Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is almost here, and it hopes to be the latest in a long line of excellent arcade racers that we’ve seen over the last couple of years. In 2021, the first Hot Wheels Unleashed was released, but unfortunately, the game didn’t quite have the timelessness of the toys it was based on for several reasons. However, after playing a good few races of its upcoming sequel, Milestone appears to have solved those issues with a deeper, more complete, and even more exciting racing experience.
The biggest thing that stood out to me while playing is the diversity and variety of everything on offer in Hot Wheels Unleashed 2. The impact of this is a more interesting racing experience as you are no longer racing around tracks in empty spaces that all fundamentally look the same, with plain, uninteresting backgrounds. Now there are five different environments, each with several different tracks and layouts within them.
These include a house’s backyard and a desert-like canyon – both of which I got to race in. Screenshots show other areas to race in, such as an arcade. It’s impossible to understate just how much this small change improves the racing experience in the sequel as you feel like you are racing amongst a proper real-life environment, emulating the way kids weave their tracks in and out of their furniture when playing with Hot Wheels cars, or intertwine full courses with their bedrooms to create elaborate and complex set-ups.
The artificial feeling that Hot Wheels Unleashed suffered from by having all its tracks take place in open environments with nothing in them – like a track plopped in the middle of a warehouse – is gone here. The feeling of speed and the fun is accelerated as the racing is just infinitely more visually captivating.
The addition of a jump button allows for more complex and risky track setups, upping the variety on offer even more. For example, you can now have large gaps between pieces of tracks and elevation too, requiring you to not only land all four wheels on the track after jumping over the gap but to time your jump so that you don’t slam straight into the edge of a track piece or completely miss it altogether.
I can confidently say the handful of tracks I played in Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 were far more engaging and exciting than anything in the first game. After I got to grips with the controls again, I really sank into the experience, turning on the blinders to what was happening around me while playing and focusing on nailing drifts, avoiding obstacles, and keeping ahead of the competition, having a lot of fun while doing so.
But on top of solving the most glaring problem, many people had with the first game, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 also tweaks a lot of the parts under the hood to create a deeper racing experience that you want to spend time in. While the first game had progression, it was quite barebones and thin.
Here each car now has around a dozen power upgrades that can boost its performance in racing and improve its attributes. However, to keep things balanced, almost all of them have a tradeoff.
Some of these upgrades included improving the strength of dashing to the left and right and reducing weight. Others included speeding up the charge of boost but decreasing your slipstream speed. This ensures that players who grind out and buy a bunch of upgrades aren’t going to be dominating online matches entirely, or will have to negotiate around the downsides if they wish to completely blitz opponents.
However, it does add a wonderful sense of progression with your vehicles that the first game lacked. You can invest in your favorite car, improve it, and see it go from the back of the pack to speeding past the competition. You can also form builds for each vehicle across the different types: Swift, Off-Road, Rocket, Balanced, Heavy Duty, and Drifter.
Out of the dozen or so perks, you can only equip around half of them at once so there is the possibility here for some nice synergy between perks.
I wasn’t able to properly dive into creating any custom car builds in my brief time with the game but the fact Milestone is encouraging you to invest in your cars while also making each one feel valuable and unique is exciting to see. It gave me a flicker of being a child again and having my favorite car that I would put all my stickers on or that I would always race around a track with first.
Chatting to a few Milestone developers, they said that the reception to the first game was “beyond their expectations” and creating a sequel was “scary”. But, the studio has nothing to fear as the improvements made here are substantial and in the areas the game badly needed them.
While retaining the excellent parts of the first game, like the arcade racing gameplay (which is just as good as the first game), track editor, and customization, Milestone has managed to fill in the gaps with some great new additions and improvements. Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 appears to be finally realizing the ambitions of the original. By the end of the play session I was sad it was over as all I wanted to do was play more. Despite some stiff competition, this might be gearing up to be one of the best racing games of the year.