Game Review: Hot Wheels Unleashed

Release date: 2021
Version played: Xbox Series X in 2021

Featuring a multitude of Hot Wheels cars from across the years, Hot Wheels Unleashed is an arcade racer developed and published by long-time racing game veterans Milestone. Players can race as hot dogs, Ford Mustangs, dinosaurs and the Back to the Future DeLorean and hundreds more across dozens of campaign tracks en route to crushing the competition in five Boss Tracks, each with special race hazards. A detailed livery editor, photo mode and track creator ensure a never ending supply of tracks to play and the ability to make it look good.

+ core racing gameplay is incredibly satisfying, much closer to Mario Kart than Need for Speed, but definitely ultra-arcadey. You can store boost power by drifting or driving across specific sections of the track, and you’ll need that speed to get through loops or over jumps
+ the tracks themselves are as wild and imaginative as if made from the mind of a child in their lounge room. Booster pads, magnetic strips and huge loops can be accented with various specialist pieces, such as a spiral track inside a volcano, or a web-spitting spider. I don’t think any of the tracks in the campaign were bad, though I admit most all of them required more than one playing to learn where the walls had no barriers, or which way was faster/easier if there was a fork in the road. The arcade racing nature of the game means you can quickly find some time savers or track skip points that will help you shave seconds off a tough time trial
+ visually, there is great attention to detail, such as scratches, scuffs, and fingerprints on your car after the race, as if a child has been making them race around themselves. This is all especially noticeable when using the fantastic photo mode so you can see every detail in a close up
+ you can in-game purchase new cars using the rewards from winning races. There is no real-world cash shop, aside from the DLC car packs, which was a welcome change

– the only real negative is arguably the most important: when you’ve done one race, you’ve done them all. Particularly once you find a car you like, you’ll drift and boost through the level, claim first place, and then repeat on the next level, and then the next, and then the next. It’s all very repetitive. The game could certainly use some more race modes, such as an elimination mode (whoever is in last place every 30 seconds is eliminated), perhaps more ‘mini’ games like a jump distance challenge, or even just handicap modes such as having to use a particular car, or not being able to boost (or having a limited number of boosts). Just SOMETHING to shake things up a bit
– every circuit race is three laps, and (obviously) every sprint race is just the one run. I’d have liked a way to modify the settings, such as doing 10 laps for three times the rewards at the end

> even on medium difficulty, I was having the races of my life against the bots. This is not a positive or a negative, necessarily, just know that the game can be very difficult, if you want it to be
> the split screen mode is fun, but only capable of one on one races with no bots. The racing mechanics are exactly the same as single player, and you can play across any campaign race or custom tracks, however the ability to mod split-screen races with bots, lap numbers, boost variants etc would have been a welcome addition

Should you play this game: If you are looking for a standard arcade racer, then yes, this is incredibly fun – but, it certainly needs more. The optimistic, Hot Wheels collecting child in me says that there must be plans for new cars, new tracks and new game modes still to come; the jaded adult gamer that I am says don’t hold your breath, and just pick this up when it’s on sale.

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