Hot Wheels Unleashed brings toys to life in a delightful arcade racer

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A thumbprint stamped on the foggy driver’s side window of my 1985 Audi Sport Quattro, at the end of a race, says it all. In impressive detail and utterly delicious Hot wheels unleashed, launched on Thursday, the cars look like toys we actually played with, and like me playing.

Previous Hot Wheels Games (unleashed is 27, by my calculations) have generally presented the player and the car on an equivalent scale, reducing the viewer’s perspective in their world or making one of them life-size to ours. Hot Wheels Unleashed scrupulously maintains its fleet of 60 vehicles at their authentic size, roaming the life-size world we live in, subject (mainly) to its laws of physics. The result is a terrific and rightfully challenging racing video game that brings the charm of Hot Wheels to life.

When the camera zooms inside the Custom Volkswagen, it reveals the matte gray plastic of the real Hot Wheels car, a seat in the center of the floor, the wheel a solid disc glued to a featureless steering column. And when that car slips off the red plastic track or sinks into a table leg, there’s a lounge verisimilitude to the speed, crash, and rebound of their creaks.

1970s Hot Wheels racer with gold flake paint takes a long jump

Image: Milestone / Koch Media

This is important, not only for the aesthetics achieved by the Milanese studio Milestone, but also because it gives the cars a very intuitive handling. It’s hard to describe; I drive arcade or action racing cars with full-size model vehicles all the time, but I don’t feel as connected to their movement as I do in Hot Wheels Unleashed. This is essential, as AI runners in Hot Wheels Unleashed pose an unexpected challenge in the upper two (of four) difficulty levels.

Hot Wheels Unleashed has 60 cars to collect and race in the game’s core offerings of Online Multiplayer, Local Multiplayer Split Screen, or You-vs-AI races. These cars are categorized according to their rarity and the vehicles can be exchanged for virtual money or coins, which can be used to upgrade them. There is also a campaign mode, called City Rumble, where players unlock new vehicles or earn Blind Boxes which randomly award a different turn. In City Rumble, the races all have a mix of notes, with celebrity cameos and collectibles like the TMNT Party Van or the Back to the Future DeLorean.

Racing in all of these modes involves only two special abilities: drift and a turbo boost whose strength is balanced by the rest of the car’s attributes. No weapon or advantage is in play here. For an arcade racer, this is a refreshing focus on vehicle skills and physics, and Milestone may make this design choice because of their experience and reputation in building motorsport simulations. base over the past two decades.

On the track, you win by being faster, not what you’re doing to your car or someone else’s. Contact is inevitable, but the speed and direction changes are so quick that tactical collisions aren’t usually the core of the gameplay. Your winning game is always to keep your car on the track, clear of the side ramps, counter-steer in drifts astonishing distances (measured in inches, heh heh), and use the turbo at the top of the turn.

Each vehicle has a different turbo boost, related to the design of the car. The Bump Around, which is a bumper car, has a long, hard-to-drain turbo, while the faster and more dangerous Sharkruiser has three single-use boosts. Boosts recharge slowly as you drive, but Drifts charge them faster.

Performing a drift is very easy; learning how to maintain one longer takes practice. Like most arcade racers, speed is nothing without knowledge of the course. Such intuitive physics and results in Hot Wheels Unleashed talk to the Milestone loyalists as a developer of races. The movement in Hot Wheels Unleashed is true, rendered in Unreal Engine 4. Nothing seems locked to a surface or region of the screen like in other arcade racing games. A wobbly jump landing can knock you down, but that doesn’t seem unfair. Even though I made a right turn on bare ground and completely missed the re-entry on the track, I never felt totally out of the race. Even off the track, on medium difficulty, I was able to come back and put the turbo back into action. Maybe a win was out of reach, but the top three always seemed reasonable.

Snoopy aboard his doghouse, next to the DeLorean Back to the Future and the Sharkruiser in Hot Wheels Unleashed

Image: Milestone / Koch Media

As for the AI, they are legitimately tough competitors, themselves boosted throughout a modestly elastic pursuit to the finish line. As a general rule, any common car can win against any other common AI in direct combat. And at lower levels, Hot Wheels Unleashed Left me enough room to counter with my own boost and turbo loads, creating huge leads with the feeling of having dusted off an AI for good. In Difficult and Extreme difficulty, I had to place myself at the head of the peloton at the start and not make any mistakes, to win or to fight.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Also comes with a customization toolkit and track editor, with unlockable items and decorations also awarded in City Rumble. While I didn’t spend a lot of time in the Track Editor, the robust livery editor caught my attention; it is rather quietly the best part of the whole game. The livery options really highlight the realism of the various finishes and materials of the vehicle – from the enamel to the paint jobs in glitter and glitter to the faux – polished chrome and matte gray die-cast metal. I was able to easily match the color pattern I use in F1 2021, for example, and claim that my racing team there had an officially licensed collector’s item in Hot Wheels Unleashed, thanks to the library of decals included in the editor. Collecting virtual Hot Wheels is fun; making them (or repainting them) is a joy.

It all adds up to a very strong and largely attractive runner. Hot Wheels Unleashed is up there with Milestone’s MotoGP and Monster Energy Supercross, as well as F1 and WRC games, as another winner in the ongoing renaissance of licensed motorsport games. For those who may not be fans of motorsports or simulation racing, this could be a serious contender for their racing game of the year. I have become a virtual reducer over the past four years, and Hot Wheels Unleashed is at least in the discussion for mine.

Hot Wheels Unleashed was released on September 30, 2021 on Nintendo Switch, the Windows computer, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox one and Xbox x series. The game has been tested on Xbox Series X using a preview download code provided by Koch Media. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find further information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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