Hot Wheels is a franchise that many people hold dear. After all, when you're a child there's nothing more fun than setting up a plastic track and watching cars shoot around it. Then you get bored and see how hard you can shoot out a car by lining up all of those spinning booster tracks and putting a dent in your parent's walls, or maybe that's just me. Either way, Hot Wheels Unleashed promises an easy and simple way to relieve some of that classic Hot Wheels action without having to physically get out there, buy the sets, and put them together.
It should be pretty obvious, but just in case it isn't, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a racing game set in the titular franchise. In a human-sized world, you control a tiny-sized car and zip around garishly colored tracks to see who comes out on top. The game is being developed and published by Milestone, a company that isn't so much carving out their niche as they are digging a dwarven fortress. Milestone is exclusively a developer of racing games, which bodes well for the overall quality of this new Hot Wheels game at the very least.
On that note, the game plays pretty decently. It feels like a lot of effort has gone into making you feel like you're a tiny car, both physically and visually. The world around certainly seems big, with furniture and other fittings towering over you. There's also a variety of levels to choose from, including a spooky attic, your standard home, and even one where the track goes out of the windows of a skyscraper. So clearly, realism isn't the order of the day here. Honestly, the biggest problem with a lot of these details is just how hard they are to spot.
When I first played the game, I didn't notice much of the environments outside of the track. When you're mid-race, it's sort of hard to take in the scenery too much because you're focused on the race. Also, the camera is angled quite far down, and the necessary lips at the edge of the track to stop you tumbling straight off make it sort of hard to see much outside of your immediate vicinity. It's a shame too because the detail on display here is at a crazy level.
All of the tracks have very faint scratches and fingerprints on them that you can only see in the right light. Even track features, like the giant dinosaur head that spits you out, have these same dents and scratches, like that of a toy that has seen a lot of use. Once you start noticing the details, you realize they've made you feel more immersed in this world of plastic and die-cast metal. The same is true of the cars, and let me tell you, if you were, or are, a big fan of Hot Wheels cars at any point then you're going to get a kick out of this game at the very least.
Although there's a rather limited selection on display right now, it's clear from the way the game has been set up that there is going to be a huge number of different Hot Wheels models in Hot Wheels Unleashed. Not only that, but they'll be available in a booster-pack-esque format if the UI and achievements are anything to go by. So not only will you be able to collect Hot Wheels all over again, but each and every one of these cards has been realistically re-created, all the way down to the plastic runoff, casting lines, and even bumpers that were all the same color as the plastic body. Beautiful.
All this talk of the tertiary parts of the game doesn't answer the main question of whether Hot Wheels Unleashed is fun to play or not. For now, the answer is a tentative yes. While it certainly takes some getting used to, once you know what you're doing, it's certainly fun to race tiny cars around people's homes and workspaces. Drifting is an essential skill, but it's easy enough to master, although your ability to do it will depend on which car you choose, as they do have varying stats that genuinely affect how they drift and handle. There's also boosting, which can either ruin or make your race depending on how you use it.
Right now, the reason my answer has to stay tentative is that there's just not enough of the game here for me to get a proper picture, even a small one. From what I can tell, this is a very early build of the game. The only options in the menu are quick race and split-screen. I can see UI elements for other areas, labeled 'Home' and 'Track Builder' which makes me very excited for the prospect of building insane Hot Wheels tracks to race around. However, all I can talk about is the 30-or-so cars and the 9 tracks that are included.
The racing feels fun, but there are some issues that I hope to be straightened out. Right now, there's no tutorial or 'driver school' or anything like that, so it can be a bit of a pain to figure out what's going on. There seems to be a boosting mechanic at the start of a race, but so far I've had no luck getting it to work for me, at all. There's also a little bit of a balance issue, with easy AI difficult being destroyed without really trying, while medium can whip you up and down the track, although that may be related to the cars.
As I said above, the cars' stats really have an effect on them when it comes to racing. The problem is that so far there doesn't seem to be any limitation to which car can go on which track. If you attempt a drift-heavy track with a car that doesn't drift well, you're screwed. If you try to win a race at all with a car with low-speed stats, then you're definitely going to have a bad time. Hopefully, by the time the game comes out, they'll either recommend cars that you own depending on the track, or they'll limit which cars you can pick entirely.
Another thing that needs improving on in Hot Wheels Unleashed is the physics. They do really feel like those of a tiny toy car racing at top-speed with a jet engine strapped to it, but I mean that in both a good and bad way. Your car is so light that if you hit another car you're just as likely to add momentum to it as you are to jolt it away, and it's really easy to get flipped over or shunted around the course by other cars. I've been informed that these are experimental physics, and don't represent what the final game will feel like, so that's at least a good sign.
Finally, my smallest and pettiest of niggles is the obstacles. I mentioned before that there was a giant t-rex that spits you out at the start of one of the races, exactly the same one that is a real Hot Wheels toy, only bigger. There are also other such toys, like the giant spiders, that litter various courses. Right now, it seems like these obstacles are pretty much impossible to avoid. So far, other than waiting in second for the first place car to tank the hit, I've not avoided a single one. Another lesson that could be reserved for a driver's school of some kind if I'm lucky.
Overall, if it seems like I'm down on Hot Wheels Unleashed then I've given the wrong impression here. There are plenty of things that need to be updated, improved, or added for this to be considered a worthy game to pick up, but it's still early days yet. From the small, verticle slice of the game that I have seen so far, I am excited to see what they turn up. With more cars, more tracks, added modes, and improved physics, I can see this being an insanely fun racing game, both for Hot Wheels enthusiasts, and those of us with fond childhood memories of the franchise. Now I just hope they add Criss Cross Crash so we can smash the cars together and watch them go flying, then I'll be happy.
TechRaptor preview Hot Wheels Unleashed on PC Via Steam with a code provided by the developers. The game is set to release on September 21st, 2021.