Lego video games have seen a resurgence recently. After years of being associated most closely with successful but often very similar platformers from TT Games, the last few years have given us the minimalist Lego: A Builder's Journey, the clever physics puzzler Lego Bricktales, and the ambitious Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. It's in that environment that we're getting Lego 2K Drive, a striking combination of influences as diverse as Mario Kart and Burnout Paradise that uses the Lego license to add both humor and smart gameplay applications. Best of all, it's an absolute blast to play.
The structure of Lego 2K Drive unfolds in layers that help to illustrate just how multifaceted the game really is. The core story mode takes place in a wide open-world environment composed of a handful of different biomes. I tried the tutorial area, Turbo Acres, as well as a large Arizona-like area called Big Butte, and the world map showed at least three more to explore. Each of these is littered with garages to act as fast-travel points, races, stunt jumps, and other activities. Most of these are integrated right into the open world, so you can simply pass through a gate to start a quick event--say, a challenge to jump over several barns. The open worlds in Lego 2K Drive reminded me of the best moments of Burnout Paradise or Forza Horizon, roaming the landscape and looking for fun activities, jumping into one, and then driving around to look for the next. The vehicles themselves have a solid weight to them, gripping the road in a way that even some more traditional racing games don't quite nail.
Your vehicles aren't limited to traditional cars. The landscapes often have large water structures as well as off-road grounds. Since your vehicle is made of Lego, it instantly reconstitutes itself to match the type of terrain it's on. You can freely roam around the streets in a hot rod, and the moment you go off-road, a satisfying click-clack of Lego bricks rebuilds around you to make an ATV. Score a big jump off a cliff into a nearby river and, click-clack, you're driving a boat. It feels frictionless, like the whole world is your playground and nowhere is off-limits. As you explore and unlock new vehicles, each with their own stats, you can make separate loadouts with different combinations of roadsters, off-road vehicles, and boats that will swap in automatically as you play.
That feeling of freedom is further accentuated by the integration of Lego bricks into gameplay. Whereas most racing games punish you for running into pedestrians or other cars, Lego 2K Drive encourages it. Smashing through a Lego structure or NPC vehicle breaks them into a thousand clinking pieces and helps charge your boost meter. Like the quick-change vehicle mechanic, the game cleverly takes an element that's usually a momentum-killer in most arcade racers and turns it into a strength based on the familiar trappings of Lego toys.
The open-world activities and story missions are similarly varied. One moment you might be jumping from road to off-road to water for a time-trial, while the next you could be playing red-light, green-light with a bomb strapped to your car that will explode if you don't stop in time, and another you may be fending off evil robots with EMP blasts. Occasionally, you can even find an optional mission that will have permanent effects on the open world. I ran across one side activity that had me mow some weeds, which unlocked a lawnmower as an off-road option. Mowing weeds in the open world then replaces them with power crystals, which are used to charge your boost meter from then on, including in the racing and events segments.
The story is humorous and self-aware, with sharp writing that would be right at home in The Lego Movie franchise. The game gets a lot of mileage out of Big Butte's double entendre, for example, and I'm not ashamed to admit I chuckled at the race announcers' cheerful advertisement for Big Butte office chairs. But 2K Drive doesn't let its humor get in the way of the gameplay, as most of the funniest lines were delivered while I was out driving and exploring. This could turn obnoxious if jokes end up repeating themselves, but in the time I played, I didn't hear that happen. The core cast of characters--the villain, your mentor, the announcers--are rounded out by various rivals who have their own unique gimmick and personality. One rival, a scientist driving a space rover-like vehicle, had a story mission in which she came face to face with herself from the future. Lego provides a wide enough range of genres to provide a rich canvas for the writing to explore.
The racing controls are intuitive and easy to get a feel for, making it very satisfying to just wander around. In addition to a drift button, there's a dedicated button for quick-turns, and another for jumps. Many arcade racers combine these all into one function, but I found having them separated gave me more fine control and finesse.
"Our approach was to make the game feel like you imagine it feeling when you're playing with your Lego as a kid," creative director Brian Silva told GameSpot. "It feels real to you, you're not playing with toys."
It may have been enough to simply make a fun, open-world racing game in the mold of Burnout, but Lego 2K Drive takes it a step further. The traditional races, available both in the open world and through a separate Grand Prix menu, are reminiscent of the Mario Kart franchise. The colorful Lego presentation makes this a natural fit, and while racing you'll pick up a variety of weapons via randomized boxes--just like in Mario Kart--to protect yourself or smash the other racers into bricks. It only took a short time to learn the weapon icons, which were easy to read and understand: the Homing Rocket fires a heat-seeking projectile, the Ghost makes you invulnerable but also prevents you from picking up boosts, and so on. For the most part these were relatively standard fare--which helped with the easy readability--but some were a little more unusual. Square Wheels, for example, makes for a bumpy ride when you're inflicted with the status.
All the same mechanics from the open-world segments are on display in the races as well, from smashing through the environment for boost meter to quick-changing vehicle types on the fly. The drift (complete with a drift-boost) will make dedicated Mario Kart fans immediately feel at home, while the quick-turn and jump buttons grant a deeper degree of control over your Lego car as you race.
This being a Lego game, the concept wouldn't feel quite right without a building element. The garages that serve as fast-travel points also offer a robust construction tool, letting you build new vehicles across all three categories, or edit the ones you've already unlocked. I briefly tinkered enough to put a pair of wings on my hot rod, which didn't make it airworthy but did look neat. The construction tools are remarkably easy to use, with a snap-on interface that imitates real Lego-building right down to the satisfying click of putting a piece into place. I didn't have enough time to experiment with how editing a design might impact a vehicle's handling and other stats, but it's at least very easy to make a car look the way you want.
The library of brick types was substantial, encompassing just about every major one I would have thought to look for as a Lego fan, and some that I didn't. Particular pieces fit into where they should with impressive accuracy, like cog pieces that slot into joiners. The one piece that didn't behave like expected was a ball joint, which in real bricks makes a piece that can freely pivot at any angle. I couldn't find how to make it move with that degree of freedom in the garage. I'm not sure if this is a limitation of the system or just of my understanding of the tools. If the former, it's a very minor nit to pick.
And just like real Lego, you can also follow the instructions. An Instruction mode lets you build a model step-by-step, isolating a handful of pieces at a time and letting you click them into place yourself. This is the closest I've seen to imitating a real Lego build in a virtual space, with the same relaxing cadence of putting a set together. The functionality was only present for the pre-set models that you had unlocked at my demo. I was told that sharing your custom creations will be coming post-launch.
In fact, it sounds as if developer Visual Concepts has ambitious plans for Lego 2K Drive to last it quite a while. According to Silva, the studio is already planning four major updates, an additional biome with its own mini-story, and more details that are under wraps for the time being.
Describing Lego 2K Drive is almost overwhelming. There's so much to do and see, and so many smart ways the systems fold into each other for a seamless experience. But in the moment, while playing, it's anything but overwhelming. It's a breezy, pick-up-and-play experience that uses its multitude of systems and options to feel expansive, without getting in the way of the fun. Lego 2K Drive is coming May 19.
The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.