At first glance, Brick Rigs is one of those budget-priced Steam games which appears to only exist for one sole purpose: suckering in YouTube personalities to cover the game for a short fifteen minute episode, in which they drive head-on into barriers and showcase the lighthearted driving simulator’s incredible physics & damage model – one which allows you replicate the process of throwing your son’s Lego Star Wars models across the living room without the accompanying tantrum. And provided you don’t drop the equivalent of a meal at Subway on what’s billed as an open world physics sandbox with no association to the LEGO toy company whatsoever, only choosing to base your opinion of the game off some teenager smashing the default set of vehicles into various stationary objects scattered around the three available, you’d be right. If you don’t have any sort of imagination, or a group of friends also willing to part with $16 CDN and dive into what the game currently has to offer – even in Early Access – Brick Rigs will barely hold your attention span.
But a combination of iRacing teams spontaneously splitting up, as well as the endless pain and suffering which comes hand in hand with waiting for race car parts to arrive, meant there were a whole bunch of us sitting around on Teamspeak with absolutely nothing to do. Brick Rigs caught my eye, and within about an hour, developer Lukas Rustemeyer had made a whole bunch of money off of us and our buddies. Retail therapy? No doubt about it, but seventeen hours later, we’re still not done with the game.
And that says something.
The Steam store page lists Brick Rigs as a dynamic driving and destruction physics sandbox powered by the Unreal 4 engine and centering around what’s essentially Lego cars – giving you free reign to blast around the map in a variety of toy cars, all of which shatter into a million pieces should you run out of talent in the middle of a corner. It’s as if someone took what made BeamNG’s Drive successful – the extensive damage model and acceptable driving physics – and blended that overall package with none other than Lego Racers. Then they went a step further and enabled customers to share their virtual creations with others, and race each other online, basically creating the ultimate kindergarten classroom shitfest where every student is over the age of twenty, and Lego dragsters are required to go through a legitimate tech inspection process prior to making a pass down the quarter mile.
Those who haven’t dug into their box of Lego since they were still in grade school have the ability to pick from a variety of generic pre-built vehicles, or hit up the Steam workshop to download other users creations – all of which barely take up any hard drive space whatsoever – but let’s be real here: you came to build a goddamn Lego race car, and Brick Rigs lets you build a magnificent contraption that spectacularly falls apart in the precise ways you ask it to.
It took about an evening to become accustomed to the garage screen in Brick Rigs, and this wasn’t due to a clunky menu or unorganized brick sorting structure. Brick Rigs basically lets you build whatever the hell you want while not offering any sort of tutorial that would otherwise get in the way, so your imagination does dictate how much enjoyment you get out of the title – for better or worse. If you don’t give a fuck about looking uncool in front of your friends, and invest a bit of time into learning how to build stuff in Brick Rigs – which is fairly straightforward even without a tutorial – the stuff you can build is incredible. And unless you’re building a massive tank with multiple moving parts, and stick firmly to race cars or other miscellaneous automobiles, you deal with any pesky brick restrictions as seen in the old Lego Racers games. But if you go into the title a bit removed from messing around with the popular children’s toys, or just don’t have the brain for creating something captivating, Brick Rigs is something you’ll uninstall in thirty minutes, possibly less.
Provided you do churn out something half-decent, the game’s physics engine handles your creations quite well. I’m not going to say this is some hidden gem of a simulator, but controlling your vehicle with a standard Xbox 360 pad warrants an experience similar to BeamNG or Rigs of Rods, in that you can rip around the map and actually have fun with what you’ve built – spinning out more often than you would in a legitimate arcade racer, but it’s still fun nonetheless. Weight distribution comes into play depending on where you’ve placed each block on your car, the damage engine allows you to limp around sans bodywork – running over the various pieces that you’ve left behind on the side of the road – and there are even options to change basic spring settings in the garage menu for that extra bit of mechanical grip. There are timed circuit races to partake in, an entire city block to explore, and even a proper cockpit view based on the perspective of your mini-figure if you fancy some kind of modern racing simulator experience.
Oh, and there’s a full day/night cycle alongside optional rain and snow conditions, if you were waiting for the obligatory“random early access Lego knock-off sandbox game built by one guy has more simulation value than Assetto Corsa” joke.
