Pros: Decent aesthetics and gameplay...
Cons: ... somewhat sluggish controls, quite repetitive
LEGO Racers 2 is a nice little racing game featuring, of course, LEGO characters and scenery (though not all the scenery is blocky!!). I havent played the first game but this one was certainly a lot of fun, and not necessarily just for children. Like all the LEGO games, its designed to be instantly accessible and playable, but give you enough challenge to keep you going for quite a while.
Though there is a fair amount of storyline driven by simple conversations between some of the characters (press Escape to skip these), mostly its either racing action or exploring. After creating your character and player (or choosing from pre-made selection) you start the adventure (or you can play in arcade mode, but not all tracks are unlocked for this straight away). You play a driver wanting to be galactic racing champion and be able to race against the legendary Rocket Racer, who wont accept your puny challenge until you have proved yourself worthy. There are 5 different worlds to explore and a total of 24 races to participate in, along with exploration of the worlds. Though the exploration can get a little tedious you can find extra mini-games and golden bricks - the chief aim of the game (you win one the first time you win on a particular course). You can also receive bonuses to your cars performance by completing quests of various kinds.
Win all the races on the first world and you can travel to the next. You can travel back an race again on tracks youve already won on (though you wont win any more golden bricks that way) or search for more quests in the exploration mode. The races themselves are quite fun - much more challenging than I was really expecting for a game obviously aimed at younger ones. The first few races have you challenging just a single opponent, but soon enough youll be taking on hordes of them. Already in the second world you have 7 competitors and some really tricky courses. The difficulty with the races is that you have to go right under the checkpoints - the game is quite exacting in how close you need to be - or you will have to go back and go through it again. This isnt much of a problem on the earlier courses (once I realised, anyway!) but on the fiddly courses can be really awkward. Theres a helpful big green arrow at the top of the screen pointing to which way you need to go - if its pointing behind you, youve missed a checkpoint! The other racers arent that great but rarely miss a beat when it comes to the checkpoints, so beating them isnt easy if you miss even one. You have various weapons and shields that can be collected as well as turbo boosts.
Unfortunately this is where the games two weakest elements combine to make it frustrating at times. The collision detection, particularly for the bonus bricks you can pick up, is really not very good. Also the controls are a little sluggish - not terrible, but I certainly found myself wishing the car handled more responsively on many occasions. Other than that the racing element really isnt bad, but the checkpoint system does seem just a little too exacting at times. Still, with perseverance and a bit of course memorisation and you should be okay. (Theres a 2-player mode as well but the sluggish controls dont help that to be great fun. Sharing the keyboard is never a favourite choice with most people either. Still, it was fun for a while.)
The game physics are well, warped. Though this is in quite a good way for the player - your car isnt all that fast but the traction and torque are unbelievable, meaning you can scale very steep mountains! Of course this takes away a bit of the frustration and makes the game map easier to go round, so overall I view it as a good thing. Just dont expect realism!
The graphics arent amazing (even on highest quality) but are quite nice and the use of colour blending is very good indeed. Theres some nice texturing and the inevitable LEGO blocks making up trees, buildings etc. I didnt notice any lag in the animation even when there was a great deal going on at once. The game can run at low resolution and detail levels too and it only needs a 16Mb graphics card and DirectX 8.01. It runs on Windows XP and Vista - I ran it on Vista with no problems whatsoever. The sound effects are okay and the music is suitably lively, though not particularly well sampled - the sound quality was good but the splice points werent always well-chosen, often resulting in a delay between the song looping back to the beginning. There could have been a bit more variety to the music too.
Overall LEGO Racers 2 is a run little racing game and beating the whole story mode will take you quite a while, but the slightly sluggish controls and other issues mean that its not among the best racing games out there. Its out on budget on the PC Fun Club label so it wont make much of a dent in your budget. My advice is that if you want something thatll be fun for a while and dont want something particularly state of the art (or dont have a machine capable of running something particularly state of the art ), then this will probably be a good choice for you. I actually think it might be a little too difficult for a lot of its target market though - but maybe Im underestimating kinds these days
Another similar style of game (story-driven racing and exploration) aimed more at younger ones is PIXARs Cars, which I feel is a superior game to LEGO Racers 2.
Other LEGO Games
LEGO Star Wars - a great game (particularly in 2-player mode) based on the first 3 Star Wars films (episodically speaking)
LEGO Star Wars: The Original Trilogy - based on the first 3 Star Wars films (chronologically released speaking) - more options, more gameplay, and even better than the first game!
Legoland - a Theme Park type game but with LEGO not much good for adults but much more accessible to younger ones than most games in this genre.