LEGO 2K Drive – Yellow Brick Off-Road
Lego 2K Drive is the sort of fevered game pitch thrown around in online chats regularly; what if someone mixed Burnout Paradise with Mario Kart? Thanks to developer Visual Concepts, we have an answer to that question, leveraging the Lego license for its predilection towards goofy humour and customisation as theming to tie the whole thing together. Unfortunately, while Lego 2K Drive is a blast to zoom around in, it lacks a strong sense of exactly who its target market is and suffers for it through a considerable skill floor, tedious minigame sections and microtransactions so overpriced you’d be better served running to the nearest big box store and buying some actual Lego sets.
One of the most anticipated features shown by trailers was the seamless ‘all terrain’ travel promised by L2KD, the game swapping between street racers, off road vehicles and marine craft on the fly to suit whatever area in Bricklandia the player happened to be barrelling over at the time. It’s a joy to experience and works fantastically in the Story Mode, which I suspect is where many players will spend a large portion of their time in-game as it’s easily the most rewarding in a number of ways. Spread across a handful of distinct biomes, players take on the role of an up-and-coming racer making a name for themselves as they seek to defeat the evil racer Shadow Z and win the coveted Sky Cup Trophy. The basic loop of this mode won’t come as a shock to anyone who has spent time in an open-world racing game of the past decade; complete races, defeat rivals, unlock vehicles and upgrades, rinse and repeat. While I’m no racing fanatic, I do get a lot of enjoyment out of Forza Horizon and its ilk, so I felt right at home during the hours I spent exploring areas like Big Butte County, Prospecto Valley and the spooky Hauntsborough. Much like Forza Horizon and Burnout Paradise before it, L2KD does a fantastic job of enticing the player to explore their surroundings, making it possible to lose quite a lot of time just seeing where you can get to and how you can do it, encouraged by some interesting verticality to many of the locations. Jumping from the top of a mountain as an ATV, boosting out over a river and splashing down to find yourself in a Speed Boat is an exhilarating feeling whether it’s the first or the hundredth time.
The racing aspect of L2KD is up to standard, but rarely exceeds its stiffest competition in the form of a Karting enthusiast plumber. Control wise, L2KD doesn’t cater to the range of skills that this particular competitor does, requiring more precision and control mastery to derive some sense of satisfaction, albeit with some fierce rubber-banding to try and offset such demands; the most notable I experienced was going from 5th to 1st place on the final corner of a race. Thanks to the looser design of many of the tracks, most races encourage shortcut discovery and exploitation of the multiple vehicle types at the players disposal, provided they can make the best use of drifting, jumping and quick turns. The lack of a linear structure when completing the multitude of race types does help if a particular vehicle loadout isn’t suitable and a decent fast-travel system makes it a breeze to slam through a set of same-type races in no time – but I find it hard to believe outside of shifting areas that anyone would want to forego more time in the open-world.
One misstep throughout the Story Mode are a few of the ‘minigame’ missions which frequently gatekeep story progression, pumping the brakes on the flow achieved between the open-world exploration and the placement of missions. Each minigame presents a unique problem to be solved in your vehicle, but quite often they feel forced and gimmicky. By far the worst offender involved collecting rockets which then wrested all but the most basic control of a vehicle from the player, making returning each rocket to the goal zone an exercise in patience more than skill. While this unlocked some enjoyable exploration options, I would honestly have preferred a short cutscene in their stead.
Outside of Story Mode, L2KD has plenty to keep players busy. The Cup Series is the standard multi-race mode with three vehicle classes from A to C, while Race is a one-shot race in any of the games four biomes. Multiplayer options are plentiful, with online, split-screen versus and co-op on offer. Two players can run through the Story Mode entirely in splitscreen co-op, which feels like a boon for parents like myself juggling junior gamers in the household. Play With Friends is a mode that’s true to its word, supporting up to six players race around Bricklandia together as well as Cup Series and single Races, while Play With Everyone is the main multiplayer competitive mode. Both online modes feature CrossPlay with all Lego 2K Drive platforms bar the Nintendo Switch which goes a long way to ensuring there is plenty of competition, friendly or otherwise, to be found. Up to Four-Player splitscreen would have been an excellent addition, but there is likely far too much going on in the open-world to make such a thing feasible.
While I have no doubt it’s a far superior experience on PC, the fact of the matter is that constructing vehicles in The Garage on a console controller isn’t particularly fun. The developers have clearly tried to balance the power of the system with such a limited and imprecise input device as analogue sticks and a handful of buttons, but each venture into the Garage for building made me long for a keyboard and mouse to unlock the true potential of this aspect of L2KD. Intertwined with the building mode is the inclusion of microtransactions in L2KD, HIDDEN? By the classic dual currency system – real world cash for ‘gold coins’ which then convert to ‘Brickbuxx’, the latter of which can theoretically be earned simply by playing the game but at such a slow rate as to push towards real money purchasing. Nevermind the fact that the average vehicle from the store costs in the realm of $9AU once converted, and it raises the question how much digital Lego is worth when the real thing can be had for a similar price with a quick trip to Kmart? I could fully understand the inclusion were L2KD released at a lower price point, but when consumers are being asked for not just standard RRP but microtransactions and season passes on top, it feels like a Lego bridge too far, most notably because of the ostensible younger target market attracted to the game.
Lego 2K Drive falls just short of brilliance, but shows plenty of promise. In an ideal world, it’s simply a solid start to a series that will improve with time as Visual Concepts make the most of what worked and retool what didn’t fire on all cylinders in a future entry.
Lego 2K Drive was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 console with code kindly supplied by the publisher.