Hot Wheels Unleashed hasn’t had a huge amount of marketing ahead of release, but after spending countless hours with it over the last few weeks I can safely say that it is one of the biggest surprises of 2021. With fine-tuned racing and a lot of customisation, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a thrill ride that you can fall in love with no matter what age you are.
Milestone has crafted a tight racer with controls that feel smooth and comfortable. The drifting mechanic plays a key role in building up speed when you race, due to a lack of items that can affect how a race plays out. So your position purely comes down to your skill. Each vehicle’s stats change how drifting feels and the exact amount you need to turn to perform the perfect drift. While it took time to find what class of vehicle I got on best with, I found myself settling right into the seat of the cars I enjoyed, performing drifts with slick precision.
You’ll need to master those cars too since you’ll find yourself racing along plastic pieces of track placed throughout everything from an abandoned factory, to a towering skyscraper. Some of the tracks look almost photorealistic at times, and the team has done a fantastic job at creating some fascinating courses that offer distinct racing challenges that won’t isolate newcomers.
The rocket-powered speed of Hot Wheels Unleashed’s cars also means that these tracks allow for a lot of flexibility. At times, if you find the right section, you can skip entire parts of a track by boosting yourself off a ramp and flying ahead of the competition. The hazards on the course also elevate the challenge, such as toy spiders spitting webs at you as you drive past and a yeti coating the ground with ice, causing you to lose control of your car.
The many twists and turns of Hot Wheels Unleashed’s tracks mean that you are always engaged with the racing. I found myself staying up till the early hours of the morning multiple times just to get another race in. Hot Wheels Unleashed has that addictive “one more race” quality that so many good racers have – especially if you play with friends.
Although the actual arenas you race in don’t change beyond the half-a-dozen that are in the game at launch, Hot Wheels Unleashed consistently moves the tracks around to keep gameplay fresh and exciting. As such, the tracks available offer a solid variety – something Milestone has created with replayability in mind. Some might be flat, others introduce loop-the-loops, and some have you break off the plastic completely and drive through vents or cranes placed around the environment.
Pair that with a robust track editor and Hot Wheels Unleashed has a lot to offer players long-term when it comes to new tracks to race on.
Beyond the track editor, multiplayer races are really where Hot Wheels Unleashed shines the most. These offer a sense of high-octane action that isn’t found in the game’s career mode, which is enjoyable but one of the more simplistic offerings in recent years.
With everyone performing their best and nailing turns, multiplayer matches really test your skills and offer a rewarding experience if you are able to nab a podium place. Unfortunately, rewards for playing online don’t seem to be different from what you can earn while playing against the AI, but it is a great way for more experienced players to hone their skills.
The game’s many, many vehicles can be unlocked through the tried and true method of Blind Boxes, which contain one car each. With the full Hot Wheels Unleashed car list stretching close to 100 vehicles, including those from famous franchises, there will definitely be something here that appeals to you or your child.
More are planned to be added to the game with post-launch support, including brands such as Barbie, Masters of the Universe, and Street Fighter. But despite those DLC plans, the Blind Box mechanic as it stands right now has me a tad concerned. Within the first two hours of playing Hot Wheels Unleashed, I managed to open around eight Blind Boxes, of which three gave me duplicate cars.
While the monetisation aspect of the game hasn’t gone live yet, this has certainly raised some eyebrows, as attempting to pull the Batmobile or the DeLorean could quickly become an expensive pursuit. Hopefully, these were just freak odds on my end. Although that said, I would feel better if Milestone introduced some sort of preview for these Blind Boxes, so players weren’t chucking money into a system that doesn’t guarantee them anything.
With thrills packed into this miniature racer, Hot Wheels Unleashed leaves a mighty impression with tight, enjoyable, and satisfying gameplay. It looks incredible on next-gen consoles with high-quality textures and some impressive lighting. Set to a pumping soundtrack, the races are an absolute delight.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is one of the best arcade racers to release on modern consoles in years. Tight controls and action-packed races make for a fun and satisfying racer that offers intense racing and a lot of ways to play.