In the racing game world, the axis of realism is dominated by simulators like Forza, while the arcade end of the spectrum belongs to cart racers like Mario Kart. In between the two lies the vast crowd of titles that blend the two, but few have risen to stand out among that crowd. Hot Wheels Unleashed by Milestone just might be the next one to accomplish the task.
In Hot Wheels Unleashed, races play out on tracks reminiscent of old Hot Wheels play sets. Groups of cars, modeled after real life Hot Wheels toys, compete against each other for racing supremacy. While the tracks and cars are taken straight from the real world, the gameplay is anything but. On your time trials and races, you’ll be boosting, jumping, and stunting through them. There’s no power-up system, which means your edge is based entirely on managing speed. This is used best in the time trials, which I prefer to the standard races. Here, like in other titles, you’re given a set of times to match or pass. However, unlike some of those games, knowing when to hit boosts and when to drift is crucial. Because of this, tracks become almost as important to learn as the cars themselves.
The game currently holds a roster of over 60 cars, all available to unlock with no microtransactions. With that in mind, you’ll use gold you earn from playing to gain blind boxes for new cars and components. After launch, Hot Wheels Unleashed will add cars, tracks and more as part of paid and free expansions. Personally this release schedule, while hectic, is perfect for ensuring the lifetime of the game. Unfortunately, as a fan of Hot Wheels, I found the focus on 3rd party branded cars to be a bit much. There are plenty of games where you can potentially drive an Aston Martin, but how many can say you can drive a car from the Acceleracers line, or Battle Force 5? Oh well, missed opportunities.
In addition to both the campaign and standard races, Unleashed features two modes taking advantage of a users creative sides. The Basement, a virtual showcase, allows players to create their own Hot Wheels showroom. You can use campaign rewards here to turn a dingy basement into a world class museum for your virtual cars. For the more hands on, the track editor mode allows users to create and upload their own races, with access to a wide variety of parts and pieces. If you choose to go that route, there’s even more on the way as the track editor will receive free updates later this year. When it comes to customization, Hot Wheels Unleashed puts miles between it and the competition.
Graphically, Unleashed looks great. The photo realistic feel reminds me of 2007’s Hot Wheels: Beat That!, albeit with a much higher fidelity. Cars in particular look great, with some cars sporting fingerprint marks and other light wear. The tracks themselves also look excellent, utilizing six different environments. The map for the City Rumble mode is a little bare-bones, but the mode itself feels great. The music also fits with the high octane split-second gameplay. Some of the menus can be a little awkward, and it would be nice to have an option to open blind boxes right after a race instead of navigating back to the main menu. Despite my few complaints, Hot Wheels Unleashed is more than competent when it comes to how it feels.
Performance is the one area where your mileage will vary depending on your platform of choice. Higher-end platforms can reach frame rates of up to 120fps and can output native 4K. Lower-end platforms will strive for 60fps, but will sometimes falter and dip a bit, with Switch running even lower at 30fps. There’s some patches incoming to help some of the platforms a bit, but it mostly applies to the track editor tutorial. It’s best to do a little research to figure out the right platform for you. All that in mind, I never experienced any bugs or crashes in my time with the game, so that’s a plus.
In conclusion, Hot Wheels Unleashed feels great and looks solid. It might not have a consistent performance across platforms, but the pure adrenaline filled racing is fun all around. With plenty of cars and creative tracks, Hot Wheels fans will likely enjoy what Unleashed has to offer. I look forward to seeing how the game adapts and evolves in future seasons, in addition to challenging people to races.
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