Hot Wheels Unleashed review: Pedal to the plastic

Milestone's Hot Wheels Unleashed isn't the deepest racer, but it's still a joy all-around.

8

The Hot Wheels franchise has seen a number of titles that aim to capture the wonder of what it’s like to collect, race, and trade toy cars. The franchise’s latest iteration comes in the form of Hot Wheels Unleashed, developed and published by Milestone. Hot Wheels Unleashed delivers a thoroughly enjoyable racer, but lacks a bit of nuance in its gameplay.

Go with the winner

In Hot Wheels Unleashed, players will collect toy cars, which they can then race in the game’s various modes. At launch, there are 66 different cars for players to collect, all based on real-life toys from the Mattel brand. Those that have collected Hot Wheels will get a kick out of seeing some of their favorites on screen. Having the RD-02 in my collection caused a slew of elementary school memories to come flooding back. There’s also a number of licensed cars available, including vehicles from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman.

Each vehicle in Hot Wheels Unleashed has its own line of stats that influences how it performs, including speed, breaking power, acceleration, and handling. Each vehicle has boost, but it varies depending on the car. Some vehicles have a number of individual boosts, which can be activated at different times during a race, where others have one long boost bar that they’ll need to manage during a race. I found that there was enough variety in the vehicles’ stat distribution that they each felt unique.

As players build out their collection, they’ll be able to upgrade their vehicles and improve their performance. This is done using Gears, which are earned from completing races and crossing off challenges. Players can also dismantle a car to get back some Gears. Upgrading a vehicle allows players to increase their base stats. Once you’ve got several races under your belt, you can start souping up your favorite cars.

Players can also unlock new cars by visiting the Shop. Here, cars can be purchased individually for a lump sum of coins, with the store’s offerings being rotated out every several hours. You can also opt to pay a flat rate of 500 Coins for a Blind Box and try to score a rare car. Blind Boxes can also be earned through playing Hot Wheels Unleashed’s single-player mode.

Burning plastic

City Rumble is the single-player mode in Hot Wheels Unleashed, where players progress through a series of tracks, taking on NPC opponents and completing challenges. It’s where you’ll do most of your racing, and the main method of unlocking Gears and Coins. The racing in Hot Wheels Unleashed is pretty satisfying, with each car actually feeling distinct from one another. Drifting, hitting boosts, overtaking opponents, it’s all quite exciting. However, I wish that there was more going on in terms of strategy.

Hazards are few and far between, with barriers being the recurring obstacle for players to avoid. On some tracks, there are also animated structures for players to worry about, like the massive spider that flings webs onto the track. I wish there was more of this. Whenever I pulled ahead in a race, it felt like it was practically mine to lose. Unless I went flying off the track, there wasn’t much the other racers could do to slow me down. I think it would have been really cool if there was some sort of power up system to add another dimension to races.

One of the most impressive aspects of Hot Wheels Unleashed is its level design. The cars and tracks in-game are scaled to their actual size, making for some really cool environments. There are levels that take place in a basement, with cars zipping around coffee tables and couches. Levels are also set on a college campus, a skate park, a garage, and a skyscraper.

Uniquely yours

The customization options in Hot Wheels Unleashed are superb. Players can create new liveries for each of their vehicles, giving them a unique design. You can change the color of the body, tires, rims, interior, and windows. From there, players can apply different emblems and images from a library that features hundreds to choose from. Once you’re all done, you can save the livery and upload it for players around the world to see. You can also download and use liveries uploaded by other players.

One of the most robust features in Hot Wheels Unleashed is its Track Builder mode. Here, players are given an empty room, and all of the tools needed to create their own course. You can plop down those iconic orange tracks, twist and curve them, change their color, and edit their walls. Players also have access to the game’s obstacles, including the huge loops or massive T-Rex.

I probably spent the most of my time in Hot Wheels Unleashed designing tracks and testing them. It took me back to when I’d get tracks for my birthday or Christmas, and then spend hours rearranging them and coming up with my own courses. Players can upload their courses online for others to play after they validate it, which requires them to hit all of the checkpoints and complete the course in one go.

If you’re not the creative type, there’s a lot of fun to be had in just browsing the online uploads, downloading the tracks made by other players and seeing what they’ve come up with. In several cases, I found the online tracks to be more exciting than some of the ones featured in the base game.

Pretty pieces

Hot Wheels Unleashed is easily the best-looking Hot Wheels game yet. Browsing through my collection and looking at my screenshots, I was so impressed with how true-to-life the cars are. You can see small scratches on them when the light hits, as well as small imperfections with the plastic.

Light reflects off of the cars in a way that feels real. This is also true with the tracks and levels themselves. Mattel aims for a level of realism in its design and knocks it out of the park. It helps to drive home the feeling of actually playing with Hot Wheels cars.

Beat that

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a decent racer with some excellent surrounding elements. It lacks the strategy and realism of a sim, but doesn’t hit the over-the-top chaos and action of an arcade racer either. Despite that, the amount of customization available, and with all of the cars to collect, fans of Hot Wheels toys will likely have a good time with Unleashed.


This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Hot Wheels Unleashed launches on September 30 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC, and Nintendo Switch for $49.99 USD.

Contributing Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

7
Pros
  • Creative level design
  • Excellent customization options
  • Cars and tracks look gorgeous
  • Wide variety of cars to collect
Cons
  • Gameplay feels shallow
  • Single-player missions get repetitive
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