Hot Wheels Unleashed is the definitive arcade racing experience that shows off just how cool these Hot Wheels car collections and whacky tracks can be realised for both young gamers and old nostalgic legends alike.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is an arcade-style racing game by Milestone SRL and will release on September 30, 2021, on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. Milestone have been impressive lately with their latest racing games such as Ride 4 and Monster Energy Supercross 3 and this game is another brilliant addition to their game collection. I grew up playing with Hot Wheels cars with my nextdoor neighbour, and while a few games have tried to capture the magic of racing Hot Wheels over the years, Hot Wheels Unleashed is the definitive racing experience that shows off just how cool these car collections and whacky tracks can be. It reminds me a lot of playing the old Micro Machines games, only we’re down closer to the action.
With a game set around Hot Wheels, the variety of cool and whacky looking cars is the first thing to consider. Hot Wheels Unleashed launches with 66 different vehicles including some Hot Wheels originals, cars from pop culture brands as well as real manufacturers. Straight away when entering the game, you get to open three blind boxes and I received a ’71 El Camino from 2013’s HW Workshop Muscle Mania, a Mountain Mauler from 2018’s Jungle Rally 5 Pack and a Twin Mill from 2014’s Then and Now collection.
A couple of things hit me with polarising thoughts. The first was, damn, loot boxes already? Thankfully though I can’t see anywhere that requires real money to purchase them, only from in-game credits. The second thought was, wow, the level of detail of these cars is insanely good, and even better when you start playing in the livery. Not just that though, I love that they tell you the origin of each vehicle so that any avid collectors may get that surreal connection of seeing a vehicle in game and then looking at their real world collection for that same vehicle. It begs the question though – how cool would it be if we could by a Hot Wheels car off the shelf in person, and opening it has a code that we could enter into the game to unlock that car in-game. Now that would be a great product connection for Hot Wheels Unleashed.
For me, this all gives me pangs of nostalgia and memories that make me appreciate those fun times I had in the 1980’s, and connecting me to experiences I’m having right now playing this game. There is an in-game shop where you just spend in-game credits earned, not real money, to unlock a selection of five blister packs that change every four hours of actual play time. You may have fond memories of particular vehicles from over the years, but also there are secret races in the game that require specific vehicles to complete. You will want to keep coming back to the shop to see which vehicles are available. Where this is advantageous is when you get to secret races which require specific cars to be raced on specific tracks. More on that later.
Vehicles can be upgraded once you earn enough gears through winning races. Upgrades can affect speed, braking power, acceleration and handling, and each car has a differing method for boosting. You can dismantle any vehicles you get that you don’t want, especially if you get double-ups which will give you back some gears and coins. The vehicles are really well detailed and you can have a great time creating some wild liveries for your favourite vehicles. There are a heap of customisation options for you to test out and once you’re happy with a look you can share it online to other players.
Racing in Hot Wheels Unleashed is a heck of a lot of fun. The last time I raced in this Hot Wheels setting with bright oranges and blues on plastic tracks was the Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheels expansion. While I really enjoyed my time in that variation, it was good to be in dedicated races that have starts and finishes with no open world aspects to it at all. There is a world map where you get to choose which race to do next, but that’s a structural thing completely separate to the racing. Once you’re in the race, that’s the focus and it performed really well on the Xbox Series X. The are six different environments you can race at release including the basement, skate park, garage, track room, skycraper and college campus.
There are forty tracks to conquer in the single player mode Hot Wheels City Rumble or in multiplayer, both online offline in splitscreen mode. You have a street map which looks similar to one of those playmats I have for my young children. On the map are race points with branching paths and you complete races to progress further. Occasionally you’ll come across a reward block which will give you some coins, a blind box and other goodies, while other blocks are secrets that you’ll need to work out and solve. For example, the first one you come across to the bottom left of the map states you need “Reckless Driving: with a special appearance by Bone Shaker.” That means you need to find the vehicle Bone Shaker, and then complete the Reckless Driving event and upon completion, it will unlock additional races in that area.
