Lego thrives on versatility and variety. The brand has become associated with everything from model towns to outer space to licensed franchises like Star Wars to original IP like Bionicle and Ninjago. Lego 2K Drive is relatively narrow compared to the wide array of Lego iconography, but that laser-like focus works in its favor. The team at 2K and Visual Concepts has made a great racing game first, allowing the Lego elements to organically add both an astounding amount of customization and flavorful visual flourishes to make a lively and enjoyable open-world driving experience.
Under the hood, Lego 2K Drive is a combination of open-world racing games like Burnout Paradise or Forza Horizon and kart racers like Mario Kart or Sonic All-Stars. The main campaign has you exploring three big biomes, each with their own wide variety of activities and events, punctuated by kart races against rival drivers who run these regions. But part of what makes both exploring and racing so fun is how toy-like it feels, thanks to some smart systems that remove any possible friction from exploration.
When driving around in a typical open-world racer, you may have to set a waypoint to your next objective and spend a few minutes making your way over by following the roads. In Lego 2K Drive, your vehicle auto-switches from roadster to off-road vehicle to boat based on whatever you need at a given time. The click-clack of your vehicle instantly reconstituting itself into something new when you hop from a road to a river just feels great every time. A generous nitro boost and a dedicated jump button mean you can hop over obstacles and scale hills with ease. Other cars or small buildings in the way? No problem, just smash right through them and they'll explode into a thousand Lego bricks, building your boost meter in the process. This effectively makes the whole world your playground, letting you carve paths through it. There's almost never a hard barrier between you and the fun.
Naturally, the races are more tightly controlled. To keep them competitive, there are checkpoints and hard walls. But the races add another layer that isn't present in the open world, in the form of power-ups. This is a staple of kart racers, and the ones present here are, for the most part, fun and diverse ways to mess with your opponents. You can instantly tell the rocket icon will let you fire a homing missile on your next opponent, for example, or that the ghost icon makes you invulnerable to obstacles for a short time. Power-ups with less universally recognizable icons, like a rolling mine, become clear enough after the first time you use them.
The one major miss among the power-ups is the spider web, which falls into the kart racer weapon category of obstructing your opponent's view and slowing them down. That effect would be fine by itself, but it also forces you to jam on a button to clear the web, which just feels too distracting and unfair in the middle of a race. On top of that, the button is mapped to the same one as jump, so after clearing the web you're almost guaranteed to accidentally jump when you didn't mean to. (A late-game race against a spider-themed rival was especially frustrating for this reason).
The campaign's three biomes are bursting with things to do in addition to traditional kart races. There are also On-The-Go events that trigger automatically when you drive through a gate, minigames like Rescue (help townspeople from rampaging skeletons, clowns, etc) or Defend (protect a set of towers), World Challenges to set time records, and Quests where you help a townsperson with some odd job. Two of the three biomes--Big Butte County and Prospecto Valley--can feel similar due to their sheer cliffs and rural landscapes, but the third is a radical departure both thematically and visually. And sometimes your activities can have permanent effects on the world, like mowing down weeds to replace them with speed-boosting crystals or unlocking jump-jets that will populate throughout the biomes.
With a wide variety of vehicles that have their own stats, Lego 2K Drive also smartly lets you set a handful of loadouts that can be swapped anytime you're not actively in an event. One of your loadouts may be more focused on maxing out your acceleration while another could focus on hairpin turns. I had one loadout set aside for when I wanted to mow down weeds without having to manually swap my off-road vehicle to a lawnmower. As you progress through the campaign, you'll also unlock the ability to equip an increasing number and more powerful perks, which can have a huge impact on your racing style and strategy. The presentation is perfectly kid-friendly, but the racing hooks are deep enough to draw in arcade racing fans of any age.
While most of the campaign is a smooth ride, I did hit a pacing issue once when nearing the end, when I needed to grind some levels to qualify for the next phase in the story. I found that most of the minigames and Quests awarded very little XP, so my best bet was to replay races I had already completed on harder or even easier difficulties. It was a small roadbump, but notable regardless since it added an hour or so of extra playtime to what is already an 8-10-hour core campaign. The length would have been perfectly satisfying without the extra padding. The final race in the Sky Cup Grand Prix is an especially thrilling high point, pun intended, and even after finishing the campaign, the open world still feels inviting and fresh with tons of challenges I haven't even touched yet.
