Last fall, we here at PRC introduced you to an obscure indie title by the name of Brick Rigs by showering it with absurd levels of praise and dubbing it our Game of the Year for 2016, a label we’re still not completely willing to admit was a farce. Combining the open-ended sandbox gameplay experience of BeamNG or Rigs of Rods with an incredibly powerful and robust vehicle creation tool that was essentially Lego without the licensing, Brick Rigs was one of those games we all ended up buying as a bit of joke, only to sink exponentially more hours into the title than any of us could have possibly imagined. Though the premise of the game is centered around a popular children’s toy, and it will undoubtedly lead to several of our readers dishing out an abundance of creative insults towards us, Brick Rigs is certainly not a kid’s game by any means once you dive into the application – dull menus give way to an empty garage far too complex for anybody within Lego’s intended age group to master, and the underlying driving physics powering the whole thing punish you for building cars that aren’t structurally sound.
It’s basically an ingenious way for sim racers to unleash their inner Adrian Newey with an infinite bucket of the world-famous plastic building blocks, without the headache of ordering expensive sets online or digging around endlessly for that one piece, though you’ll have to get over the whole “I’m a grown man playing with Lego” thing first.
Since we last covered the game in the closing stages of 2016, Brick Rigs has received a steady stream of updates – which is pretty impressive when you consider it’s just one guy fronting the whole project, and at any given time Lego could step in and take legal action that quite frankly is long overdue. However, these routine updates to the game have been a bit of a double-edged sword; like Assetto Corsa, there’s been lots of work done under the hood to Brick Rigs, and a lot of steps taken to accommodate content creators – those who pepper the Steam Workshop with their custom cars – but in terms of the gameplay, Brick Rigs still remains largely the same as it was five months ago. So from someone who has invested 45 hours into the title, our custom Lego cars are the most detailed they’ve ever been, but driving them has become a bit of a bore.
When it comes to constructing either a custom monstrosity or something inspired by a real world design, players can now set gear ratios for their engine, determine suspension stiffness, or even add text-specific blocks – handy for recreating famous race cars, such as the Bentley Speed 8 I’ve taken a screenshot of above. The list of block materials have been both expanded and fleshed out to turn car building into a bit of a science, allowing players to lighten the car by using carbon fiber blocks for the chassis, or re-create the pigfat handling characteristics of a classic American saloon car by decking key body parts such as bumpers or wheels in chrome. More engines, wheels, wings, and other vehicle-specific bricks requested by the community have been added with each passing build, meaning the stuff appearing on the Steam Workshop from some of the prominent builders is nothing short of astounding. The game started out with pretty primitive designs, but now it’s not uncommon to sign on and discover a full fleet of supercars or historic race cars faithfully recreated by someone with far too much time on their hands.
Tire model updates have made playing this game with a DualShock 4 go from merely serviceable to fairly enjoyable over the course of just a few months, but the most recent physics implementation has turned a lot of heads and thrown some of the more elaborate creators a real curveball. We’ve all speculated that Brick Rigs had some kind of simplistic aerodynamic model built into the game – as certain cars had a tendency to blow over like a Le Mans prototype on the desert map when catching air – but the April 27th build has implemented a brand new aerodynamic simulation, complete with an optional visualization element that can be toggled on and off. Simply put, Brick Rigs now has a fully dynamic aero model on-par with that of X-Plane, which passes air over the cars and generates drag, downforce, and determines an aero center based on the external surfaces of your creation, all in real time. I don’t know what timeline we’re in anymore, but this is both awesome and ridiculously hilarious. Not only does Brick Rigs handle fairly well for a sandbox driving game, and the physics engine requires you to construct vehicles that are fundamentally sound from a mechanical design standpoint, the cars also have to be created with live airflow in mind.
