The metallic little racecars and plastic orange tracks of my childhood have come back to haunt me once more in the form of a video game: Hot Wheels Unleashed. Milestone, the Italy-based racing game developers behind Ride and MotoGP, is at the wheel of Mattel's prized toy racecars. Through my time with Hot Wheels Unleashed, I collected various Hot Wheels cars and raced through dozens of different tracks, but an overall feeling of being whelmed stuck with me. Hot Wheels Unleashed is about as good as most racing games can be, but beyond an awesome track-building game mode, it doesn't do an exceptional job of setting itself apart in any meaningful way, making it an above-average game.
Hot Wheels can be a lot of fun when you're playing for the first time. Whether you jump straight into a multiplayer match, a quick race, or the Hot Wheels City Rumble, your first experience with Hot Wheels will be a high-octane contest accompanied by some jamming rock music and neat-looking cars. At its peak, Hot Wheels sounds, looks, and feels great - but these peaks come after varying troughs and a single saving grace, all of which contribute to an overall "okay" feeling.
A Lackluster Endeavor
The Hot Wheels City Rumble mode is a "story" feature akin to something like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's World of Light: you go around a board completing various missions. From time attacks to quick races, City Rumble is the introduction to most of Hot Wheels' content. The issue is the fact that many of these races feel almost identical to anything you can find elsewhere in the game. Quick Races are just that - a race. On the other hand, Time Attacks have you attempting to complete a lap within a designated speed. This challenge can be quite fun as it makes you master your car's handling and a specific track.
Roaring engines and jamming music help Hot Wheels maintain the image it presents itself with: a blast of childhood fun. Milestone doesn't stop there at making Hot Wheels feel like you're using your imagination on your favorite toy cars - the game looks just as good as it sounds. Highly detailed models of these cars using differing textures like metal, plastic, and glass all contribute to making these toy racecars look just as they would in real life. Despite this, the art direction still maintains a small sense of fiction, straddling the line enough to suspend your disbelief that these cars are dashing through your prestigious college university or dingy garage.
There are six "areas" that races can take place in the Basement, Skatepark, College Campus, Garage, and Skyscraper. Each area has, theoretically, the infinite potential for tracks due to Hot Wheels' brightest feature: the Track Builder. While Hot Wheels plans to increase its lifespan with an abundance of DLC content, the Track Builder is what will truly help this game with its content problem. The mechanics of the building system are simple enough to understand and limitless enough to allow for some insanely creative builds. The environments that players have available to them to build in are beautiful and offer a ton of room for creativity, so this feature is an absolute win for Hot Wheels.
Longevity Through Creativity
If creating tracks isn't your thing, you can always download user-created tracks online and race alone or with friends. Multiplayer itself is about the same as doing a Quick Race, just with friends, and I found no problems with latency or disconnections. Hot Wheels also allows some customization of your Unleashed Profile, which includes your "Basement," favorite car, profile banner, and shared content. Without these features, Hot Wheels would truly be dancing on a line of mediocre and boring, but being able to customize car vinyl, racetracks, and your own basement space help it stand on its leg enough to be better than average.
Driving the cars themselves feels okay and I mean that in the most average way possible. There really isn't anything special about the driving mechanics. The cars feel a little more weighed down than you'd expect for some toy cars, although this lends itself a competitive edge that might come into play with the custom tracks players can cook up. Drifting generates a boost like in Mario Kart, which is about as nuanced as the driving in Hot Wheels gets. It's not accurate to say the driving is bad but to say it's particularly good isn't quite as accurate either due to a lack of intricacy. It's okay.
The cars themselves, as I pointed out, all look awesome and sound great. Acquiring them, on the other hand, is another story. Hot Wheels takes a page out of the gamer's most hated feature: loot boxes. As you play, you can collect coins; 500 Hot Wheels coins grants a "Blind Box," which will roll a random car. I don't know the odds of rolling a rare car, but Hot Wheels has 66 unique vehicles to collect at launch and it's possible to roll duplicates, so I doubt it'll be possible to have them all.
Regardless of its creative track creation mode, Hot Wheels' perfection is held back as collecting cars is as annoying as any other luck-based game. After all, having a wide variety of superbly detailed cars means little when you'll likely be unable to try them all out.
These cars can come from the Hot Wheels brand themselves but also pop-culture brands and genuine car models. This means races can be populated with drivers behind the wheel of an Audi R8 Spyder, the Skull Crusher, and even the Batmobile. Fortunately, Hot Wheels has a store that randomizes daily, offering varying vehicles at a premium of Hot Wheels coins. These cars can all be upgraded directly with Gears, which are obtained when vehicles are dismantled.
I was expecting my nostalgic connection to Hot Wheels to influence my enjoyment of this game. I was mistaken. The glamour and novelty of high-fidelity Hot Wheels cars are eye-catching enough to gawk at but Hot Wheels Unleashed is by no means as sound as its art direction. Regardless of its creative track creation mode, Hot Wheels' perfection is held back as collecting cars is as annoying as any other luck-based game. After all, having a wide variety of superbly detailed cars means little when you'll likely be unable to try them all out. On top of this, the "story mode" for Hot Wheels leaves much to be desired. Looking past these issues, for its $50 price tag, Hot Wheels is a decent racing game; don't expect too much out of it and you'll find what's there has the potential to be largely enjoyable.
TechRaptor reviewed Hot Wheels Unleashed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.
- Highly Detailed Hot Wheels Cars, Tracks, and Environments
- Nonlimiting Track Creator
- Roaring Hot Wheels Cars Sounds
- Luck-based Loot Boxes for Car Collecting
- Unnecessary and Lackluster "City Rumble" Mode
- Mediocre Racing Mechanics