Hot Wheels Unleashed

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Developer: Milestone
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2021


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Switch/PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Hot Wheels Unleashed'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 24, 2021 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

Hot Wheels Unleashed is an action-packed arcade-style racing experience featuring Hot Wheels cars and sky-high tracks.

When I was growing up, every single kid had at least one Hot Wheels car. Despite the stigma of being a "boys only" toy, there were plenty of choices that would satisfy anyone. Even though I wasn't a collector, I inevitably ended up with a few. There's just something enjoyable about having a tiny chunk of metal in the shape of a car, especially if you had the tracks to go with it. Sending said tiny chunk of metal through absurd loop-the-loops (with the occasional misjudged design that risked sending it through a nearby window) tickled some part of my kid brain. The waves of nostalgia came crashing back when I started up Hot Wheels Unleashed, which seems destined to tickle that part of the brain in digital form.

The core of Hot Wheels is an arcade-feeling racing game. You hop onto the track and speed along, drift, and drive your way through other racers who are trying to cross the finish line first. Each car has a boost mechanic, which varies from car to car. Some charge up a meter that lets them boost at will, while others fill boost circles that give them an instant speed increase at the cost of less flexibility about when to use it. If you've ever played a racing game, you have a pretty good idea of what you'll encounter.

As you might expect from a game based on Hot Wheels, you're not limited in your selection of potential cars. There are bucketloads of different vehicles, ranging from ones that I remember from my childhood to ones that I've never seen before. There are traditional cars, but why would you race a traditional car when you can race a bumper car, a robot raptor-car, or a tank? Even in our preview build, we saw a large collection of Hot Wheels greats, and there will over 60 in the final game. Personally, I'd have a tough time not picking the Buns of Steel, which looks like the kind of cheap toy you'd get as a kid from McDonald's. It's the ultimate spirit of Hot Wheels.

Hot Wheels Unleashed has a rarity system. Cars begin as Common and go all the way up to Legendary and the special Treasure Hunt. The higher a car's rarity, the better its overall stats, but it's also harder to effectively control. Lower-tier cars are better for learning the mechanics, and you go for Legendary when you've learned how to do everything. The game supports upgrading lower-tier cars to higher levels, so you don't need to worry if your favorite vehicles are Common. It's also important to note that these upgrades are done entirely through in-game currency. There are no microtransactions, just good, old-fashioned virtual prize money.

As you'd imagine, the racetracks are distinct. Each track takes place in a separate location, such as a college campus, skatepark or skyscraper. These set the basic layout, but each track has its own unique design and gimmicks. Some are designed for long, single-lap races, while others are for shorter multi-lap races. Scattered throughout the tracks are boost pads and speed-up areas that make your car go significantly faster in addition to barricades and pitfalls that can slow you down or send you off the track.

Of course, we're talking about Hot Wheels tracks, so they're not going to be normal. Like any good track, they are filled with loop-the-loops, long jumps, pinpoint turns and distinctive tricks. For example, one track might have a lot of magnetized segments, so you spend a good chunk of the race upside-down. Another has fans that can push your car off the edge if you're going too slow when taking a turn. One even has a plastic toy spider that spits out sticky goo to trap unwary racers. We're sure there are going to be even more gimmicks in the final version. There's even going to be a Create-a-Track feature, so you can make your own over-the-top racetrack!

While we only experienced the Quick Race feature, there are a lot of different game modes available. There's going to be a single-player story campaign called Hot Wheels City Rumble, time attacks, and both online and offline multiplayer. It's not entirely clear how car rarity will interact with online multiplayer, but it seems like there's going to be enough content to keep players busy for a good long while.

Overall, Hot Wheels Unleashed is shaping up to be a cute racing game for players of all ages. The arcade-y physics and goofy, over-the-top track design capture the spirit of Hot Wheels. You can race a giant toaster against a rocket-powered sports car, and isn't that really everything Hot Wheels should be? Hopefully the full roster of tracks and cars lives up to expectations but fans both young and young-at-heart should get their chance to race when Hot Wheels Unleashed hits Sept. 30 for every console and the PC.

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