Hot Wheels Unleashed is much prettier than a toy car set
Like any budding gearbox, I grew up with loads of Hot Wheels. Too much, in fact. Small Sterilite containers full of things. I was proud of my collection, but looking back, I cost my parents a small fortune in castings. In my day, you couldn’t just print your own Cugnot like kids do now!
But small cars were only one mainstay of the Hot Wheels media empire – there were plenty of video games, too. Most were forgettable bargain sluts, though some were certainly above the rest. With the rise of mobile gaming, it’s been a while since we had a full Hot Wheels racing game on consoles. This will change in September with Hot Wheels Unleashed from developer Milestone. I had the chance to try a PC preview of the game this week.
Milestone is best known for its two wheel racers. With the exception of a few rally titles in the middle of the last decade, the Italian studio focused on MXGP and MotoGP, as well as his Stroll franchise, which is sort of the closest thing to Tourist Trophy these days. A carefree arcade racer, then, is not something this team has much recent experience with.
On the one hand, it’s rather refreshing, because there is a real attention to detail present in Hot Wheels Unleashed you wouldn’t expect a game related to a toy brand. Take the cars themselves. I know this is going to sound silly, but I’ve never seen a toy rendered with this level of precision in a video game before. Rather than imagining the Hot Wheels designs as real cars, Milestone chose to make them look like castings for an inspired and cute touch.
Materials, like metallic paint and injection molded plastics, are incredibly realistic. The wheels have only the right shine for them. Even the seams on the plastics are reproduced, along with all the slight and tiny imperfections you’d expect from dollar die-castings. Cars get dirty and dusty as you race, sporting the battle scars of faded and chipped paint, just like the favorite and well-worn Hot Wheels of your childhood. This game looks and works much better than you might think, judging by the name.
This extends, to a lesser extent, to the slopes. Hot Wheels Unleashed sports six environments. Four – a college campus, garage, skate park, and town hall “Skyscraper” – were in the build I played. The courses themselves use Hot Wheels iconic orange plastic tracks, looping and weaving through these worlds, with booster cushions and strewn obstacles like barricades, cobwebs, and electric fans. that push you along the way.
The tracks and cars are sort of on a real-life scale, giving the game a neat perspective as you walk past ordinary objects like books and basketballs, which just happen to be relatively giant. But it also highlights what I see as some sort of missed opportunity, at least from the courses I tried in the preview.
The tracks are not really attached to the environments in which they are found. What I mean by that is that they tend to “float” in these rooms and rarely incorporate the surrounding world itself. The vast majority of the time you drive on these plastic Hot Wheels tracks, and so a course located in the skate park environment could literally be placed in the garage with minor changes. They don’t involve the world most of the time like they did in, say, Hot Wheels Turbo Racing Where Round the world table race.
Milestone said that the physics of this version “are representative of the gameplay of the final version”, and that also disappointed me slightly. Handling is certainly fair, and if you get close unleashed thinking “this is a Hot Wheels game, not a sim, whatever?” I guess you’ll be happy. But I was never able to be completely comfortable with the steering, especially when drifting.
When you’re not drifting, the handling is a bit stiff and dardy – definitely not precise in the way, say, Trackmania is, but not heavy. However, when I hit the brake and took a drift, I found the cars understeer a lot more than I expected, so much so that I unintentionally rolled over the wall. at every sharp or hairpin bend. It is by no means impossible to drive, but it is also not natural or amusing, which should be a top consideration in every arcade racer.
An interesting quirk that I noticed is that the game’s boost mechanic behaves uniquely in different cars. There are several ‘types of boost’, in a similar vein to how Burnout paradise and the later Peak runner employee titles boost, to add a little deeper ride to the ride.
At this stage Hot Wheels Unleashed feels passable to play and looks phenomenal, certainly crossing the low threshold for a runner based on a toy brand. The game’s most interesting features and modes – the Campaign, where you take on a variety of challenges and face bosses to unlock increasingly rare cars, and the Track Builder – weren’t available to me in this game. preview, but I can’t wait to check them out. Players can expect a ton of content, with over 60 official Hot Wheels cars on offer (including classics like the Twin Mill) and over 40 tracks. Milestone also doesn’t promise microtransactions with this one, which is always nice to hear.
Hot Wheels Unleashed hits just about every platform, including PC and Nintendo Switch, on September 30.