Mattel’s Hot Wheels is most probably the most well-known brand for diecast toy cars. If you mention the name, people will instantly picture their weird and wacky four wheeled contraptions. Kids love to play with them, adults love to collect them, but now Hot Wheels is making the jump to the video game world with Hot Wheels: Unleashed, developed by Milestone, an arcade style racing game that delivers fun on so many levels.
Hot Wheels: Unleashed is a pretty simple game but it is packed with lots of extra features that only improve on the toy car franchise. The basic premise is split into two factors, the story mode called City Rumble and the mode that might matter most, The Collection.
The Collection is exactly as it sounds, where you can cumulate a variety of cars that can be used to complete in all the races. You build up your collection in several ways, through collecting Hot Wheels coins, which you can use to purchase new vehicles, or by completing certain races, you can also receive new cars and Blind Boxes as rewards. A Blind Box is a mystery box that contains a random car that you can open via The Collection menu. Gear Points are also rewarded for winning races, which can help with upgrading the performance of your cars.
City Rumble is the main story mode of the game, where you must complete races of different types to complete the story, unlock new cars and conquer the game. The three main race types are Quick Race, Sprint and Time Trial. Boss Races are the fourth type of race, which is a heavily modified Quick Race, complete with extra obstacles and more aggressive drivers. Beating a Boss Race can give you greater rewards and advance the story.
A Quick Race is your typical circuit race with a total of three laps, the circuits vary in length greatly, seemingly getting longer as you get further into the game. Sprints are a race that doesn’t follow a circuit and only has a start and finish. Time Trials can take place on a circuit or sprint track and require you to beat a set time to complete the race and collect your rewards, unlike the other race types, there are no other racers on the track for the Time Trials.
Along with the main race component of the game we have a couple of features that allow building and customisation. There is a track builder where you can build your own tracks within several different environments, something I have always loved to do with my Hot Wheels sets as a kid and I can see myself spending heaps of time building tracks in the future. The second is The Basement, a room that you can modify to be uniquely yours. You can win or buy different elements to customise the space, from different walls, flooring, furniture, artwork, posters, and decorations. The possibilities are almost endless!
You can also customise the colour schemes and graphics of any car in your collection with the Livery Editor. I had a quick play with this and can see the potential with the customisation. It made me excited at the thought of seeing what other players had created, as custom designs can be shared online, downloaded and used by other players all over the world.
So that’s the functionality out of the way, let’s get down to the gameplay and aesthetics.
The game interface is slick and easy to navigate, finding your way to City Rumble mode in a matter of seconds, you’ll be racing in no time. I found the controls to be super simple and thankfully not overly complicated. Aside from steering with your left toggle, there are only three other buttons you really need to worry about. R2 to accelerate, L2 to drift and X to boost. It’s so simple that anyone can pick it up and be playing confidently after a couple of races, and I really appreciated that. Obviously, Hot Wheels know their target market for this game and catering directly to that is a smart move for sure.
I played a whole bunch of different races at different difficulty levels, there are four to choose from; Easy, Medium, Hard, and Extreme. Easy doesn’t offer much of a challenge, as once you get ahead of the pack, you can pretty well stay there unless you really mess up (it can happen). Medium difficulty, I found, was a good level for me. Extreme is very challenging, which I did enjoy, however, I only won two races out of a dozen or so. I guess, if you like punishment, that’s the way to go.
The standout of Hot Wheels: Unleashed is the visually impressive graphics and the world that has been built for this game. Instead of trying to scale their diecast cars to real life size, they have instead kept them small and everything in scale. Tracks are built through different environments such as a skatepark, construction zone, college campus and your very own basement, mentioned before. The tracks are mainly built from the bright orange click together tracks that most kids know and love, but with some additions such as magnetic sections allowing cars to defy gravity and travel upside down.
The cars themselves steal the show though. I shamelessly spent a lot of time just looking through my collection and being in awe of how great the cars look. Glossy flake paint, big black plastic wheels and diecast steel chassis all look amazing on the big screen, and I imagine it would look even better with the PlayStation 5 graphics. Milestone must have dedicated a lot of passion and time into building these cars and it really shows.
An honourable mention needs to go to the sound design of the game. Milestone clearly spent a lot of hours sampling engine sounds, as there is a wide array of sounds across all types of cars, some of the best I have heard in a racing game to be honest. Each sound suits the car that it is assigned to, for example the F1 style race cars have the real high pitched race car sound, while the V8 muscle cars have a real deep and throaty rumble that you can feel inside yourself, especially with a good sound system. But the music unfortunately was a little bit of a letdown. We’re given a few generic electronic music tracks that don’t offer too much. Sure, they build a bit of energy, but I would have preferred some known pop tracks that could have made the game iconic. Lil Jon’s ‘Get Low’ from Need for Speed: Underground for example. Any racing game fan would know that song.
Admittedly, I had thought that Hot Wheels: Unleashed would be another cliché licensed race game with little effort thrown in. However, I was pleasantly surprised with what I experienced when playing. Milestone have developed a game with great heart, possibly from a fan’s perspective, as they really capture the Hot Wheels culture that combines the love of collecting with a fun racing game, and is one that will offer hours of fun for all ages. I can’t really fault Hot Wheels: Unleased and thoroughly look forward to seeing how the game expands over time with future DLC and improvements. Hot Wheels: Unleashed is vibrant, colourful, fun, beginner friendly and I highly recommend the game to not only to car lovers and avid Hot Wheels fans, but to any gamer wanting to give racing games a try.
Hot Wheels: Unleashed is out now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and PC.
A copy of this game was provided on the PlayStation 4 for the purpose of this review.