty levels should help this game appeal to more hardcore racing fans. According to Silva, it took lots of playtesting to get this feel just right.
“The most important experience is to get your game into the hands of the player as quickly as possible and watch them play,” Silva says. “That’s the most valuable thing. You will learn everything by watching someone play your game. It’s nice to get feedback and have them tell you what they think, but gameplay doesn’t lie … That’s my philosophy with game design: let the game tell you what it wants, watch people play the game, and let players tell you what they want too.”
Ultimately, it looks like all that testing allowed Visual Concepts to refine Lego 2K Drive into something accessible, but with the depth you’d expect from an open-world racer. It feels good to drive, boost, and drift off-road, on roads, and in the water, both in vehicles the game gives players and in ones players construct themselves. The game does reward players who drive well but is willing to bring them back down to earth with alternative missions and powerful items. It’s everything I wanted out of an open-world Lego racing game.
Lego 2K Drive releases for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on May 19.
Disclosure: 2K Games and PR agency Finn Partners paid for travel and accommodations so that Digital Trends could participate in this preview event in Novato. This did not influence Digital Trends’ coverage of the game.
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