For those of you who don’t know, Hot Wheels is a line of rail-launched ballistic weapons. Typically they are used against cats, but they are also effective against younger siblings and old furniture.
Historically, games based on these die-cast Death Dealers have been mediocre at best and almost always terrible. Micro machines have been more consistent in their video game deliveries, but that makes sense because they were the better product. I will not accept dissenting opinions.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is Milestone’s attempt to do the license justice, which is a little worrying, as they’re best known for their mediocre racing games. So, at the very least, we can expect something in the upper tier of Hot Wheels games.
Hot Wheels Unleashed (Nintendo Switch, PC [Reviewed], PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Released: September 30, 2021
After a few races Hot Wheels Unleashed, I had some persistent problems. First, you unlock cars primarily by opening blind boxes purchased with the in-game currency, “Gears”. Immediately it made me suspect that we would buy coins with real money for the chance of being repeatedly disappointed.
The second concern I had was that I was going to be looking at a lot of orange plastic tracks. Sure, that orange plastic could be twisted into all sorts of configurations, but the fear was that it was always going to jam together.
Although my first doubt has not been completely dispelled – there is no way to buy currencies at the moment, but that does not mean that there will not be a day – my second fear s dissipated about the time I saw leads knot. like a roller coaster designed by sadists.
The amount of content in Hot Wheels Unleashed is simply stunning, made possible by clever design decisions. There are 66 cars ready to be unlocked. They are separated into four categories based on rarity. There are only five attributes that make each one unique, which isn’t much. You can also spend Gears to upgrade regular cars to legendary status. In large part, that means there’s not much tangible variation between vehicles; enough that you have different cars for different occasions, but not so much that you can’t drive the one that looks the most appealing and still be successful.
The main campaign mode is Hot Wheels City Rumble, which follows the classic world map system to provide various challenges. The number of levels is incredibly high, which isn’t too strange for a racing game, but even if you boil it down to the number of tracks, there are around 40 of them of varying difficulty. It’s definitely helped just because it’s all integrated into a track editor.
Don’t think the game is going to be easy because it’s based on a line of toys. I’m pretty sure the target market for Hot Wheels is split between kid and adult collectors these days anyway. The tracks start to get quite tricky in the last game, and while you can tweak the AI difficulty, it won’t help you in time trials. It starts to become a game of precision driving and memorizing the track. There are bumps that, if you hit them too fast, will knock you off course, or curves that, if you take them too loosely, will knock you over. It may take a few attempts to complete a mission as errors occur.
There’s also Elastic AI, and while I could write an essay about how much I hate this adaptive difficulty method, this isn’t the place. While I don’t generally find it to be very upsetting, the fact that a single mistake late in the track after a perfect performance can cause you to lose the race is still annoying. It also makes the first two rounds cheap. I found it hilarious when I found a workable shortcut on a track, which caused such an advantage that other riders had to catch up at breakneck speed. Obviously, there is no limit to how quickly your rival is supposed to catch up to you.
The amount of detail in Hot Wheels Unleashed is quite phenomenal. The environments have all been set up so that the tracks can use their nooks and crannies. Some have you going through air vents or drifting around a sofa. One of my favorites takes you through a narrow spacer that only has room for single file traffic.
It also incorporates playsets for additional obstacles. The spider playset can piss in orbit, especially during time trials. The volcano is the most stressful, however, as it requires careful navigation up a corkscrew. Otherwise, you may find yourself at the bottom.
There are plenty of white-knuckle moments on offer, and while some of them come from the fact that, by design, you’ll always, always have another pilot glued to your tail, a lot of it just comes down to the way the tracks are insanely designed. On your first time around a track, there are a lot of things to surprise you.
Honestly most of the issues I’ve had with Hot Wheels Unleashed were my fault. Hitting a lip too hard and flipping my car, crashing into a barrier, accelerating too hard and flying off the gravity tracks; I swore several times. The ride itself is surprisingly solid, with physics that don’t feel too weird. The worst feeling is when you miss a jump, hit the back to track button and end up way back at the start of the jump. It doesn’t always seem right.
If you think you can do better than the developer, the track editor is reasonably robust and intuitive. I didn’t dig too deep, because if I felt I could conceive worthwhile leads, I’d make games instead of just critiquing them from a safe distance. The ability to download other people’s tracks and custom liveries is appreciated though. This will certainly help expand the game’s already considerable content.
There’s also the ability to customize the basement environment you can build tracks in, which is very arbitrary to me. My best guess is that the developer just wants to remind me that there are nicer basements than my apartment.
I could complain that I never got the Batmobile in a blind box, but I actually found myself quite in love with it. Hot Wheels Unleashed. It takes a lot for me to finish the career mode of a racing game, but somehow it got me past the 20 hour mark and into the credits. Then I dove in for more, but I probably won’t get all of Unleashed’s goals because those spider games can kiss my ass.
Hot Wheels Unleashed impressed me on virtually every marker. It looks great, it feels great, and the track design is extremely well done. I kind of hate the blind box approach to unlocking cars, but that’s a minor gripe when putting my wheels on the track is still a blast.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]