Hot Wheels have been around for a hot while – since 1968, in fact, so it’s no surprise that they’re one of the highest selling toys of all time. Not only are they a hit with kids, but some of the older, rarer models are worth a pretty penny to an avid collector too. Now, Milestone, the developers behind some of the most popular racing franchises like Ride and MotoGP, have brought us Hot Wheels Unleashed, an arcade racing game based on the popular brand of toys, giving us a whole new way to enjoy the franchise.
Visually, Hot Wheels Unleashed looks pretty damn good. It’s vibrant, the lighting is great, and everything from the tracks and backdrops to the cars themselves are incredibly detailed and well polished. The tracks and cars look like toys, which in this case, they should, and there’s something hugely satisfying about driving these tiny cars around life-sized surroundings.
At launch, there are six uniquely different environments that will host your races, and more will be available at a later date through DLC content, so there’s a good deal of variation, even if some of the earlier tracks feel a little samey. There’s not an awful lot of information about the DLC content we’ll receive, but there is set to be both free and paid content arriving soon. Currently, there are three planned season passes, each containing several cars, an expansion pack, three themed customisation packs and three themed builder modules, so there’s a lot to look forward to.
It feels good too, especially on the PS5. Thanks to Sony’s DualSense controller, you can really feel the action. The controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers mean you can feel when you’re revving up your engine. There’s a rumble in your controller when you’re boosting, a light buzz when you’re crossing an electromagnetic section of the track, and a clunk when you bump into the track railing or another car. None of it was over the top, but it was enough to add that extra bit of immersion without driving me crazy.
One of the biggest selling points of Hot Wheels Unleashed is, unsurprisingly, the cars. There are over 60 to collect within the base game, including some pretty cool additions like the DeLorean from Back to the Future and the Batmobile (which, of course, I had to save up to unlock). There aren’t any microtransactions, so outside the DLC content, which will be released at a later date, cars can either be unlocked at random by buying or finding a blind box or by buying specific cars with in-game currency. You’ll probably end up with a few duplicates through the blind boxes, but you can sell or dismantle them for coins or upgrade tokens that allow you to take your cars to the next level – this is especially important when it comes to some of the later time attacks that you’ll struggle with if you don’t have a car with a decent amount of speed and boost.
In terms of gameplay, Hot Wheels Unleashed is split into several sections. The bulk of the game is Hot Wheels City Rumble, which is essentially the game’s career mode. You make your way through a city map by completing quick races, time attacks and boss races, the latter of which you need to finish in first place to complete as opposed to simply reaching the podium. There are also rewards and secrets scattered throughout the map, so it’s worth exploring the whole map. In addition to the City Rumble, there are also multiplayer modes that allow you to either play split-screen or online with up to 12 players. If you just want a couple of quick laps around the track of your choice, you can jump straight into the action with Quick Mode. I know, this is all fairly standard for a racing game, but hey – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
It was nice to see some interactive elements within the tracks too, like giant spiders that spew webs that will stop you in your tracks and dinosaurs that will routinely snap their mouths shut as you try to pass through them.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is a game for the family. The controls are easy to grasp, if a little more difficult to master. The only real thing that takes some practice is drifting. Start drifting too soon or too late, and you’re likely to crash. It’s definitely worth bumping up the difficulty once you’ve got the hang of it though. On the easiest mode, the AI drivers are a little too forgiving. You can make consistent mistakes and still finish in first place, which is perfect for younger players. For the rest of us, it might feel a little too easy. Bump it up a little, and you’ll have to work a little harder for your wins.
I always appreciate it when a game throws in a track creation mode, even if I’m notoriously bad at building them. It was one of my favourite things about Dirt 5 when I previewed it, so I was pretty psyched when I saw that Hot Wheels Unleashed had one. It’s a pretty decent one too. In addition to choosing from a catalogue of track pieces and objects, you can also change the length and shape to create, so there really is a lot for you to play around with, and you unlock more elements as you progress through City Rumble. I’m looking forward to seeing what players much more creative and ambitious than myself manage to come up with.
Oh, and this might be a little less exciting, but you can also design your own basement. There’s not much reason for it apart from appealing to our inner interior designer, but you get to see your own custom basement whenever you’re racing there – oh, and it’s a nice place to display the trophies you pick up by completing boss races.
All in all, Hot Wheels Unleashed is chaotic, fast-paced fun that the whole family can enjoy. It might not be as realistic as some of Milestone’s other games – it doesn’t boast ultra-realistic gameplay mechanisms and super smart AI, but it doesn’t need to. It does exactly what it sets out to do – it brings the essence of Hot Wheels to a digital platform. In my opinion, it does this pretty well. With tiny cars, stylized tracks and giant surroundings, Hot Wheels Unleashed manages to recreate the authentic feel of building a Hot Wheels track in your living room and letting your cars loose in a way new and old fans can enjoy.
Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Release Date: 27th September 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Hot Wheels Unleashed was provided by the publisher.