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Hot Wheels Unleashed Game review

Game review 27 September 2021, 17:00

author: Christopher Mysiak

An scholar, librarian, wannabe witcher, and a gentleman. Cars, guns and swords are his things, as are deep stories about serious stuff.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot

If you’ve ever dreamt of playing with Hot Wheels toys in a video game, Milestone makes it come true. This is the ultimate proposition for Hot Wheels enthusiasts. But is it a proper game at all? Well, yes… but no. At least not right now.

The review is based on the PC version.

This was supposed to be a big deal. Or at least Milestone studio did everything they could to convince us that Hot Wheels Unleashed is the racing premiere of the season. Forza Horizon 5? Bah! Just look at these fancy toy cars in our hype-pumping trailers!

Oh yes, folks from Milestone know how to direct trailers to make some hype… and to convince people that their games are worth 50 bucks or more. But are they? With Hot Wheels Unleashed, the answer is easier than it ever was: no, it’s definitely not worth 50 bucks. However, it doesn’t mean this is an underwhelming game. It’s simply overpriced.

Faithful reconstruction. Too faithful

PROS:
  1. drifting, jumping and other parts of driving are quite fun;
  2. pretty graphics;
  3. Track Builder has potential to give the game long(ish) life;
  4. some of the original tracks are designed really cool…
CONS:
  1. …but they become repetitive too quickly;
  2. vehicles should be way more diverse;
  3. dull career mode;
  4. monotonous music.

I’m sure you’ve already figured that out, but it won’t hurt to confirm your presumptions: Hot Wheels Unleashed is a pure arcade racer. Drift on corners, push boost on straights, be first on the finish line – these are the principles. It is as simple as it is fun. With great sense of speed, fierce competitors, and twisted track designs, races are dynamic, vigorous, and exciting… At least during the first three hours.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #1
Rules are simple. Drifting equals generating boost. Boosting equals being faster than anyone else. Being faster equals winning. Winning equals profit!

Milestone did a great job bringing Hot Wheels to the virtual world, any enthusiast of these toys has to admit it. Tracks and vehicles look impressive, especially the latter are as close to the term fotorealistic as they can be (just look at the paint on the die-cast models). Unfortunately, this convention has its limitations, and they quickly become noticeable.

Let’s talk tracks. They’re built exactly as they should be, with jumps, barrels, spirals and other iconic elements, known to everyone who had ever seen any Hot Wheels set. Milestone used it for creating some really fun, crazy stages. But does the reference material give enough possibilities for developers to design tracks so varied that they can keep players engaged for hours? Sadly, I doubt it.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #2
Another advantage of Hot Wheels Unleashed is implementation of 2-player split-screen mode.
Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #3
I admit, performing this jump for the first time was kinda exhilarating.

Despite switching between five different environments (e.g. skate park, garage, basement) and even putting monsters here and there (like that nasty spider, catching cars in the web), tracks quickly become repetitive. Since particular places serve basically only as background (they hardly ever offer unique opportunities for designing courses; furniture isn’t there for you to drive on it, that’s just a decoration by default), all 40+ stages look virtually the same. Even the free variant of 2020 Trackmania comes with greater diversity than this $50 game.

66 skins of one car

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #4
That RAM should push me from the road with one finger, I should outmaneuver it easily. Instead, we are struggling like this.

Unfortunately, the issue with the lack of diversity in Hot Wheels Unleashed stretches much further. Let’s take a look at the career mode, called Hot Wheels City Rumble. There is a static 2D map of the eponymous city withabout 100 events to beat in chosen order (usually), including secrets to uncover and five “boss races”. Sounds promising, but in practice there are as little as two types of challenges: race and time trial. Even „boss race’ is actually just a race, only it’s longer and has more obstacles than usual. And these so-called secrets? They require you to use specific vehicle in specific event in order to unblock path on the map. Booooring.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #5
More toys in the Track Builder means longer life for the game. Don't screw this up, Milestone.

Then, there are vehicles. 66 is a decent number of models, and they are pure joy to look at, as I said before. There also seems to be a lot of variety at first glance, as we have sports cars, muscle cars, pick-ups, trucks, school buses and some really weird machines. The problem is that they all drive in almost the same manner. Although each one is described with five parameters, the solely one that matters is boost. Better acceleration or speed has no meaning at all if you’re out of juice. And braking power? You shouldn’t brake at all, so it’s absolutely useless – just like the possibility to upgrade vehicles, which usually… downgrades the boost (while increasing speed or some other parameter, yes, but what’s the point?).

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #6
Looks just like the real one.

What’s missing in Hot Wheels Unleashed is the weight of vehicles (not to mention car damage and options of changing camera or hiding HUD, but let’s put that aside). There is no difference between Fiat 500 and school bus, they are equally unable to push one another from the road. Someone could say that’s realistic, as we’re talking about little toy cars here, yet wouldn’t it be funnier if you could pursue victory by other tactics than “pick the fastest vehicle and boost as much as you can”? It would surely deepend the gameplay. Otherwise, collecting cars turns out to serve no reasonable purpose here.

There is still hope

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #7
Another missed idea is decorating your basement with furniture and other elements unlocked in the career mode. If only it was visible in the main menu or other prominent place...

I know, all this sounds very much like an underwhelming game, contrary to what I stated at the beginning. However, Milestone still has an ace up their sleeve. It’s the Track Builder. Players are surprising us with their enormous creativity at every step and Hot Wheels Unleashed may be another substantial playground for them (the game offers several interesting creations to download already), if only fans are provided the right tools.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #8
Repetitive challenges, cheaply drawn background, tiresome music in the menu... Career mode is underwhelming.

At the moment, possibilities are modest in comparison to Trackmania or even DiRT 5, but folks from Milestone seem committed to filling their game with fresh content (vehicles, environments, modules for Track Builder etc.) for a long time, so the situation could improve. The sole problem is that majority of these attractions will come as paid DLCs. Moreover, devs have already announced no less than three season passes. One can only hope that Milestone’s greed won’t wreck the potential of the editor.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Too Early to Call It Hot - picture #9

Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

So the verdict isn’t favorable for Hot Wheels Unleashed – for now. Save your 50 bucks for anything else… unless you’re ok with the fact that you can see almost everything it has to offer in less than five hours. Nevertheless, when the price drops significantly and the game has loads of additional content (hopefully free), reconsider purchasing it. It has foundations of a really enjoyable arcade racing game, and it deserves some love.

But not $50 worth of love, though.

Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com

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