LEGO 2K Drive may sound like it was named at 5:40 on a Friday afternoon – seriously, if blending the publisher’s name and a five-letter verb describing what you’ll be doing most is all it takes these days, I look forward to the next Call of Duty being christened Activision Shoot – but hey, don’t hold that against it. Highly charming and imaginative, 2K Drive fuses confident kart racing with a virtually unlimited custom garage, making it a place where you can spend just as much time fastidiously building vehicles as you do frantically racing them.
LEGO 2K Drive cribs from a lot of existing racers, which makes it fairly easy to explain. Forza Horizon 4’s dearly-loved LEGO expansion rates as an automatic mention as a fellow open-world, LEGO-themed racer (and they certainly both share the idea of having races and challenges spread out across the map to organically discover as we explore). However, despite that obvious LEGO link, 2K Drive is arguably more in-line with Ubisoft’s The Crew 2 and its hot-swapping system. Vehicles in 2K Drive transform between street rides, offroad racers, and boats as the terrain changes, complete with a satisfying brick-clicking sound effect.
The ability to have multiple different trios of vehicles saved in your loadouts is very handy, though I would say the system is a little overzealous when set to shift automatically. The effect of your ride rapidly blinking from street to offroad and back again, after spending just a split-second on the shoulder, is a bit manic – but you can turn automatic switching off if you’d rather swap manually. If you’re unfamiliar with The Crew 2, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed’s similarly mighty take on morphing motors may give you some idea of what to expect – their brands of multi-terrain, vehicle-swapping racing around regularly crazy courses while blasting opponents with weapons are very alike.
2K Drive definitely deviates from the Horizon brand of LEGO racing in terms of scale, too; it’s far more akin to Hot Wheels Unleashed in this regard. That is, there’s an effective feeling that bucketfuls of LEGO have been assembled within life-sized environments, with huge, non-LEGO items like tools, tyres, and tree roots scattered amongst colourful plastic dioramas in each of its four separate open worlds. Unfortunately, 2K Drive doesn’t nail this toy-sized idea quite as consistently as Hot Wheels Unleashed does. The lighting isn’t as convincing, and the illusion is occasionally disrupted by items that feel out-of-place at the scale it’s trying to suggest – like, say, miniature real leaf litter that should’ve been life-sized. Also, unlike Hot Wheels Unleashed, 2K Drive doesn’t measure distances in centimetres or inches, which is a slight shame because it’s those last pieces of attention to detail that would make a pint-sized toy racer like this really sing, if you catch my drift.
On that note, drifting is executed in a slightly peculiar way in 2K Drive, and by default it requires us to hold both the brake and throttle at the same time throughout an entire drift. It’s actually very easy to grasp, but it does feel a little odd to have the brake squeezed fully down for considerable parts of a race. It’s possible to switch to a more typical tap-to-drift mechanic but that’s a little less predictable and I have found my drifts ending prematurely, leaving me to battle understeer or jam down the brake mid-corner to get another drift going.
That said, the sensation of long, high-speed powerslides is well translated by 2K Drive’s handling model. It’s simple to pick up and play but arguably more complex than it first seems – especially once you start to exploit the mild air controls possible via the rocket jump and nitro boost, or feel the subtle effects of weight as your vehicles lose bricks from collisions and combat (in a clever touch, crashing through trackside objects will replenish the LEGO in your own damaged ride). Also, the dedicated handbrake button – or quick turn, as 2K Drive dubs it – is a crucial and welcome addition. It’s very useful for tight switchbacks and an absolute necessity to effectively complete some of the missions – particularly the destruction-based ones that require swift changes of direction.
The rubber-banding might be a fraction too flagrant at times, but it does at least keep the racing chaotic and close, and it rarely feels unfair. The track design is also generally strong, with plenty of technical segments, environmental hazards, and rewarding shortcuts. 2K Drive performs smoothly on Xbox Series X, but I have had a friend lose hours of save game progress on PS5 without warning, which appears to be a known issue.
2K Drive is probably guilty of leaning a little too heavily on some of its non-racing mission types, some of which are riffed upon several times throughout the career mode. The collection missions are the most egregious and they’re essentially just padding to stretch out proceedings. The story itself lasted me around 10 hours sticking at it, but I have been left with a lot of uncompleted side objectives. It does a slightly poor job of spelling out why certain later missions are unavailable until you unlock the next batch of races, especially since younger players may just stumble across them and think they’re broken, but the story is very cute. I absolutely found myself smiling along with the cutscenes, which emulate the same photoreal stop-motion style nailed by The LEGO Movie. My kids loved the villain, who is frankly far funnier than the token bad guy in a licensed racing game probably had any right to be.
Now, the last LEGO racing game I played – beyond Forza Horizon’s take on it – was LEGO Racers back in 1999, which is fondly remembered by gamers of a particular vintage for its rudimentary custom car building. 2K Drive pays homage to that game with a customisation tool of its own that would’ve seemed like witchcraft in the late ’90s. Seriously, if you can dream it – and it fits in the allocated space – you can build it. It’s honestly quite remarkable. In fact, my stats tell me I’ve spent more time building than I have driving. The amount of options and controls was a little intimidating at first but after a few hours I felt quite comfortable relaxing and piecing together my first project – which became a chunky caricature of Mad Max’s iconic Interceptor.
Snapping pieces together is occasionally finicky, but generally it’s very cooperative. Pieces can be painted any colour you want, whether they’re officially available in the real world that way or not. You can group pieces, duplicate them, mirror them, and make fine angle adjustments. You can even delete and add pieces without pulling entire segments apart, like you’d have to do in real life. A range of pieces are held in reserve as rewards or available to purchase for credits from the in-game store – meaning you may not be able to perfect your build immediately upon booting up – but the customisation system in 2K Drive is nothing short of excellent.
It’s not mandatory to spend a bunch of time here, though – if you don’t want to start from scratch, you can edit the existing models for a head start on builds. Don’t feel you have to put together large projects like mine, either. If you want to keep it simple, you can grab a palm-sized chassis and simply whack together a quick little kart with a handful of bricks. You’ll be back in 1999 in no time.
Moreover, if a meathead like me is able to put something like this together after just several years of riding shotgun on my kids’ LEGO building, imagine what true LEGO experts are going to be able to assemble. Finding that out is where 2K Drive stumbles, though, as the ability to share creations is not available presently. It’s been clarified that custom vehicle sharing is a feature that will be included in a post-launch update, but what form that takes is a mystery. Will it be limited to friends? Or will there be an in-game browser to see the best models from anybody? I hope it’s the latter.
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Author: Luke Reilly