However, it’s one thing to joke about Brick Rigs having more simulation value than almost any modern racing sim on the market; it’s another to actually go out and prove this not-so-lighthearted jab to be one hundred percent factual. Despite being little more than an Early Access game which will certainly get its creator in hot water due to the uncanny resemblance to a popular interlocking plastic brick brand, Brick Rigs features a fairly comprehensive multiplayer mode. You can show up on one of the game’s three maps with your buddies in tow, and do whatever the fuck you want, for however long you want.
Many of you will undoubtedly spawn a couple of fire trucks and hold a spontaneous demolition derby, admiring the game’s phenomenal damage model in the process. And that’s okay, we did it as well with a fancy Stock Car Dustin had built. Even online, when you’d think latency would be a genuine issue in determining proper collision velocities and all of the fun stuff that makes Brick Rigs such an enjoyable tool of destruction in isolation, the experience is translated almost flawlessly to the online portion of the sandbox. It’s amazing to spawn a few identical cars with your friends, rip around a portion of the map in a tight pack, and watch everything go to shit in a chaotic chain reaction collision. It literally doesn’t get old.
But after we were past the initial crash into each other phase, a bunch of us discovered the drag strip had a working Christmas tree which had to be manually activated by someone playing the role of an NHRA starter, and scoreboards which displayed basic quarter mile time slips – just the elapsed time, and the trap speed.
What followed was absolute insanity. This shitty indie game none of us at PRC.net had ever heard of suddenly turned into the ultra-hardcore toy drag racing simulator we never knew we needed until now. We all regret investing this much time into a virtual Lego sandbox that glitched out on us every ten minutes or so, requiring a full server restart and each individual user giving the thumbs up from their end, but holy shit it was so worth it. We began our adventures by building extremely basic rail cars, which made use of the thinnest, longest bricks in the game to create a rudimentary looking dragster, and placed the mammoth V8 engine – along with its supercharger add-on – behind the rear wheels. I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said weight distribution actually has an effect on your car’s performance in Brick Rigs; we were making several test passes to determine the perfect shift points & engine placement, and counter-balancing the rearward weight bias with ballast blocks on the nose of the car. Every few minutes, we’d sign off from the server, head back to the garage, make design changes to our cars, re-upload them to the Steam workshop, and then head back online. We were almost replicating the exact evolution of the sport of NHRA drag racing – minimalist front-engine roadsters which were totally out of control, yet occasionally hooked up and produced speeds which easily surpassed the game’s default dragster.
As you can probably imagine, wrecking at speeds over 300 km/h looked absolutely hilarious. The finish line judge would have to dodge a partially intact, flaming chassis screaming at him from thirty feet in the air, and the whole thing was one big clusterfuck of people shitting themselves over the mic.
In what we later nicknamed the X-Car class due to their aesthetically horrifying designs and ludicrous speeds that resembled what happens when you give a six year old a bucket of Lego, the two creations you see above ended up dominating our original set of online drag racing meets to the point where we began joking about creating some sort of rule book to keep things fair and exciting between the lot of us. I’m not a mechanical whiz by any means, but I found out that loading up the rear end with as many blocks as possible – including the engine – while running the absolute bare minimum of anything on the front half of the car was practically unstoppable, and nobody else had gotten to that point in their experimentation efforts yet. So it was understandable that in order to keep people interested and wanting to play online Lego drag racing with each other, a set of ground rules might be required.
The jokes about needing a rule book just to play some shitty online Lego game stopped really fucking quick when Dustin actually threw one together, and we were told to start building on the spec chassis he’d just uploaded.
There were minimum weight requirements, strict rules regarding how the containment cell for the driver was constructed, and even a complete restriction on wheelie bars – as this would encourage the creative use of bodywork and ballast blocks to counterbalance the rearward weight bias, compared to the simple workaround of relying on a basic wheelie bar. It was pretty insane given the game we were playing, but it made absolute perfect sense at the time.
To those whose minds are absolutely blown at what they’re reading – yes, this game drove well enough, and the physics engine was competent enough where all of this little bullshit mattered and was noticeable on-track at the power and speeds we were running at. During my testing periods, adding or removing a single ballast block under the nose would drastically change how much the front end would pitch up when I’d shift from second to third gear at around the sixty foot mark, and I needed a near-perfect weight distribution configuration to get the rear end to set at the proper angle and the drag slicks to properly hook up to the asphalt. This is how good the core engine of this fucking game is. I literally had a stash of ballast blocks under the nose bodywork that I was adding or removing after each pass based on how it ran.
