If you cast your mind back to February 2022, you might remember word of a brand new partnership between 2K and LEGO, with the potential for a number of brick-built sports games on the horizon. Those with a good memory (or those who have quickly googled it since reading the last sentence) might recall rumours of a Lego-themed racing game being in development from this newly-formed collaboration and all of the subsequent questions of what a game like this would even look like.

Well, after heading to a reveal event and getting our hands on the game, we can confirm the rumours and leaks — the title is LEGO 2K Drive, and the answer to what it would look like is 'really rather good, actually'.

This is the first game in the partnership between 2K and Lego and it sees developer Visual Concepts (a long-time collaborator on NBA and WWE titles) in the driver's seat and faced with balancing the more casual fun that we all expect from a Lego game — thanks, in no small part, to the work done by TT Games up until this point — and a more serious sports title.

From what we have seen so far (from an Xbox build of the game, we should add), it seems that this balance has been well met. What we have here is an open-world driving sim first and foremost, combined with a level of comedy and creativity to create something that feels like the first lap in a new take on Lego gaming.

Lego 2K Drive wastes no time in getting you off the start line. You are introduced to your grizzled, yet highly-acclaimed mentor, given a selection from a handful of driver minifigures (don't worry, there is more customisation down the line) and sent, wheels spinning, out onto the track in an early driving tutorial, running you through the basics of acceleration, handling and drifting.

Straight out of the gate, the controls feel simple and intuitive. You hold one trigger to accelerate, use the other to drift, and keep a light touch on the joystick to make sure that you stay on track. Not that staying on the track is actually all that important, as the game employs a terrain-hopping mechanic that lets your vehicle seamlessly change between a street car, off-road buggy, and boat as you navigate tracks across tarmac, dirt, and water respectively.

This is also where you are introduced to the jump and boost mechanic — the latter of which requires that you crash into smaller items around you to build up a boost meter that you can then use at your discretion on straights or around corners if you're feeling brave.

From here you are dropped into the first of the game's four biomes, 'Turbo Acres', which serves as an expansion to the tutorial as you get to grips with the game's open-world elements and discover tasks along the way. At this stage, your journey is very clearly laid out for you by your mentor and AI assistant as you move between races, tasks, and challenges all with the goal of getting you used to the various styles of play that the game has to offer.

The races themselves take a small amount of time to master as you get your head around the best moments to use boosts, how to fully utilise a jump, and what perks each of the collectible items offers you. But you quickly get to grips with your behicle as you seamlessly move between road, track, and water and deploy a variety of rockets and mines as you go.

After repeating this race structure for a couple of comically-named challengers (Max Speed was a personal favourite, despite being one of the more obvious), you are soon let loose in the biome to explore the area as you please.

We were only able to see two of these environments in our preview — the aforementioned Turbo Acres and the Western-themed 'Big Butte' which, yes, never failed to make us chuckle — but we were impressed by just how jam-packed each of these was with races, time trials, and side quests for you to earn XP and money which can later be used to upgrade your vehicle. If you want nothing more than a competitive driving experience then there are tasks a-plenty, but one of the most enjoyable elements of this open-world setup is the process of getting there, driving around the cities, and stumbling across new areas along the way.

Importantly, the world is one that feels unashamedly 'Lego'. By this, we don't mean that it is physically made of blocks (though most of it is), but that everyone that you speak to, every cutscene that you watch, every sign you pass is there to either charm you or make you laugh. There were a number of moments where we chuckled out loud at the dialogue and place names. It strikes an impressive balance of silly worldbuilding and tight racing mechanics.

The story mode follows this formula through a further two biomes (with a fifth one planned for future updates, according to the game's art director, Emmanuel Valdez) as you take on rival racers to build a name for yourself and eventually take part in the heralded 'Race in the Sky'.

Other game modes ensure that there is more to do besides. Racing Mode offers — surprise! — a far more traditional competitive experience, as you take on a different four-race grand prix themed around areas in each of the game's four biomes. Both online play and split-screen options are available here and you will quickly see parallels to classic party racers like Mario Kart and Crash Tag Team Racing as you discover shortcuts and start to work out the best way to blast your opponents with explosives from afar.

Then there is Garage Mode which offers full car customisation in a brick-by-brick building simulator. The range of options here is massive as you are faced with over 1000 different bricks, wheels, and bases to build any type of vehicle that you can imagine. Alternatively, there's a range of standard cards from appropriate Lego themes to choose from. The process of snapping the blocks together is not the most intuitive, with each piece manipulated by the control stick and a couple of button inputs. We spent longer trying to line up the bricks than we did actually creating an imaginative design, but the concept of being able to build whatever you can think up (much like we have recently seen in Lego Bricktales) remains a strong one. Are we talking Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts-levels of toybox customisation and physics-based hilarity? That remains to be seen, but this has the potential to be a lot of fun with a simplified control system.

Finally, you have a mode dedicated entirely to minigames which we were not able to sample in our preview. However, given some of the novelty challenges that we completed in the story mode, we can imagine that there are good times to be had here driving wacky loops, collecting items, and launching vehicles off cliffs to hit a target.

All of this adds up to an entertaining and varied driving game from what we've seen so far, even if it will struggle to match up to the best party racers out there. The racing itself is a perfectly good time with the boost and drift mechanics really coming into their own once you manage to get your head around them. And while the courses can be a little confusing to navigate (especially when packed in with a group of vehicles), the items provide a good way of clearing the road and making it a tactical battle rather than one based solely on who's the fastest.

Where Lego 2K Drive really excels, however, is in its approach to the open world. In the few hours we played, we spent most of our time exploring the rich environments, completing whichever wacky tasks took our fancy and crashing into just about everything, yet we feel like we have hardly scratched the surface of what the two biomes we sampled have to offer. Yes, the actual story of the Story Mode might be a pretty by-the-numbers affair, but it certainly feels like most of the enjoyment in the game is going to come from exploration.

Equally impressive is how Visual Concepts manages to walk (or should that be drive?) the line between being a 2K and a Lego title. Speaking with us, Valdez stressed that the sense of balance between the two was at the core of the development team's approach to the game and it really shows. This is not the mechanically-accurate sports sims that we are used to from 2K, nor is it the comedy-filled simplicity of a typical Lego game. It manages to hit a sweet spot between the two where there is no doubt that you are in a fantasy Lego world with added racing aspects to keep it feeling fresh.

Of course, perhaps the biggest question for us lies in how a game of this size is going to run on Switch. The races can be chaotic and the biomes are sizeable enough that any large amounts of pop-in or drops in frame rate run the risk of harming the experience. Games such as LEGO Worlds are certainly playable on Switch, but 'sub-optimal' compared to versions on more powerful hardware.

While the Switch version of Lego 2K Drive is in development with another undisclosed studio, Valdez seemed confident that the game will run as intended. "There are definitely differences, but it's almost negligible from a gameplay standpoint," he told us, stating that the visuals are notably strong in handheld mode. Fingers crossed, then.

LEGO 2K Drive
Image: 2K Games / The LEGO Group

So far, there's a lot to like here. It might not be pole position in the world of party racers, but the open world promises many hours of entertainment — just so long as it is efficiently streamlined for Nintendo's system.

Lego 2K Drive launches on 19th May. The Standard Edition will be $59.99, or $99.99 will get you the Awesome Edition which includes another in-game vehicle and minifigure, plus a 'Year 1 Drive Pass' — essentially a season pass giving you access to another biome and more upcoming content. There's also an Awesome Rivals Edition for $119.99, which includes a bunch more vehicles and minifigs.

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