In terms of vehicle design, the new aero model has blown the door wide open when it comes to creating something that’s competitive in a race-like format, as the aero model is pretty unforgiving at high speeds. Most of my time spent in Brick Rigs is dedicated to creating purpose built drag racing cars, and it’s insane to see how this has fundamentally changed the way you approach straight line events in Brick Rigs. You can’t just load up a chassis with as many thrusters that will fit as if you’re playing Garry’s Mod, nor can you rely on a minimum weight skeleton car; airflow will fuck your shit up six ways to Sunday, and the designs I found to work the best were basically real cars that I tried to copy as best I could with Lego blocks.
Early creations with the new build would routinely blow over as they eclipsed the 150 mph mark, and I found myself experimenting with wing contraptions and basic aero concepts – slamming the car and sealing off the nose to the ground – just to get the car to stay on all fours. Because the aero model appears to take into account the actual design of your car, bouncing off even the tiniest of exposed angles, you could easily spend several nights just testing different aero kits and configurations to re-direct air as efficiently as possible.
The problem is, all of this depth is kind of nullified once you exit the garage area and put your creations to the test. While I’m extremely lucky to be a fan of drag racing, and Brick Rigs includes a functioning tree with quarter mile elapsed time and speed readouts prominently displayed after each valid run (which is pretty much all you need for a drag racing simulator), other areas of the game are more or less non-existent. The three maps available when the game first launched are still the only three maps users can select from, with no word on whether custom map functionality will be supported.
Provided these maps were full of things to do, this wouldn’t be an issue, but where Brick Rigs stumbles is in providing three extremely lifeless maps to explore. The exterior circuit on the race track map is barely wide enough for a single car, meaning multiplayer racing against your friends – each in their own custom creation – is virtually impossible, while the majority of the desert map is taken up by mountainous regions no vehicle can traverse. The city environment allows content creators to take pretty screenshots, and each building can be destroyed by weaponry you equip to your vehicles, but as an environment there’s really nothing to see or do.
You can build race cars, but the only track you can race them on, isn’t much of a race track. You can build off-road trucks, but there’s not much off-roading to be done aside from one dirt strand in the desert map that takes all of about thirty seconds to explore for the first time. There’s a city to mess around in, but it’s a simple 6×6 grid of generic houses surrounded by an empty patch of grass. Aside from the drag strip, which at least offers a start light and basic timing functionality, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Brick Rigs once your vehicle has been built, regardless of whether you’re playing alone or in multiplayer.
Which is a shame, because the core portion of the game – the construction – is practically flawless, offering a powerful building block tool with intricate car setup adjustments that you now have to pay close attention to thanks to the shockingly detailed physics model. There’s no generic rallycross track to push the off-road cars to the limit. There’s no scenic mountain road a la Assetto Corsa’s Lake Louise to fuck around with the generic traffic cars and sports cars. There’s no Indianapolis or Daytona-like oval for players to try and construct a lightning-fast open wheel car to conquer, nor is there a proper road course that actually provides a decent arena for online racing.
And there’s also no wheel support. In a game which centers around not just building Lego cars, but driving them, and even has a complex aero model punishing you for putting a wing in the wrong place, wheel support is pretty much a must-have at this point. I’m not knocking the game’s physics, because to be honest I’ve gotten some of the cars pretty sideways on the desert map with my DualShock 4, but with the insane shit appearing on the Steam Workshop, we’re at the point where we really need the precision a wheel offers. Sure, the Volvo 240’s guys are putting up are certainly manageable with a pad, but we’re at the point where high-detailed modern Le Mans prototypes and Formula One cars are starting to pop up thanks to recent additions to the vanilla content, and I’d certainly like to drive them to the breaking point in a dedicated environment.
Provided the guy behind Brick Rigs can give us a bit more to do on the environment side of things, I think a lot of people here at PRC will go from ripping on us for showering this indie not-Lego game with praise as a joke of sorts, to understanding the sheer potential this game has as an alternative simulation platform. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s a fucking Lego game, but the sheer level of detail packed into the building aspect, as well as the driving model, make this anything but child’s play. If we can get a few more maps thrown into the mix that are infinitely better designed than the current offerings, and possibly receive wheel support down the line, Brick Rigs has the potential to be the ultimate time waster for sim racers searching for a diversion between iRacing sessions – which isn’t that bad of an aspiration considering how small this project really is.