We all hit the online servers at the same time with wildly different contraptions, and this is where the sheer beauty of Brick Rigs was exhibited. We started with a spec chassis and a set of guidelines to prevent things from getting too far out of hand, and all showed up with radically different contraptions.
Ethan brought a roadster, Dustin whipped up a traditional dragster complete with a gigantic rear wing, Travis threw as many bricks as he could on the rear portion of the vehicle, and I did what I could to stretch the rules by messing around with a widebody slingshot dragster. Everyone was in unanimous agreement that my car skirted far too many of the predetermined rules, and we’d need to go back to the drawing board after the session had ended to ensure we all had something that looked a bit more dragster-like, but there was still the process of manually making passes both solo and against each other to determine who still retained their Lego skills after all these years.
The panel-van inspired vehicle Travis had built was last on the board with an 8.79 at 191 mph, a respectable top-end speed hindered by poor acceleration due to choosing aesthetics over functionality. Ethan picked up almost two tenths of a second on Travis, posting a time of 8.62 at 197 mph in his orange roadster, yet earning the honor of the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier with his inaugural 8.64 second pass – the first run recorded on the server with our new rules package. Dustin failed to register a 200 mph effort despite a blistering 8.53 second run, clocking in at 199 mph over the speed trap thanks to a blown shift at the eighth mile mark.
The more we raced the clock, as well as each other, the more we realized there was a mighty impressive physics engine under the hood of Brick Rigs. Missed shifts played a huge role in how races turned out. The art of lifting off the throttle and re-applying power, or short shifting in a last-ditch effort to regain traction, became a valuable tactic. Running in chase view, you could physically see when the rear tires lost traction and throttle back accordingly.
But once again, I ruined yet another Brick Rigs drag racing class with an 8.16 second effort at 204 mph, a sign that we basically needed to start from scratch and do our collective best to ensure there were virtually no loopholes with the next spec chassis or set of rules. It’s not fun when one guy blows out the field, with a car that was admittedly barely legal.
Myself and Dustin sat down to combine what we’d learned from what was quickly becoming many hours in Brick Rigs, into the second version of a spec chassis we could all use to build cars that were not only incredibly fast, but produced extremely close races. Compared to the X-Cars we started with – the minimalist rails that were essentially a chassis and an engine – the roadster platform we’d been building on for the afternoon saw our elapsed times slow down by almost a second, and our trap speeds fail to breach the 200 mph milestone.
The end product was what you see above; a sleek Car of Tomorrow platform resembling a traditional dragster frame that was both easy to build on and aesthetically pleasing. Minimum weight restrictions would be reduced from 150 bricks to 110 to prevent people from padding the brick count via excessive bodywork, reworked cockpit rules forced us to create extremely cramped and realistic containment areas that would end up making the game’s first person view a legitimate option should we have chosen to use it, wheelie bars were still outlawed, and basic measurements dictated how tall, wide, or long your rear wing was allowed to be.
We ended up creating three incredibly unique dragsters under the revised rule package and spec chassis, all of which ran in the 7.9 second range at roughly 215 mph – much faster than both the default dragster and our X-Cars – and threatened to blow over like Eddie Hill in Pomona if you weren’t careful.
And none of this was accomplished in a hardcore auto racing simulator as it should have been, but in a Lego vehicle physics sandbox intended primarily for younger audiences and YouTube personalities. This shows you just how far the sim racing genre has fallen from where it once was over a decade ago – you can load up Brick Rigs, a sixteen dollar steam game whose lone creator is probably going to get sued by Lego at some point, and receive a more compelling hardcore racing simulator experience than racing-oriented titles which retail for almost quadruple the price.
Brick Rigs wins the award for PRC.net’s Best Racing Game of 2016, simply because no other modern simulator on the market made us sit down as a group on Teamspeak and have extremely serious discussions about the very specific minimum weight requirements and containment zone dimensions of our Lego drag racing league vehicles, yet also allowed us to piss ourselves laughing at the sweet damage model when it all went awry. Lukas Rustemeyer, you’re a bloody genius. We want more.