Normally we don't cover kids games, but as a child I wasted countless hours cobbling together bizarre creations using Denmark's most famous export - the knobbly primary coloured plastic bricks known as LEGO. So when preview code for LEGO Racers 2 arrived on my doormat I decided to take the risk. And I'm happy to say that I haven't regretted a moment of it.
The first thing to strike you when you load up the game is just how good it looks. This is meant to be a game for snivelling little sprogs, but the 3D graphics put many adult-oriented racers to shame. The terrain and tracks are inventive and beautifully detailed, weather effects are spectacular, and the LEGO buildings and vehicles that dot the landscape appear suitably chunky and colourful.
The game features five massive settings to explore, from a jungle-covered island to an alien-infested Mars and dazzling arctic snowfields, and each setting has several tracks to race on and its own unique set of cars and drivers to compete against. You can even choose to design your own vehicle, selecting a basic chassis and then building LEGO bricks on to the frame. Unfortunately in the pre-release version we played there was no obvious way to remove a brick once you had placed it on your vehicle, but otherwise the construction system is almost ridiculously easy to get to grips with and allows you to build an almost unlimited variety of vehicles, each with its own characteristics.
Not only can you build your own LEGO vehicle from scratch at the start of a game, you can also reduce it to its constituent parts again in the course of a race. The damage system is pure carnage, with bricks flying off all over the place as you get knocked around, tumble into a lava pool or career down the side of a cliff. If things go really badly your entire car may disintegrate around you, leaving your poor little LEGO guy scrambling for the nearest pit lane to get back into the race.
Stop That, It's Silly
The carnage is made worse by a selection of cartoonish power-ups including giant rocket-propelled bombs that rip through anyone in their path, homing missiles that chase down their target, and whirlwinds that can send other racers into a wild spin.
You can only hold one power-up at a time, but there is a plentiful supply of them after almost every checkpoint so you are encouraged to use them as often as possible. The only real problem is that the AI doesn't know how to take advantage of them yet, and you will often see other racers firing off power-ups seemingly at random. Hopefully this will be fixed by the time the game ships.
It's obvious that LEGO racers doesn't take itself too seriously though, from the over-the-top power-ups to the hilarious expressions on the faces of the LEGO guys during cutscenes and the incomprehensible squeaky noises they make when they talk to each other. And the excellent "adventure" mode gives you more opportunity to revel in the sheer silliness of the whole thing, roaming freely around the various settings between races and chatting to the locals. This can lead to bonus games which will earn you extra car enhancements or gold bricks, as well as giving you the chance to practice driving around the terrain without worrying about checkpoints and other drivers. If you're lucky you might even stumble across some hidden treasure.
Although LEGO Racers 2 is aimed at children, it proved entertaining enough for this twenty-something kid as well. It's obviously no Gran Turismo 3, but if you want a little off-the-wall racing with fully customisable cars, wild power-ups and bizarre eye-candy laden scenery, this could be just the ticket.
Expect the game to appear some time next month on PC and PlayStation 2, with a seperate GameBoy Advance version (which we haven't seen yet) also due out during September.