While not exactly affiliated with The Lego Movie, Lego 2K Drive obviously took tonal cues from that hit animated movie. The setting is mostly city-based sets, and the writing carries that same sense of tongue-in-cheek all-ages humor that occasionally breaks the fourth wall. The interplay between the two race announcers (Vikki Wheeler and Parker Carr) is a highlight, with hilarious commentary before major races. Your ultimate goal is to gather enough flags to qualify for the Sky Cup Grand Prix, the ultimate racing competition held in a floating race course in the clouds, which is currently dominated by an obnoxious cheater named Shadow Z. A veteran racer named Clutch Racington sees potential in you and becomes your clueless comic mentor, ushering you through the steps of your journey to become the ultimate driver and unseat Shadow Z.
With all that emphasis on plucking your racer from obscurity to become the new champion, you might expect there to be heavy character customization, but sadly no. You can pick from a handful of premade models, but you can't craft your own Lego minifig character from scratch, or even mix-and-match the parts from the models you have available. More models unlock throughout the campaign and there are more available in the shop, however.
That's an odd oversight given how remarkably robust Lego 2K Drive is with its vehicle-crafting features. The building interface is incredibly flexible and evocative of an actual Lego building set, with the same snap-on satisfaction of putting each individual brick into place. The menus are so full-featured that it can be a little overwhelming at first, but it doesn't take long to get a feel for all your options and start tinkering away. And once you start, it's hard to stop. There's almost no limit to what you can do with the tools. You could start a build from scratch, modify an existing model with new parts, or even just give your favorite car a custom paint job.
Ultimately the building options are cosmetic, and no amount of flaps will make your car airborne. How it actually handles comes down to stats, which is its own sub-menu. While the pre-built vehicles you obtain in the campaign will have their own values assigned to stats like top speed and health, in build mode you can select from several stat packages that balance their values with names like "Healthy Option" (high health) or "Edging Out" (good top speed and maneuverability at the expense of health). You can purchase higher-tier stat packages with your earned cash, but they're all relatively inexpensive and the presets keep any of them from feeling unbalanced. It's also nicely flexible in that there doesn't seem to be a limit on which stats you can attach to vehicles. Vehicles are given weight classes based on their number of pieces, but I had no problem attaching the same stat package to both a Light and Very Heavy vehicle.
For a more meditative experience, the build shop also includes an Instructions mode, made to imitate the feeling of actually building a Lego set from a bag full of parts. It breaks down one of the pre-built models, giving you individual steps with several parts to assemble, and then you simply grab them one at a time to rotate and then click them into place. I've always enjoyed the relaxed, therapeutic experience of putting together a Lego set, and this captures that feeling almost precisely.
Expanding your collection of cars to have more to build and modify is where Lego 2K Drive appears to aim to have longevity. A season pass called the Drive Pass promises more racers and vehicles, but it isn't active at the time of this review. Aside from a wide array of vehicles, you also earn money through the campaign. But having completed it, I have barely enough to buy a few cars, so it seems clear that the goal is to keep players coming back long-term. I'm satisfied with my current collection and I'll see what the Drive Pass has to offer, but completionists will definitely need to commit to earn a full collection of cars and racers. You can also buy a premium currency and then turn it into the in-game currency, which can certainly be a concern for a kid-friendly game with slow in-game progression. But since any competitive advantage comes from the inexpensive stat packages themselves, there doesn't seem to be a competitive advantage for the DLC vehicles.
Whatever the future holds, Lego 2K Drive is already a complete package--a raucous arcade racer that marries elements of open-world racing and kart racing and wraps it all in a bright, playful Lego package. It has enough real racing bona fides to satisfy adults, but the most pleasant surprise is how its combination of humor, explosive action, and robust building tools will make you feel like a kid again.