Hot Wheels Unleashed Review

Four things I like about this game, and one I don't

Hot Wheels Unleashed

By Paul Hunter

As the parent of a child who's currently obessed with Hot Wheels, my instinct was to assume that Milestone's Hot Wheels Unleashed racer was probably built with a younger audience in mind. And while I certainly think that's largely true after playing the game, I'm also totally impressed by how deep and competitive the gameplay is. Unleashed offers more than enough thrills to satisfy arcade racing fans of all ages—whether that's kids crazy about Hot Wheels or older gamers looking for their next racing obession.

I've spent a good chuck of the past week playing through the game's single-player career mode, participating in dozens of online matches, customizing my cars and tinkering around with the track builder. There's a lot to talk about so let's get this review moving, here are four things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: The Flawless Gameplay

I really do have nothing but praise about the fast and responsive gameplay found in Hot Wheels Unleashed. After a few laps around the track to get a handle on the game's controls and physics, I was power drifting and rocket boosting my way to the podium. It's easy to learn the ropes, yet mastering the more than 40 included tracks takes effort given the insane loop-to-loops and high-speed turns you'll need to navigate. Add in the game's multiple difficulty settings and you've got a game the whole family can easily get into and enjoy.

Each car is measured on five key attributes including speed, braking power, acceleration, handling and boost fuel. Cars also come in four different rarities: common, rare, legendary and the ultra-rare super treasure hunt. As you'd expect, finding a car model at a higher rarity means it'll have slightly increased attributes. While the cars I began with had middling stats, just a few hours into the game and I had already unlocked some legendary vehicles with impressive capabilities. And the stats do make a huge impact on the gameplay, after racing with a few legendary cars at near-max stats I simply couldn't fathom using any of the lesser cars in my collection. This sense of progression kept me extremely motivated to keep racing in hopes of finding cars with even higher specs.

Hot Wheels Unleashed

Liked: The Incredible Track Designs

The tracks in Hot Wheels Unleashed are some of the most fun I've ever had in an arcade racing game yet. Tracks twist and bend with sharp hairturn turns, but it's the loop-to-loops and anti-gravity racing that really gets the adrenaline pumping. Similar to Mario Kart 8 there are entire track sections that are raced upside down with magnets keeping your car locked to the surface. The loops you need to be extra cautious of because they rarely have an anti-gravity lock so you can literally tumble off mid-loop if you speed momentum isn't strong enough.

What makes tracks even cooler is a bunch of them have monsters that not only look awesome but can easily wreck your race if you're not prepared. The most common monster are spiders that shoot sticky webs that gum up your tires and can quickly drop you from first to tenth in a flash. There are also bone dinosaur mouths you need to jump into and the catch is the jaws open and shut every few seconds, so a miss-timed jump could send you hurling into a closed jaw. The most visually impressive monster and also the most devastating is the fire-breathing dragon that scorches the track with massive flames. When you combine these monsters with the hairpins turns, insane loops and wild anti-gravity racing, tracks can get out of hand fast—but in the best way possible.

Liked: The Single-Player Campaign

Hot Wheels Unleashed features a robust career mode called Hot Wheels City Rumble with around 100 missions to complete. It's definitely worth your while to complete it since you'll acquire dozens of cars, plus tons of customizations for your basement, which is an in-game area you can decorate. You'll also obtain coins that can be used to purchase blindboxes containing new vehicles and even more importantly, you'll get gears that upgrade your cars' rarity.

I also really love the campaign's presentation, which centers on a sprawling city like those colourful floor play mats we used to have as kids. The city is connected by mission nodes, which range from traditional races, to speed lap runs, to boss battles, plus a few special challenge missions mixed in for fun. It was a joy to work my way around the map and pretty awesome to have a full garage of cars ready to pick from once I completed the campaign.

Liked: The Customizations and Track Builder

There are so many cool cars to collect in Hot Wheels Unleashed but the fun doesn't stop there. You can go into the full livery editor to apply colours and shapes to your cars, and then share your best creations with the community. For those who prefer to check out what others have created, you can puruse their designs and download your favourites. And speaking of cars, the game includes dozens of Hot Wheels originals, manufacturer cars like a Humvee and Ford Mustang, plus there are licensed entertainment cars like the Batmobile, K.I.T.T., the DeLorean, and the Ninja Turtles' party wagon. Cowabunga dude!
The tracks in Hot Wheels Unleashed are some of the most fun I've ever had in an arcade racing game yet.
Another area that I dabbled in is the track creator where you can unleash your creativity to build your dream track. There are six different environments you can choose from, such as high up in a skyscraper, in a college campus, and even in your customize basement where you can choose the furniture, colour scheme and decorations. I had even more fun checking out the custom tracks from other players and you can race on them when you go online in the game's multiplayer.

Didn't Like: Grinding for Gears

There's so much to like about Hot Wheels Unleashed but one thing that was a bit frustrating is how slow collecting gears, used to upgrade your cars' rarity, can be. While you do get a ton of gears going through the single-player campaign, after you complete it gear collecting becomes a grind. It take around 7-8 races to collect enough coins to buy a new car and then you have the option to melt it down for 50 gears. It takes 700 gears to turn a common car into a legendary one, so you need to destroy 14 cars to do that. All told, you need to complete about 100 races for every one car you can upgrade to legendary. Thankfully the game is super fun and racing is a blast, but still, that's quite the huge grind.

The Verdict

Hot Wheels Unleashed was way more fun than I'd expected it to be. It's also accessible enough for young players while deep and challenging for seasoned racers. It's easily the most fun I've had playing an arcade racing since Mario Kart 8 on Wii U and that's saying a lot. Whether it's for nostalgia, for competition or purely just for fun, this is a game arcade racing fans don't want to miss.

Final Score: 8/10 - Great

Hot Wheels Unleashed details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Milestone
Publisher: Milestone
Genre: Racing
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher.