With Hot Wheels Unleashed, toy giant Mattel’s little toy cars are finally back in the limelight of a video game, after at least celebrating their little revival with the DLC for Forza Horizon 3. Most recently, in the late 90s and early 2000s, there were several games with the Hot Wheels license. We owe this dry spell to the racing game specialists Milestone from Italy, who are best known for their two-wheel racing simulations such as MXGP, Ride or MotoGP. But they have also been able to gain experience with four-wheeled vehicles. With Gravel 2018, an off-road game came onto the market. The older ones among us will, however, probably prick up the ears when it comes to the name Bleifuss. The popular arcade racing game series was developed by Milestone under a different name.
Let the tires squeal on the plastic
If you expect an action packed arcade racer from Hot Wheels Unleashed, then you’re pretty much right. Because that’s exactly what you get in miniature optics reminiscent of Micro Machines and ReVolt. On the iconic plastic track parts we can use 60 cars from the Hot Wheels range, which by the way look like real little toy cars that make tires squeal. From the Koenigsegg to the iconic Rodger Dodger Musclecar, to the Fiat 500 to the burger truck or garbage truck. The properties of speed, braking force, acceleration and handling, which are applied to each of these vehicles, ensure astonishingly different driving behavior, so that there is a lot of variety on offer. In addition, the paintwork can also be adapted to your heart’s content. Color, pattern, type of paintwork such as matt, glitter or metallic can also be changed. If you don’t feel like creating your own design and the standard paintwork is still too boring, you can also use those from the community.
But let’s get to the most important. Because more important than the differences in the driving characteristics or appearance is whether the driving behavior is useful and fun at all. This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff and racing games that look beautiful can still hit the wall with poor driving behavior. But I can reassure everyone here, the guys from Milestone did a good job. Even the inexperienced racing player can quickly find his way around and steer or drift his car safely around the course. How many mistakes you can allow yourself to still end up in the top positions is determined by the level of difficulty.
While you can easily drive away from the opponents on the easiest level, it is much more difficult on the medium level. Here you also notice very quickly that there is a strong so-called rubber band system. That means, if you are at the back you can get close to the opponents relatively quickly, but if you are at the front it is much more difficult to shake them off. This system is not unfair and doesn’t take the fun out of it, but it should have been a little better balanced.
The star of the game: the tracks
The real star of the game is not the little speedsters, but the routes. Breakneck course tours are the order of the day here and the routes are also peppered with numerous extras. If one could still collect items to make life difficult for the opponents, it could have turned into a veritable Mario Kart clone. So we only have to do with acceleration lanes and obstacles like giant spiders that spit cobwebs on the track or scorpions that spread a caustic liquid on the track and steal our boost. This boost is extremely important in order to gain land on the track. You can get it either through corresponding strips on the route which the boosters recharge or through drifting, which makes the display grow again faster.
You will get to know and unlock many of these routes in single player mode. In the campaign mode called Hot Wheels City Rumble, we move over a city map on which numerous races, time trial challenges, boss races and secrets are distributed. Depending on how well you do this, you unlock various rewards such as gears with which you upgrade your cars, money with which you buy so-called surprise boxes or even entire surprise boxes with which you can expand your car collection. The presentation of the card is supposed to be reminiscent of one of those car carpets that were used in the past, but somehow the pep is missing here. It’s fun to get to know more routes in the five environments of the basement, skate park, skyscraper, university or workshop, but the mode could have been a little more exciting.
In the long run it is definitely more fun in online multiplayer. Mainly because you play against human opponents and also because you can choose routes that other players have built themselves in the route editor. But I’ll come to that in a little more detail in a moment. Even if there is only one race after the other and you vote together on the next route in between, both the motivation and the diversity of the routes are higher.
A little complicated, but still very cool
This is roughly how you can describe the route editor. First you have to think about the environment in which you want to build your route. In addition to the five environments that can already be found in City Rumble, there is an additional, rather sterile and empty hall. It is better to take one of the already known environments, because these offer significantly more details. Here it is also worth exploring the level first, in order to perhaps come up with ideas for a possible route. Because the environment can also be built into the route, it is also possible to drive on wooden beams, ventilation pipes or the like.
If it comes to the actual route construction, patience and a frustration limit that is not too low is required in order to build really cool routes. There is no doubt that this is possible, but it does not work really well. On the one hand, there is no tutorial for this, but the help in the form of an overlay control legend is not always clear and sometimes incomprehensible. So you shouldn’t assume that you will get a well-thought-out and balanced route on the first try. First of all, you should take the time to really get to know the Track Builder with all its functions, such as transforming track parts or installing all the extras that the Hot Wheels universe has to offer. You can also unlock more of them in the Hot Wheels City Rumble.
Even if Hot Wheels Unleashed has potential here and there, Milestone has served us a fun game for in between, which unfolds its potential especially in multiplayer. Visually, it looks really good on our Xbox Series X test device and ran smoothly without any noticeable or annoying frame rate drops. Even if the campaign is rather unspectacular, it is fun to explore and get to know the different routes. If that’s not enough for you, it is definitely worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the Track Builder, even if you should be patient due to its complexity.
Hot Wheels feeling
Comprehensive route editor
Difficult to learn route editor