Hot Wheels Unleashed has smooth driving, robust multiplayer, and a wide variety of cars. The game cleverly mixes nostalgia for adults and mean-looking machines for children.
Hot Wheel Leading the Way!
Hot Wheels Unleashed embraces the brand entirely. The roster mixes real-life cars with licensed vehicles (Snoopy!) and Hot Wheels classics like Bone Shaker. It instantly lets you know that you’re in for a fun time. You’ll guide these speedy bits of plastic through several colourful tracks, constructed from iconic Hot Wheels track pieces. But this isn’t a larger-than-life experience. The toys and tracks are to scale with their real-life counterparts. You'll race around full-sized rooms and furniture, much like Micro Machines from back in the day.
Hot Wheels Unleashed City Rumble is a single-player campaign. You play on a top-down map, littered with various secrets, unlockables, and 85 races. Completing an event gives rewards in the form of Blind Boxes. These can contain new cars, track pieces, and in-game currency. It also opens up new pathways to more challenging races and even bigger rewards.
Hidden on the map are five bosses. These offer the biggest rewards, as well as new twists on existing tracks. The single-player portion is fairly simple. It is easy to progress, with each track offering a way to move forward. You can win a place on the podium (finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd) for Quick Races, and hit a relatively easy time for Time Trials. But there is a second, tougher challenge available for completionists. These require you to win the race for Quick Race and complete a Time Trial considerably faster. Aside from the punishing five final Time Trial tracks, your progress is never impeded to painful levels.
The driving in Hot Wheel Unleashed is arcade perfect. There are simple controls and just enough depth to add a challenge and skill to the mix. Each car you unlock has different handling, speed, boost, and braking power. This keeps trying new vehicles interesting and gives players a reason to keep unlocking new ones.
The races are either three laps or point to point. Each one features signature loops, twists, and turns. Sometimes you’ll start a race by driving out of a dinosaur's mouth. Others are more traditional. Obstacles on the track mainly consist of fans that blow cars off the track and a giant spider that shoots webs. Occasionally you’ll drive off the track and across a floor or table. These small sections have more obstacles, like nails, chairs, and Rubix Cubes, to avoid. They’re also harder to navigate. With only cones to guide you, it’s fairly easy to lose your way as you hurtle around a corner. Thankfully, Hot Wheels Unleashed comes with a handy respawn mechanic. You can activate your respawn at any time, and will get you back in the action within two seconds.
Sadly, the tracks begin to blur into one. The iconic orange is great, but it makes it difficult to differentiate between tracks. The obstacles are few and far between, and even the boss battles only offer one new mechanic each and aren’t very memorable... Except for the dinosaur one, and it’s incredibly annoying whirlwinds that litter the track. They’re worse than Blue Shells.
What’s in the Box?!
Vehicles come in different flavours of rarity - Common, Rare, Legendary, Secret. You can upgrade Common and Rare using material earned during races. Legendary vehicles come with maxed out stats. You unlock Secret vehicles by meeting certain requirements. Don’t worry though, each car comes with a set rarity. You won’t be chasing a Legendary DeLorean to replace a Common one - it’s always a Legendary.
To add variety to the track list, Hot Wheels Unleashed comes with a great Track Builder. Editor tools offer a wide range of options to make your dream raceway. Navigating the menus can feel a little clunky in the beginning, but you’ll quickly get into the swing of things. You can upload your completed tracks for other players to race on. Sadly there’s currently no library of player-made tracks. You must visit another player's profile to get your hands on their tracks.
Multiplayer offers private and public lobbies. Races are either selected by the host or voted for by all players. There are options for restrictions on cars types to stop someone new from running into a veteran with a garage full of cars. Its online component is robust and I’m yet to have a bad connection or have to wait more than a few seconds to find a race.
It’s Not All Fun and Games
My biggest issue with Hot Wheels Unleashed is the amount of planned paid DLC. At launch, there’s Hot Wheels Pass Vol. One, which gives 10 new cars, two new tracks, and various bits and bobs for making your tracks more diverse. So far two more passes have been announced, with a few cheaper expansions in the pipeline. The cars in these DLCs aren’t listed and finding out what you’re buying will require an internet search. These DLC cars won’t be game breaking and Hot Wheel Unleashed won’t become pay-to-win, but it’s unsettling to see DLC released on the games’ launch day. That said, you don’t have to buy them. The base game comes with a hefty 66 cars to unlock and race.
Hot Wheels Unleashed captures the magic of toy cars with fast and frantic racing. The limited variety of environments and set-pieces is a little disappointing. But the Track Editor more than makes up for this, even though everything is still orange and blue. The racing is smooth and silky, and drifting around corners is very satisfying. The licensed vehicles and large doses of nostalgia are more than enough to keep you racing and opening Blind Boxes long after the single-player campaign.