The 9-year-old me, in my heart is screaming with excitement. The 30-something year old in me, in my heart is screaming with…. excitement. Hot Wheels games were always a big hit or a rear end collision throughout the years, but this release is by far the best. Not without its flaws, Hot Wheel Unleashed does bring some great nostalgia, challenging gameplay and near perfect customization to racetracks and cars.
The first and most important component to explain is the extreme attention to detail with every car model. You can tell the difference between plastic, metal, and glitter bodies on every car as well as their model stamps on the bottom and segments of each piece of the cars as if it were assembled right on the track. These Hot Wheels look just like the ones you opened right out of the packaging. The ridiculousness of what you can drive just adds to the fun. While Hot Wheels Unleashed does have a normal set of car models such as muscle and sports cars, they also have models shaped like dump trucks, stegosaurus’s, pterodactyls, tanks, and hot dogs. I would be remiss if I did not mention the DeLorean, Snoopy’s doghouse, and the Ninja Turtles battle van!
All unlockable models are behind loot boxes called “blind boxes” unfortunately. It’s almost expected now to use this kind of system with so many unlockables available, 66 to be exact, and more to come. That sense of randomness always puts me off to progress further but at least the game does not force you to pay real world currency. Coins are earned while you race and can be used to buy your loot, and some are even available to purchase directly so there are opportunities to find exactly what you’re looking for. There are even some cars given for free when you complete certain challenges and game modes.
Racing in mind to earn those coin, first impressions of actual gameplay were not good. I raced in normal difficulty setting and got my arse handed to me consistently. I love arcade racers but I had a hard time getting use to the endless drifting, dodging, unfair obstacles and playing constant bumper cars. You can have up to 12 cars hovering around you slowing you down by just a simple tap and cause you to lose a place or two in the race. If I was playing medium, then how difficult was hard mode? Even being knocked off track, causing a respawn sets you behind to almost last place. This can mean restarting over and over until you memorize the track, and that’s when it all clicked. I was not supposed to just race cars, I was supposed to play the track.
Boost accumulates often to give you that extra speed you need to get to first place. It’s not just for the race itself, its for reaching further down the track without the boundaries of staying on it the entire time. There are quite a few track segments that do not have barriers and some tracks that run along the floor, only indicated with traffic cones. Those are the players opportunities to “cheat” and use boost or run outside the tracks to create shortcuts to gain the upper hand. Flying through the air to cut from one part of the track to the other felt almost like unfair game mechanics but this was a part of it. This gives you an enormous amount of advantage towards winning the race. This added another layer of challenge and fun since players will be looking for ways to run off tracks and land precisely where they need to continue smoothly in first place. Going off track does not slow you down as if you are driving on mud like many other racing games do. Hot Wheels Unleashed welcomes it. It’s as if you were a child just playing with your Hot Wheels toys in a racetrack you built in your bedroom. No child would stay along the tracks for very long would they?.
Speaking of building your own racetrack, you can spend hours alone just building one from beginning to end in your basement. Those who want to do more than just the 40+ levels and satisfy their creative side will find plenty here. Your track can have all the usual loops, twists, and sharp turns as well as magnetic tracks. Many of the hazard pieces are inspired by the toy lineup such as the giant spider that spits web to slow down racers and a giant snake head which opens and closes its mouth for entry to the next track section. You can place cones, barriers, and speed boosts for some added challenge. The spider is a bit infuriating to deal with personally since no matter how fast I boost or how evasive I was, it always seems to catch me. Hopefully a day one patch will fix some difficulty problems.
There are customizable profile cards that track your online/offline race stats and of course customization of your own player space called a basement. Yes, it can look like a basement but there are other kinds of environments to choose from such as the kitchen, dorm room, etc. Change the wallpapers, floors, posters, stairs, furniture and more. If that’s not enough, you can customize your favorite cars with different materials for their bodies such as chrome, metal or plastic, add decals and change their color schemes.
Aside from the smorgasbord of content, the heart of it is the racing, and it is well done. The learning curve can be a bit steep for beginners in arcade racing, especially for the young ones playing, but once you understand that you can get off track and take advantage of the level designs, it opens up a ton of possibilities. Hot Wheels Unleashed‘s price tag is worth a full price yet it is $49 bucks for PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC systems, which almost seems like a discount deal. I recommend this one for the driving enthusiasts out there.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Hot Wheels Unleashed for the PS5 provided by Milestone.