Playground Games is doing its best to please everybody. Forza Horizon 4’s first expansion – Fortune Island – was the DLC for authentic driving and drifting purists, but its second is a quirkier package that’s more in line with Forza Horizon 3’s memorably wacky Hot Wheels add-on from 2017. After that, Forza Horizon 4: LEGO Speed Champions feels like a logical leap and it looks absolutely terrific, although it doesn’t quite hit the same heights as its Hot Wheels-based predecessor (figuratively or, indeed, literally).
LEGO Speed Champions remains in sync with Playground’s previous work with Hot Wheels – just like the enormous, highway-width orange tracks of Hot Wheels Island, the LEGO bricks here have been scaled up to suit the real world, as if some billionaire lost a bet to a 10-year-old in the toy aisle. The LEGO looks quite remarkable, too – especially under bright sunlight. The softly-scratched surfaces of the LEGO bricks (particularly clear pieces like headlights and windscreens) are incredibly authentic; close up it’s far more in line with the look of The LEGO Movie and its follow-ups than Traveller’s Tales’ more stylised LEGO-branded games over the years.
Zoom in on the headlights of a LEGO Mini and you’ll be able to make out individual part numbers and copyright symbols. Gaze over a grey baseplate and you’ll notice the word “LEGO” is stamped on every single stud. Stickered parts even have a completely different sheen to them, and the texture of raised, glossy paper is noticeably distinct from the hard and smooth ABS plastic surface of a LEGO brick.
This expansion has certainly been assembled with oodles of affection for Earth’s favourite building blocks. The world itself is an ode to various famous LEGO themes, from the quaint village of Brickchester and its countless streetside cafes to a beach lined with pirate shipwrecks, a forest filled with glowing ghosts, and a desert spotted with towering dinosaur skeletons. Inspect the bones and skulls themselves and you’ll note they’re constructed with a broad spectrum of tiny, recognisable LEGO parts, and I get the feeling anything in the game could be built in real life with a big enough parts bucket at one’s disposal.
In keeping with the theme, there’s a new radio station called Radio Awesome which plays the aggressively saccharine LEGO hymn “Everything Is Awesome” non-stop. The animals have been replaced with LEGO versions of themselves, rocking back and forth on their stiff plastic limbs. Even the custom map screen itself is a remarkable, miniaturised version of the whole LEGO Valley environment, literally pieced together with fistfuls of digital LEGO bricks and packed with tiny riffs on the world’s huge pirate ships, bright-green football fields, and even its high-speed dedicated race track (which, notably, is the first purpose-built, full-time race track to appear in a Forza Horizon game). It’s a fairly small map but it’s a dream vacation for the LEGO obsessed.
As with Fortune Island, what happens on the mainland happens in LEGO Valley as well, so Forzathon Live events still occur on the hour. Seasonal changes also still take place, too (trees change to brown bricks during autumn and are topped with white bricks during winter, for instance).
The new cars are also cute; they’re life-size versions of several cars from the toymaker’s Speed Champions range, including a McLaren Senna, a ’67 Mini Cooper, and a Ferrari F40. They obviously look a little peculiar at 1:1 scale alongside their real-life counterparts, but the daftness to it all is kind of endearing and certainly part of the whole point of this exercise. They shed minor parts when damaged and they even have a cabin view where you can watch the little LEGO steering wheel twist on its own accord (the LEGO minifig drivers swing their arms up and down but they can’t reach the wheel, because they can’t in the toys, either).
Unfortunately, there’s just not that much material here. There have only been three cars added, which seems like a bizarrely slim selection when, by comparison, Fortune Island and Forza Horizon 3’s Hot Wheels expansion came with 10 new cars each. There is a fourth LEGO car waiting to be discovered as a barn find, but after digging it up I learned it won’t be available for use until after a future content update. You can, naturally, still drive any one of the existing hundreds of non-LEGO cars presumably in your garage from Forza Horizon 4 (and LEGO cars can be taken back to fang around the roads of Great Britain) but three cars don’t feel like quite enough to shoulder the weight of an entire LEGO-oriented expansion. It’s particularly conspicuous in the LEGO Speed Champions Horizon Stories thread, which sees each of the three cars used for multiple challenges.
There’s no building process or really any interactivity involved with the cars either, which also feels like a bit of a shame. They just turn up in your garage as you progress and earn their “instructions.” I feel like LEGO Speed Champions takes a shot at lampshading the fact the cars turn up pre-built by having Jaimin, the announcer, apologise for his eagerness in constructing them on at least one occasion, but it still feels a little bit like buying a new LEGO set and your brother putting it together without asking.
Progression in LEGO Speed Champions is tied to a giant, LEGO-themed spreadsheet of challenges in which you earn LEGO bricks in order to build both an enormous LEGO dream house and, further into proceedings, the LEGO F40 and Senna. The jobs are a cocktail of typical and familiar Forza Horizon 4 racing events, plus specific time trials, destruction assignments, and skill challenges demanding certain driving tasks be executed in certain cars. The skill challenges are a bit of a mix between the modern Forza Horizon weekly Forzathon activities and the original Forza Horizon’s ‘1000 Club’ challenges, but the destruction assignments are where this expansion leans most heavily into exploiting its LEGO-lined landscape, and I’m still not really tired of the clink of cascading LEGO and shattering bonus boxes.
However, it was during these destruction challenges that I realised that, unlike the neck-snapping, gravity-defying Hot Wheels DLC for Forza Horizon 3, Forza Horizon 4: LEGO Speed Champions is really a lot more similar to the traditional Forza Horizon experience than it first appears. There are no giant loops or flaming rings, and no vast banked bends or colossal elevation changes. There are boosters on the jump ramps but, beyond that, it’s really just regular Forza Horizon gameplay through a LEGO lens. Regular Forza Horizon gameplay is still the best in the open-world arcade driving business – don’t get me wrong – but for all of LEGO Speed Champions’ oddball areas, imaginative brickwork, and general silliness it’s really quite grounded.
After at least two dozen Traveller’s Tales LEGO games bringing a grab-bag of LucasFilm, Disney, and WB properties to life, Playground Games’ take on the toy line in Forza Horizon 4: LEGO Speed Champions is the freshest twist on LEGO games in years. The realistic look of the LEGO itself is terrific and I just cannot tire of shattering it to bits. Forza Horizon 3: Hot Wheels remains the bigger and bolder toy adaptation though and, as a strictly car and vehicle stunt-based toy, it’s probably always going to be the more elegant fit for a madcap, unprecedented experience in the Forza world. For all its eye-catching colour and good-humoured fun, there’s a far more standard Horizon driving experience baked into LEGO Speed Champions.