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The E3-trailered Lego Speed Champions DLC for Forza Horizon 4 has been out for a few days now, and having had time over the weekend to dip an entirely toeless plastic foot into its brilliantly blocky boisterousness, I've got opinions.
Foremost amongst these is that Lego Speed Champions is very good indeed. Whereas December 2018's Fortune Island expansion felt like a relatively small extension to the base game's map and gameplay loops, albeit with a treasure-hunting twist, Lego Speed Champions could be a standalone game entirely. It's the explorative Forza experience you know and love, but made of Lego. And also, somehow, more than that already-excellent elevator pitch.
It's not just Lego motors and mini figures and dinosaur bones and pirate ships and rollercoasters that you'll find in Speed Champions' setting of Lego Valley, an area you can access from Forza Horizon 4's main, British map by heading to a railway yard and being magically whisked away. You get a Lego house, too, to use as a base of operations for your adventures in the Valley, and you upgrade it by competing races and routes, PR stunts and the like. From small beginnings - a blank 'master builder' base plate - you'll get yourself a modest little abode, then a garage, then something rather grander, and so on and so forth.
There's a huge but finite amount of blocks to earn from events - and more than enough to do in Lego Speed Champions to keep those who've exhausted the main game's list of activities. Races are spread across the usual formats - over three laps, following A-to-B routes, and you can challenge other cars on the road for short blasts to a finish point. There are events on tarmac that spill onto Lego road plates; several set around a surprisingly intricate race course at the top of the map; bouncy tear-ups across desert dunes (look out for the 'Everything Is Awesome' house party that's raging there, 24/7); and slippy drifts through muddy off-road circuits.
Which all sounds so very expected, really - but to play it is to love it when it comes to Speed Champions, and as you're blazing a trail in an all-brick Mini or Ferrari F40 (which you'll race against an IRL one), it's like the toys you played with 30-plus years ago have collided brilliantly with those you pay your mortgage with today (well, that's my showing-my-age take on it, anyway).
The sheer nostalgia rush of messing around with Lego in a game as polished as Forza Horizon 4 is hugely satisfying, and when you're not hitting max speed, Lego Valley is a brilliant place to drink in the sights of. From a beach strewn with brick-built galleons to crash-landed UFOs, and the shops and hotels of the central town, Brickchester (the most Lego-y Lego bit of this whole Lego package), there's an attention to detail here that really does make you feel that someone's Honey, I Shrunk The Kids'ed you down to mini-figure height.
But what does kind of bother me about Speed Champions is that it doesn't have enough bricks. Lego trees stand beside 'real' ones, Lego flowers grow in fields surrounded by lifelike hedges, the water only ever splashes across your windscreen in drops rather than plastic pieces, and while you're driving around in a toy Ferrari, almost everyone else's car is a regular one: metal and rubber and official badging and the rest of it. There really aren't enough Lego cars to pick from, either - just the three in total, with the addition of the McLaren Senna. It lends Speed Champions a weird dissonance where you can be throttling your way around an all-brick city centre race course, in an all-brick car, only for your opponents to be in Renualts and Audis and Fords and the rest of them. It just looks... odd.
But then, so do Legoland theme parks. Think of Speed Champions as a virtual take on the landscape of such attractions - surreal between-worlds places where the brick blends in with the reality around it, sometimes perfectly harmoniously, sometimes not. Or: like you've brought a clutch of Matchbox cars to drive around your carefully curated Lego town, spread across two-by-six road plates on top of the drawers of the bedroom you had when you were nine years old. (Just me? Surely not.)
And there is something deliriously brilliant, while totally world-breaking (but then, this is Lego, so isn't that half the fun?), about taking a perfectly modelled Lancia 037 Stradale on a cross-country burn from a haunted toy lighthouse to the pit-lane of a perfectly proportioned race track, kicking up plastic pieces and splintered flora alike in your wake. This shouldn't work, but that it does - albeit with a few blocks less than I'd like - is quite the achievement on the part of whoever dreamed the collaboration up, and the team that executed it so wonderfully. And shout-out to Radio Awesome, too, which does precisely what it says on the dial as a bang-on nod to The Lego Movie. (Not that you'll tune in, too often.)
If you want an all-Lego open-world driving experience, the GTA-for-kids of Lego City Undercover has you sorted. But if it's something faster, more laser-focused on finishing lines and furious competition that you're after, Speed Champions is the DLC to grab. My Lego Valley mini-mansion by the sea's still some way from completion, so I'll be spending several more weekends in the tiny driver's seat of my blocky F40, chasing first places. And if you're doing the same, I'll see you out by the Super Mega Stunt Park.
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