Race variations are standard quick races, time attacks or split screen and you’ll be racing over a mix of on-track and off-track scenery depending on the environment you’re in. There are different types of track pieces that will give you a boost when run over, and there are occasionally barriers that will slow you down. Then there are loop-the-loops and even boss set pieces containing large creatures, like a giant spider, than can spit webs or acid pools to slow you down. These can be dodged by boosting at the right time, and add some good variation to tracks that can sometimes feel a little too same-same after a while.
There were some gripes while driving, albeit minor ones. When you boost, the music actually speeds up and warps while you’re boosted. At first I didn’t really notice it but after a while it became distracting and felt like an unnecessary feature. Occasionally you’ll fall off the track and you can hold down Y to reset your vehicle, but it takes a while for the Y prompt to show up. Often you’ll fly off the track during a jump or an elevated section and you can still drive around on the ground. There’s seemingly no way to get back onto the track, so I question why we just aren’t respawned back onto the track as soon as we fly off it. I learnt from my mistakes, but these slight imperfections were enough to break immersion in the otherwise terrific fast-paced racing.
Boosting will obviously get you ahead in races and you’ll need to balance boost as it runs out fast. You can drift around corners which will recharge your boost faster, though some cars are prone to flipping on their side or oversteering. Gravity affects the heaviest Hot Wheels cars and this is more evident when going through the loop-the-loops, so be sure to keep enough boost in reserve to keep momentum. Where tracks go up walls or onto the roof, the wheels become magnetised and sparks fly as you zoom over these sections which looks great. Like most games though, I generally stuck to a few of my favourite vehicles and upgraded them over time. The races can get a bit repetitive after a while, but more environments and races are planned for the post launch content.
The one big aspect I haven’t touched on yet is the track builder. This will be a great feature for those interested in custom designing their own tracks to the limits of their imagination, once you’ve unlocked track pieces mind you. Whilst this doesn’t interest me personally, I can see players spending a lot of time in this editor. You start by choosing an environment and placing the orange main race track pieces. There’s a limit of 1800 track points to use so you are limited a little in the design, but still free to make whatever you like. The start point of your track determines whether this you’re creating a course or a circuit and once placed, can’t be changed.
Each section can be bent, stretched and warped, with green and red indicators showing how much you can manipulate each piece and at which angles. You’re initially limited to certain basic track pieces initially and can unlock more pieces later through gameplay, like new boss pieces once you defeat one of the six bosses in the main Hot Wheels City Rumble mode. Next you can add boost triggers and other items like the boss creatures, cosmetic elements and other race modules. When you’re happy with your creation, you can test the track in the pause menu and once validated, you can save and share your creation with others.
The developers have indicated that more cars coming from the most iconic brands of the world such as DC Comics, Street Fighter, Masters of the Universe and Barbie, along with real manufacturers like Aston Martin, BMW and McLaren. There will be free and premium DLCs released periodically and may feature vehicles, track builder modules, livery customisation items and exclusive themed Expansion Sets introducing new environments. Finally, there will also be racing seasons which are limited-time challenges with new vehicles and special rewards. Racing seasons will not be included in Hot Wheels Passes, so more information on how these work will be released at a later date.
Overall, Hot Wheels Unleashed is the definitive arcade racing experience that shows off just how cool these Hot Wheels car collections and whacky tracks can be realised for both young gamers and old nostalgic legends alike. When I played with them, we only had the cars and made our own obstacle courses. Now you can make your own tracks if that’s your thing, or just completing races in-game to unlock track pieces and more Hot Wheels to add to your collection. There are some minor gripes but this is one very entertaining racing game. I know another developer does the Micro Machines games, but I would love to see how Milestone could make a game in that style as they’ve continued to impress with their recent racing games.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis