Hot Wheels Unleashed
Hot Wheels Unleashed Is A Surprising Ode To Racing Childhood
Hot Wheels Unleashed is the latest entry in arguably the longest-running arcade racing franchise that few consider one to begin with. Dating as far back as 1984's Hot Wheels on the Commodore 64, the Hot Wheels franchise has been synonymous with fast-paced racing and track building. The latter would be fleshed out on PC games including 1998's Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver and its sequel released in 2000. The former would be expanded upon with Hot Wheels Turbo Racing, released in 1999 for the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation.
Over the years, the Hot Wheels license has changed several times through different developers. While some developers had a history in developing racing titles, the majority have not. This becomes clear with the varying levels of quality in Hot Wheels titles over the years. At its peak, games like Hot Wheels World Race were developed by Black Rock Studio, the same studio that would go on to create Pure and Split/Second. At its lowest, most games on average were developed by indie developers who used the Hot Wheels license to make a quick "cash-in."
Hot Wheels Gets The Red Carpet Treatment
In 2017, Hot Wheels was given a new lease on video game life thanks to Playground Games's Forza Horizon 3. An entire DLC based on the toy franchise and its over-the-top tracks was released to acclaim from Hot Wheels and racing fans alike. Their collaborative efforts would continue in Forza Horizon 4 and it opened up new paths. Hot Wheels realized that the racing game fan base and fans of the toy cars went hand-in-hand. This was enough to enlist the aid of Milestone for their next entry, Hot Wheels Unleashed.
Milestone is an Italian racing developer that has been developing titles since the 90s under the name Grafitti. PC gamers may recognize the developer as the ones behind the Screamer series, a mid-90s 3D arcade racer. Since then, the developer has released many titles using the WRC, MotoGP, and Ride series. While the majority of their racing titles were motorcycle games, it was their longstanding history in developing racing games that made Milestone an interesting choice for Hot Wheels Unleashed.
A Fun Racing Experience First, A Fan Game Second
The most important detail for a racing game, especially one with its arcade roots such as Hot Wheels, is its gameplay. With Milestone's magic touch, there's a surprising layer of depth involved in Unleashed. Gameplay is simple enough as each car has a boost function, complete with a brake-to-drift mechanic. Unique to Hot Wheels are semi-realistic physics that wouldn't feel out of place in an unlicensed racing game. While the game is "brake-to-drift," cars require proper throttle control to clear through tight, sweeping corners.
One of the basic aspects to drifting is entering a corner from the outside, tucking in the apex, and exiting outward to ensure clearance. While the rules are relaxed in Unleashed, the general rules still apply. At first, players will oversteer and graze the outer wall but once players get used to the handling, its as smooth and responsive as any arcade racing game. After the first handful of races, Unleashed becomes such a satisfying arcade racer that it's easy to forget its a Hot Wheels game first and foremost.
Three 'Cursed' Words --- Hot Wheels Gacha
There are a lot of content for players to enjoy as they play through the main "Career" mode, including the way that cars are unlocked. This leads to the first unfortunate negative I have to say about Unleashed. Unlocking cars aren't based on playing the game via a progression system. Instead, it's dependent on lootboxes---I mean "blind crates," as the game calls it. That's right, Hot Wheels Unleashed has lootboxes.
This means fans of the franchise itching to unlock their favorite cars will need lucky on their side. Conversely, players can unleash their inner whale and farm the Hot Wheels gacha to try their luck. Loot boxes and gacha in general is a feature in game that I will always disagree with. This is because it encourages excessive spending for a non-guarenteed item.
However, for Hot Wheels, it's more of a treat to find a car that players haven't expected to be their favorite. One of the cars I unlocked was a bumper car with a 1940s body cast. It became a surprise favorite due to its handling around corners. For the first time, Hot Wheels Unleashed also included licensed die-cast cars, from Chevys to Audis.
Express Yourself Through Your Cars And Your Designs
"Hot Wheels Gacha" aside, players can customize their cars using custom liveries. The attention to detail Milestone made towards the colors are nothing short of impressive. Various paint jobs from enamel, matte, and "Spectraflame" are included, offering custom paint jobs and individuality. The iconic create-a-track is also included, with backdrops ranging from skateparks, garages, skyscrapers, and the basement.
In terms of the basement, players can customize their pad with items unlocked via the game's career mode. This not only offers a sense of personality to each player, but the amount of customization props are impressive. Sofas, chairs, skatebords, arcade cabinets, walls, and many more are available to tinker with.
The Ultimate Hot Wheels Experience
Overall, Hot Wheels Unleashed is an impressive entry in the long-running arcade franchise. It is also one of the most fun arcade racing games in recent history. Fans of both the die-cast cars and simplistic racing with hidden layers of depth will get plenty enjoyment. Ignoring the gacha and lootboxes, Unleashed is a must-play for enthusiasts wishing to sate their appetite until Forza Horizon 5.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is available on the PC, Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, and Xbox Series X