You know you’re at the mid-point of a console generation when the family-friendly racing titles start to arrive. Developed by veteran studio Visual Concepts, Lego 2K Drive is essentially Burnout Paradise mixed with Lego City Undercover, an open world drive ’em up providing four environments to race through, all crammed with Lego buildings, scuttling minifigs, and of course, a lot of zany vehicles. In a clever play on the endless remouldability of Lego models, your vehicle can instantly transform, so circuits quickly swap between road, offroad and water sections. There are even jetpacks later on.
The career mode puts you into the fireproof boots of a rookie driver competing in a series of competitions to eventually claim the golden Sky Cup Trophy. Each of the locations provides a world crammed with mini-quests and driving challenges, and between circuit competitions you can choose to, say, battle skeleton armies, destroy invading robots, deliver flowers to a character’s crush or see how far you can jump from a mountain ledge. Wherever you drive, there is a little task or challenge to discover; most are diverting and pleasingly silly.
The races themselves try hard to be Mario Kart. The handling is heavy on drifting, while speeding through power-up icons gives you access to a range of weapons from missiles to spiderwebs that obscure the windscreens of your rivals. As with Nintendo’s series, there is a heck of a lot of rubber-banding going on. Opponents are never more than a kart’s length behind you, even when you take the perfect racing line and avoid all the hazards. At the same time, whenever you crash out of the race, you whiz through the pack in seconds to start competing for first place again. This is fine, though, as the target audience of younger kids will enjoy the excitement of constant competition, no matter how well or badly they play.
Things do get tougher as you level up and begin to unlock races in higher classes. There are elements of the classic Midway racers – the likes of Hydro Thunder and San Francisco Rush, where you need to hit all the boosts and make judicious use of shortcuts to shave seconds off lap times. However, you can also unlock perks which can, say, raise your top speed or acceleration, or refill your boost meter when you successfully target another car with a weapon. When you win a race, you get lots of goodies including a new car and cash to spend on cosmetic improvements. There’s a vast shop filled with cars, minifigs and accessories and naturally, you can exchange real money for in-game tokens if you can’t wait to earn them through playing.
The worlds aren’t huge, but they’re genuinely beautiful. Big Butte County is a desert landscape complete with looming sandstone buttes, farms (complete with Lego cows, pigs and horses) and quaint towns. Prospecto Valley is a mining region with cowboy towns surrounded by woodlands. My favourite though is Hauntsborough, a spooky theme park world filled with giant spiders, creepy castles and dark, ominous tunnels. It’s a shame we didn’t see more landscapes like this one, embracing the fantasy element of the Lego universe.
There is local and online multiplayer, and Visual Concepts has tried to make it as secure and child-friendly as possible. Players need to sign in to verify their identity, which is good to see, and this may be a decent place for kids to discover player v player racing competitions for the first time.
Indeed, it would make a really good first racer in general. The worlds are lovely and bright, with lots of buildings, cars and figures that will be recognisable to Lego lovers of all ages. It’s a fun place to drive too – almost everything is destructible, so there’s very little friction as you careen about, smashing into trees and trucks. Seeing stuff explode and collapse while people run about screaming never stops being amusing. Plus, there’s a Garage mode where you can customise any of the vehicles you’ve unlocked in the game or even build your own from a vast range of Lego bricks. The interface takes a little getting used to, but you can create some pretty wild little vehicles and then test them out on the track. It’s an element of true player creativity that often feels lacking in the otherwise excellent Lego adventure games from Warner Bros.
Lego 2K Drive is a super solid beginning for what is likely to be a developing series. It has everything you’d expect from an open world racer and enough Lego charm to enrapture children of all ages. What it lacks is the witty scripts of the Lego Star Wars games, as well as their sophisticated level of visual humour. The landscapes, though fun to explore, never quite provide the surprising reveals of the Lego City Undercover world.
If you have young children and want to share with them the thrill of driving across a wild, fantastical landscape, crashing into stuff and getting constant positive feedback, this would be a smart investment. It is a game with a lot of heart, made by developers who clearly understand how to make kids smile while they play.
• Lego 2K Drive is out on 19 May; £50