- Developer: Milestone
- Publisher: Milestone
- Genre: Racing
- Release Date: 30/09/21
- Platforms: PC, Xbox and PlayStation
- Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Hot Wheels Unleashed Review
Hot Wheels Unleashed is the dream experience for many adults and kids alike. It brings to life a toy that I would guess most have owned and enjoyed in their lifetime, though with a slight twist.
We have seen some recent Hot wheels collaborations, such as the one with Forza, bringing fan favourite cars to life in a realistic fashion: Hot Wheels Unleashed, on the other hand, takes you down to the toy’s level – You are not just driving realistic versions of your favourite cars, you are driving working toys on scale tracks in scale environments!
This in my opinion is what makes it so fun; the cars and tracks are as wacky as you would want them to be and the driving isn’t trying to ground the likes of Twinmill in reality. My little cars can go ridiculous speeds around an orange, red and blue plastic track and even do insane jumps and spins.
The styling is also accurate to the models, with everything from the exaggerated wheel sizes to the plastic parts present and accurately represented.
Now, despite Hot Wheels Unleashed being a racing game at its core, it feels more like collecting new cars is the game, with racing being the grind to earn more and unlock cars. The races are fun for a good amount of time, but eventually, the formula wears thin repeating the same 3 laps with the same track parts.
You have the odd hot-lap challenge and boss race to break it up, but they do not add as much variety as you may hope. The boss tracks in particular feel a little underwhelming. I wanted to see the crazy crash-centric tracks I buy my daughter every year, I want to run the risk of being smashed by a giant monster, dodge slime pits and jump through flaming rings. Not just dodge venom puddles and webs on a fairly normal track.
I am currently around fifty percent of the way through the game and the tracks have started to become very repetitive. I have definitely been back to the same track a few times with maybe some tweaks but honestly, after a while, I could not entirely tell one track from the next, I am just carrying on so that I can buy another blind box and attempt to find a treasure hunt car (The rarest type of car).
Speaking of unlocking cars – blind boxes… I cannot decide if I like them or not. My main complaint would be that you can get duplicates. That just seems like an unnecessary step to increase the playtime required to get them all, especially as the cars are worth almost nothing when scrapping or selling them. There is a selection of daily rotating cars that you can buy, but there are only four and I have seen the same rotation a couple of times already (I keep checking in hopes of finding Splittin Image).
I genuinely feel that these duplicates are almost completely unnecessary in HW unleashed, especially considering it will have a huge young audience that will get annoyed if they keep getting repeat vehicles.
The vehicles themselves are amazingly accurate to the original designs, and the way each material is rendered looks great, especially the metal flake I used to love so much as a kid. Looking past the aesthetics, the vehicles feel great; they drive crazy and each has its own sort of feel, but they never feel overly grounded in reality.
A livery editor is included so you can create custom designs for the vehicles and publish them for others to enjoy. Being able to customize every section of the car, even the material of the liveries is excellent (I am totally not repainting all of my cars to be magenta…) The system is pretty good and can lead to some awesome creations, but the livery application needs some work. It’s quite hard to place things properly where they will not interfere with other panels like placenta logos on the wings going down.
My main car will paste the same thing onto the reverse side of the wing, almost like the designer just pastes onto every surface directly behind it. You have to angle the camera to place things accurately and I just feel like there were better ways for this to have been done. The one saving grace is mirroring being available, as it saves so much effort trying to match 2 sides.
In terms of competitiveness, bar the treasure finds every vehicle is perfectly viable as you can upgrade them. After maybe 10 races I hopped over to the store and paid 1200 credits for a 24 hours Le Mans style car, upgraded it and boom – I have a legendary with near max stats. The only reason I use any other car is for secrets and pure vanity.
The little I have played of multiplayer was fairly good, though I was faced with some players that had serious desync issues. When the game fully releases I’d imagine that will be less of an issue. It was still entertaining, though. You will begin by voting on a map selection and then will put your pedal to the metal (or plastic in this case).
The multiplayer is fun though I wish it was a little more elaborate, maybe rather than having a plain menu they could display each player’s car in the background to show off their custom designs and rare vehicles.
The track editor was fun but problematic. I have struggled to find what I’m looking for and the controls definitely take some serious getting used to, and I also seemed to have far fewer items than I expected. Beyond that, trying to return and edit a specific part of a track after finishing the layout is HARD.
I spent 20 minutes figuring out how to edit my track midway through just to make it work and after all the effort I can not figure out how I am supposed to play on my own track, as I can’t find it as an option in a quick match where you would assume it would be.
Graphically Hot Wheels Unleashed is as good looking as you could ever want a scale Hot Wheels game to be. The vehicles are filled with great looking detail and textures, and the environment is clean and crisp, really selling the mini size of the world you exist in. The environments themselves are well detailed and quite varied, too. I have thoroughly enjoyed every sight in HW unleashed, especially looking around in camera mode. The only thing I’d ask for more of is the addition of clear plastic material. It’s such a cool part of Hot Wheels and it feels odd that it’s missing.
Gameplay-wise HW Unleashed is great. It is exactly what you would expect of a very arcade-style racer. The controls are fairly basic: hammer down the accelerator, use your stick to turn and slam the brakes to initiate a drift. Once you have enough boost saved up, hit it for an instant speed boost. That really is all there is to HW unleashed, it’s a simple yet fun gameplay loop that could entertain for hours.
There are some minor differences in boost between cars however and I have found this to be the most defining factor. Some cars have bars of boost that you can use up at any rate and others have circular boost gauges that are used as one-shots.
The bars and amount of boost circle gauges are variable, my two legendary cars both have exactly the same stats but one has an extra boost gauge, meaning that it generally fares better. The cars with bars are also pretty great as you can use the boost in any amount rather than a single non-stop shot. You could boost and stop right before a corner and boost out of it whereas with the gauges you can initiate the boost but can’t stop it until it is depleted. It’s a minor change but it can have a significant effect on your racing style and where/how you use your boost.
Lastly, HW Unleashed does have a single-player experience on offer, where you are thrown into a point to point progression map with hundreds of races, forcing you to complete one before the next. This has a vague story that’s kind of strung on stating there are monsters attacking the city and you need to beat them.
It has never come up again and I found it a shame there were no cool cut scenes to bring the monsters to life when you beat or start to race their tracks. It’s a decent enough progression system but it could use a huge amount more effort put into creating a meaningful narrative given the repetitive nature of the tracks.
There are also secret tiles that I found to be huge roadblocks in the way of progression. I actually needed to contact the PR team to get help so that I could progress and write this review. They usually want you to race a certain car on a certain map but so far I have only managed to complete the one. They seem far too hard for the game’s younger target audience to figure out on their own without losing the plot first.
All in all, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a fun and entertaining game with a huge focus on collecting cars. It’s nice that there are no significantly better or worse cars, meaning you can choose your favourite Hot Wheels and still be competitive. I love the idea of collecting hundreds of Hot Wheels without them taking up space in my house, and then being able to customize them and race against my mates online to show them I’m the best (I’m not). I would, however, like a more interactive and immersive MP experience and more ways to acquire or earn cars other than just loot boxes.