When I was a kid Hot Wheels were all the rage. From the classic car designs and the insane build your own track designs where you could literally create the most defying stunts. Hot Wheels has also branched out into the land of video games with many games along with its sister brand Micro Machines. Hot Wheels Unleashed from the studio Milestone, attempts to bring the nostalgia of playing with these toys as kids. It succeeds in simulating the authenticity of the cars right down to the detail of each car and track. Though the game falters in making an endlessly enjoyable experience when it comes to its controls and progression.
Hot Wheels Unleashed (HWU) is absolutely an arcade racer as expected. The genre fits the idea of emulating playing with toy cars. Like when Lego cars were brought into Forza, the game was built for a more arcade playstyle. Cars have very little weight to them exactly how the actual toy cars are, so cars move like they’re sliding on ice when navigating turns. In most racing games it can be easy to judge when to hit the break to initiate a drift but in HWU the lack of weight makes drifting a guessing game. This lack of weight though has a strange side effect where it’s impossible to make other cars crash. When the cars aren’t failing turns they control surprisingly well. Seeing rival Cars speed past each other at amazing speeds and jumping over massive caverns. You do need to judge how fast you navigate both corners and jumps. Go too fast and you will fly off the track or smash into an obstacle!
Progression in HWU is done through its campaign mode “Hot Wheels City Rumble”. There is a quick race option and time trials as well but the bulk of the content is in Hot Wheels City where you partake in a range of modes from simple races and time trials to big bosses. Unlike most races where most cars are built equally in the boss races the AI is playing for keeps and the tracks you race on have obstacles that you need to overcome to win. One of the major problems with HWU is how difficult it can be to achieve any kind of win even on the normal difficulty. The AI holds nothing back on normal whereas on easy everything is a cakewalk, there is no happy middle ground when it comes to the difficulty. You move through the modes relatively quickly and find the tracks are always fun to drive. Sometimes each of them have something new to contend with from elements in the track that slow you down or flipping your car upside down to continue racing. These can make the races feel fresh but most of the time they can be difficult to get your head around. For example, the 180-degree spin is difficult to master, most of the time I just fail over and over again. Outside of the campaign the game offers a very robust track editor to give you the opportunity to build your own track experiences. This editor can be fascinating to use but I couldn’t get my head around its damn controls for morphing tracks into more elaborate designs and in all honesty, I don’t have the patience to build complex tracks to only get annoyed by the editor’s controls.
Obtaining new cars is a very slow process, you gather coins by completing objectives in the rumble mode but what you get is a pittance compared to the price of what the blind boxes (loot boxes) actually cost. These are used to find new cars to add to your collection or you can use the daily pick to find something new. The daily pick is constantly updating and varies from the normal mundane vehicle to the more fancy expensive picks. Finding new cars is an absolute chore because of these blind boxes. The experience is an absolute grind as you have a chance of finding duplicates of the car you already own. Luckily You can scrap these cars, usually for the same amount as a blind box giving you a second chance to obtain a new vehicle. This endless grind for new cars is not very rewarding and it’s annoying to have loot boxes make their way into more game genres. The visuals of Hot Wheels Unleashed’s tracks and environments are one its many high points. The tracks have a great variety of different pieces from fans that can push you off the course to massive loop the loops. The locations you go to are very small and you will more often than not play a different track but in the exact same location. The locations of the tracks are huge, and really make you feel immersed playing as these tiny cars, like something out Honey I Shrunk the Kids. The cars themselves also look incredibly visually appealing. And are good comparisons to real-life toys themselves. They look like the team scanned real-life Hot Wheels cars into the game.
Hot Wheels Unleashed unfortunately just didn’t click with me. The weightless cars, the floaty controls and the blind box progression makes the game not very fun for me to play. Sure the game looks incredible but the process of driving these cars just isn’t fun. I could usually only stand to play for a couple of hours before I would get frustrated with the entire game and turn it off instantly. I wouldn’t even call Hot Wheels a bad game it’s just its mechanics were not what I wanted in an arcade racing game, to this day the only time I really enjoyed an arcade racing game was with the Mario Kart franchise as it offered a lot of different ways to race and unlike Hot Wheels it gave you ways to mess up your opponents on the track. There is definitely an audience out there for this, but it’s not me.
Should you play it? No
Why? The game’s controls are its biggest obstacle to overcome, along with its slow progression
Reviewed on: Playstation 5
Playable on: Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox one, Xbox series X/S
Released: September 30, 2021
Review code supplied by Koch Media UK