Mattel's little cars get the big game treatment via racing game veterans, Milestone in Hot Wheels Unleashed.
I'm no stranger to Milestone's work. I am, however, more used to tearing around one of their digital circuits on two wheels in MotoGP than firing up diminutive little cars and whizzing them around a plastic track. But Milestone's involvement means that this game is no cynical cash-in.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is a dream game for the five-year-old me. As a kid, I had a collection of little racing cars, most of which my five-year-old now plays with, hammering them into the skirting boards the same way I used to. To see these cars come to life and so accurately modelled in a game is rather delightful.
Despite Milestone's more realistic racing back catalogue, Hot Wheels Unleashed is unashamedly an arcade racer, as it should be. The cars have boosts, the tracks have loops, jumps, and hazards.
The meat of the game is the Hot Wheels City Rumble campaign. Races and events are performed across a map that mimics a kid's car mat. There are multiple paths with event unlocking as you go. There are also a few secrets to find.
The game also has a couple of quick modes if you just want to race on a particular circuit or test out a car in a time trial. The game can be played two-player locally via split-screen, a mode the is often overlooked. I was also pleased to find a healthy online community on the Xbox Series X for multiplayer racing.
The game looks good, the orange track pieces looking identical, if a little wider, to the plastic Hot Wheels track. They even have blue plastic connectors holding them together. The circuits have the tiny cars banking flying off jumps, looping the loop, and even driving inverted. To help this, there are speed boosts, boost meter refills, and magnetised track sections.
Having the circuits scaled appropriately in real-world settings gives the game a Micro Machines feel that takes me back to that classic game series. The tracks are assembled in places like a skyscraper under construction, a skate park, and a basement.
Some of the circuits have cars leaving the track and travelling through air conditioning vents and across shiny floors. For the most part, the action is too fast to really be looking at the background scenery.
The cars are expertly modelled on their real-life counterparts. For the preview build, I had access to the complete set, but for the actual retail release, players need to earn the cars in their collection.
Cars are unlocked as you progress as rewards for winning races and as blind boxes containing random cars. Currency is also awarded during races with can be used to purchase blind boxes or special edition car blister packs.
The game makes you work for the cars. You can scrap cars for components or sell them for currency. Each of the cars has different attributes, some that are upgradable.
Most cars have a boost meter that is charged by drifting around the track. The action is exclusively controlled in a third-person view. I'd have liked the option of a cockpit view.
The races mainly consist of three laps around a circuit, but with the odd point-to-point race thrown in for good measure. In the campaign, most of the circuit layouts are a bit on the pedestrian side, with only the boss races really stacking up as a challenge. These races have boost changing direction that can slow down the cars if you don't keep an eye on what's going on.
Races take no prisoners, and one stuff-up can send you to the back of the pack. There are plenty of freestyle sections where it's easy to get caught on the scenery. Similarly, miss-time a boost on the approach to a ramp, and you could find your car overshooting the track. Even in the air, you have some control over the car for a smooth landing.
There is a track editor included in the game. You can pick a location from all the places in the game to build your circuit. Most of the best pieces need to be unlocked whilst playing the game, which I found a bit frustrating.
Customisation features heavily in the game with a full livery editor to make your car collection stand out. There's also a basement area that can be customised using items won in races and purchased using the in-game currency. As far as I'm concerned, this basement area is a waste of resources and time that could be better spent buying better cars or building exciting tracks.
It's good that Milestone hasn't gone down the microtransaction route with the game, as it almost seems designed to sell coins for redemption against new cars. A DLC car pack is promoted on the title pagers, and there's even a car in my collection that the game seems to want me to buy. Something to watch out for if you are letting kids play the game.
The game is very accessible for younger players. The difficulty settings range from easy to extreme. Easy races present little or no challenge for more experienced gamers, but make the game fun for newcomers.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is a fun arcade racer with a lot of replay value as you collect the 60+ cars digital versions of real Hot Wheels cars included in the game. The races are fun, especially the more devious circuits. The cars handle exceptionally well, with some great drifting. It's also a very well-presented and polished game. If you are a fan of Hot Wheels, old or new, and fancy some fun arcade racing, you should check this one out.