Slightly irritating, intense electronic tunes that bend and warp as you boost, but some perfectly fine engine sounds.
Wonderfully tactile cars and environments - each Hot Wheels car looks like a proper toy, with little paint chips, realistic materials, and paint jobs, all with a lovely sheen to them.
While the difficulty levels are askew, sticking the game on 'Easy' solves the problem, ensuring frustration-free fun. Handling is on exactly the right side of 'arcadey'.
A rather addictive single-player City Rumble mode with dozens of races to beat, rubs shoulders with single races, online, split-screen, and the Track Builder for a complete racing package.
A solid, if slightly uninspired achievement list, which is purely focused upon racking up wins, boost time, distance driven, cars collected, and so on. Mercifully, there’s minimal multiplayer grinding to be done.
September 27, 2021
While Micro Machines has been a well-established childhood toy within the video game sphere, one could mount an argument that Mattel’s die-cast Hot Wheels brand hasn't been quite as successful in being transposed to the humble controller. Hot Wheels Unleashed aims to upset the apple cart, with an ambitious new game developed by Milestone, an Italian studio best known for creating motorcycle sims. On paper, the team behind MotoGP, Ride, and Monster Energy Supercross don't seem like an obvious choice for Hot Wheels Unleashed, but Milestone has really nailed the toy box wonder that comes with collecting and racing dinky metal cars.
There are loads of cool cars to collect.
Starting you off with a handful of complementary 'blind boxes', Unleashed hooks you on collecting early, the orange lid popping off the little plastic container to reveal a new car to add to your garage. From there, you're invited to jump into the single-player City Rumble, where you can take on Quick Races, Time Attacks, and Boss Races, earning Gears to upgrade your ever-growing selection of vehicles, and Coins, which you can use to spend on more blind boxes or specific vehicles rotated in and out every few hours. And while it's fun to whizz around a track in a wee die-cast car, much of the core appeal of Hot Wheels Unleashed is unpacking new rides and adding them to your collection.
Best of all, every car has an authentically tactile, painted look, which only makes you covet them even more. Of course, this all counts for naught if you're amassing cars and the racing is rubbish. Happily, that's not the case here – Hot Wheels Unleashed is great fun, its stretches of neon orange track twisting and undulating, ascending and descending in gravity-defying, almost rollercoaster-like fashion. By the time you've got to the magnetic track segments, you'll find yourself driving upside-down, the environment beneath you inverted. Getting your car back the right way round isn't easy or elegant, though, despite your ability to roll and flip through the air – thankfully, sections driving on the ceiling are rare.
If you'd like to try your hand at constructing your own track, Hot Wheels Unleashed has an elaborate but fairly intuitive Track Builder, enabling you to bend and contort track pieces before snapping them together. Creating curves and inclines is easy, while special pieces let you plonk massive features like web-spitting spiders, huge dinosaurs, vertiginous loops, or a giant snake (like many a real-life Hot Wheels track) into your custom-made circuit or course. Once you've finished clipping together stretches of plastic racetrack, you can then embellish your creation with flags, funky edges, lights, checkpoints, or different surface colours, then share them with the rest of the world. It's a neat tool.
There are plenty of readymade Hot Wheels tracks to enjoy, if you don't fancy dabbling with the Track Builder. These are spun out across several different venues, from the Garage to a Basement you can customise with various odds and ends, a Skate Park, a College Campus, and a Skyscraper. Like Codemasters' Micro Machines series, Hot Wheels similarly makes use of everyday environments and objects to form a sense of scale, small toy cars speeding across tables, underneath chairs, through ventilation shafts, over shelves, and around lamps. Arcade-inspired handling is suitably loose and accessible, allowing for some gratifying drifts around chicanes and curves, feeding your vehicle's boost meter in the process.
Judicious use of your boost is key to staying ahead of the pack, but the difficulty levels on offer in Hot Wheels Unleashed seem slightly borked. When I'm unable to win the tutorial race at the standard 'Medium' level, clearly something is amiss. Could it be that Milestone’s experience in developing sims meant setting the default level of challenge to rock hard? Perhaps. Anyway, do yourself a favour and stick the difficulty setting to ‘Easy’; you’ll have a lot more fun. Head online for a multiplayer showdown and difficulty settings obviously go out of the window - it’s a free-for-all, twelve players all jostling to make it to the finish line first. Unsurprisingly, being jockeyed off the track is a frequent occurrence (assuming you can keep up), so, like any multiplayer racing experience, it’s the Wild West.
All aboard the ‘Roller Toaster’ - a car and toaster combined. Amazing.
Should you prefer to keep things offline, Unleashed has a local split-screen mode for two players, completing a generous, comprehensive racing package. The result is an assured arcade racer that does its iconic toy brand inspiration the justice it deserves, Hot Wheels Unleashed succeeding in being good, clean fun. Full to the brim with cool cars to collect and upgrade, capped off by a powerful Track Builder tool, it’s something that gives Micro Machines a thorough run for its money in the toy-cars-turned-into-racing-game stakes - Hot Wheels Unleashed will likely become your go-to whenever you’re in the mood for a quick jaunt around a colourful plastic track.