Hot Wheels Unleashed – Creativity and Speed
PC, Switch, PS4/5, Xbox Series/One
If you have been lurking around Player 2 for any length of time you are probably aware that quite a few of us are fans of the classic PC/Amiga title, Stunts (or 4D Sports Driving in some territories.) It was a groundbreaking title for its time, known for its fantastic track editing tools and physics-defying racing. Fast forward over 30 years and there hasn’t been a game that quite captures that same niche. Sure there have been titles like Trackmania that have quite a bit in common, but none that feel like the track editor is the best reason to play. That is, until now.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is from Milestone Games, a studio more known for their serious motorbike games than crazy toy-based racers, but the devs have put that racing experience to good use here and created a family racing game that revels in creativity, nostalgia and most importantly, speedy family fun. I would dare say that you would struggle to find a better family multiplayer title released in recent times.
Let’s start with the racing. The game takes 60+ classic Hot Wheels cars, including licenced ones like KITT and the Turtle Mobile, and lets you race them on an absolutely massive amount of tracks set in 6 different locations. The tracks are all made out of the classic plastic orange that toy Hot Wheels tracks are made from in real life and they wind their way around chair legs, pool tables, workbenches and kitchen sinks, maintaining the toy theme that these are recreations of tracks someone has made in the real world.
The racing itself is loose and very much on the arcade side of things, as you would expect. Drifting, turbo boosts, chaotic bumping of other cars, it is all here. The drifting system is actually quite nice and allows for precise control. Expect to bump into the walls a lot while you are mastering it, but once you have it down pat you will be drifting around corners to your heart’s content. Each of the different cars has different stats and feel appropriately unique when driving them. Trucks have poor acceleration but corner well, sports cars drift better than most and the race cars are unbeatable on a straight line. Each of the cars has one of two different boost systems to mix things up. One system uses a set number of boosts, press the button and off you go, the other system is a meter that requires you to hold the boost button down to use it, allowing for more precise use. Both systems are replenished by drifting or driving over special pieces of track.
Multiplayer is a blast, especially in split-screen. It carries all the joy of something like Mario Kart without the purple shells and is the perfect pick-up-and-play party game. Skilled drivers are rewarded but it only takes a little misjudgment and everyone is back in the race with a shot. It all handled wonderfully on my Xbox Series X with no framerate stutters or drops and no detail is lost in the split-screen mode. I expect that to be different on the older systems, but for those with the beasty best, it runs like butter.
Now I want to talk about the real star of the game, the track creator. It is clear that Milestone has put a lot of thought into not only the power of the editor but the ease of use. Usually, these modes are best on a PC with a mouse handy, but here I found no problems using a controller. It took a little bit of adjustment, but before long I was creating the tracks of my (very limited) creative dreams. This humble editor holds so much power, almost everything can be edited, tweaked, turned or looped with very little effort at all. I can’t remember a track editor that has engaged me as this one has. The thought of what the community is going to do with it is wild and I can’t wait to try out tracks made by people that aren’t as creatively stunted as I am.
Sadly though Hot Wheels Unleashed isn’t flawless. Perhaps the biggest problem is the uninspiring campaign mode that holds the coolest cars and track pieces hostage. It isn’t that the campaign is bad per se, just boring. Race, unlock bits and pieces, rinse and repeat. There is little in the way of variety to break things up and the fact that so much cool stuff is unlocked through this mode forces players to play through what is a bit of drudge to get the most of the track editor. It is disappointing to see those that are in it for the track creator are forced to play a mode that is just bit dull.
The other problem I have is the loot box aspect. Cars are unlocked through a loot box system. These boxes can be purchased with in-game currency or earned in the career mode. Now the boxes here aren’t as vicious and predatory as they are in other games, they are quite easy to earn and in-game currency is easy to come by, but it is still a form of gambling that is present in a family-focused game. That is something I can never get behind and surely, in the year 2021, there is a better way for unlocks and collectables to be earned than a system that plants the seeds for luck-based gambling.
In all Hot Wheels Unleashed is a wonderful family racing game that is taken to the next level by its commitment to the toy based theme and a track creator that is second-to-none. The fact the campaign mode is dull and loot boxes get in your way will soon be forgotten as you race around a garage in a skull-shaped hearse against your friends and family in pure speed-based joy. Come for the childhood nostalgia and stay for the creativity, Hot Shots Unleashed should be on every family’s gaming wish list this year.
Hot Wheels Unleashed was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Koch Media Australia