Advocate for Sega. Fan of the 90s.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
September 30, 2021
Hot Wheels Unleashed has been a title I have been looking forward too since the first glimpses of gameplay were released back in April. For those that don’t know, Hot Wheels are a brand of miniature toy car and you can build tracks featuring loops, jumps and more to play with. Putting aside the Hot Wheels DLC for Forza Horizon a few years back, this is the first Hot Wheels branded standalone game in almost a decade.
When the gameplay footage was released it was a bit of a surprise just how good the game was looking, featuring glorious high definition backgrounds and colourful vehicles from Hot Wheels history. I got to have a go at a preview version of the game a little while ago and I found that it was pretty much what it said on the box, but I was a little concerned that it might feel repetitive before long. Now that I finally got to play through the full experience, I got to find out if Hot Wheels Unleashed is an exciting adrenaline pumping ride or whether it is just loop after boring loop.
Hot Wheels Unleashed features 66 unique vehicles at launch with even more on the way via DLC in the near future. It also features loads of different courses set across six different environments, these being a Garage, Skatepark, Track Room, Skyscraper, College Campus and the Basement. Not only does it feature plenty of unique tracks, but if you feel the need you can create your own track and share it online. You can race by yourself in the solo campaign or against friends via split screen or online.
The solo campaign is set in a map of a city where you complete races and time trials to progress through the game. There, you amass coins from wins that you can use to buy new cars or blind boxes (which is a mystery car) and obtain gears that you can use to upgrade your rides. Each area also features a “boss fight” which I had expected to be a race against a boss car, but it turned out to be just another race albeit on a more exciting track than usual.
I would have thought it would be logical to complete a series of races in each setting, then the boss race to move to the next setting or location. But it appears the developers thought otherwise because the race locations (Garage, Skatepark etc.) are spread all through the areas almost at random. So really, other than finding your way to bosses, the map is pretty irrelevant unfortunately.
Other than the standard races against 11 opponents, there are time trial challenges which are unavoidable if you want to progress through the game. Most are fine but a couple near the end of the game are really tricky and especially on long laps (2+ minutes), missing the target time by a fraction of a second and having to go around again can get pretty tiring fairly quickly. These sorts of challenges have put me off certain racing games in the past.
Usually in the racing genre, time trials are a side option rather than an obligation and they suit more realistic games best when you are trying to shave off precious seconds to be fast, rather than in arcade style action games. It is a little frustrating to be winning all your races then getting stuck trying to beat a clock.
Gameplay for the most part is pretty solid and the different handling types and boost types of the various cars provide plenty of variation throughout the game. It is your standard arcade fair, lots of drifting and making sure to boost out of corners and on the straights if you want to stay in the lead. Given that as you progress through the game you will probably play each track only once or twice, there isn’t much point getting to know the tracks off by heart.
The thing is, despite the backgrounds and tracks all looking mighty fine, because of the design of Hot Wheels Tracks (which if you have ever seen them are just different plastic parts arranged and connected together), you don’t often go off track itself. So although the backgrounds are pretty, it wouldn’t really matter where each track was set.
I think there is definitely a limit to how many times I could play the game given that after a while all the tracks sort of blend into one and although some do feature unique environmental hazards, there just isn’t enough variation. The tracks that do feature spiders shooting webs, or fans to blow you off the side are the exception rather than the rule. The “boss fight” tracks are highlights, but there are only a few of them.
Hot Wheels Unleashed does feature a track editor so if you do get tired of racing around the pre-designed tracks you can make your own. I found it a little tricky to get used to and it doesn’t feel very intuitive, either. But with a bit of practice you could create some wild rides. I did notice while I was testing a creation that I could go off track and just drive around the environment, which could make for some decent rally stages. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t figure out how to end my track on the ground so I could make that happen; it does limit you to connecting the different sections together.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is actually a fun title and at least initially it is pretty addictive to play. I did really want to progress through the game to see what the next tracks were like. I really don’t think that the developers could have done much better then they have given the constraints of the source material. If they strayed too far from classic Hot Wheels track design, they would have risked losing the aspects of Hot Wheels that make it fun in the first place.
If I could change anything, it would just be arranging the campaign to progress from one setting to the next in some sort of logical fashion and probably only having a couple of races in each area. They still could have done secret areas and races with challenges and it would have made for a racing title that flowed better and one that could be played in shorter bursts.
Hot Wheels Unleashed delivers on what it promises, high octane toy car thrills, drifting and boosting around gravity defying tracks set in high definition great looking environments. It just lets itself down when it comes to the structure of the solo campaign and there aren’t enough unique hazards or variation in the tracks to keep you coming back for more. It would have been nice if they went a step further and thought outside of the box with the designs of the tracks themselves, but at least it delivers a boost of nostalgia for the kid inside all of us.