Hot Wheels Unleashed is an anomaly in the gaming industry. More often than not, licensed titles are shovelware that are best forgotten, but this game by Milestone is one that should be remembered and played for a long time. It’s energetic, stunning, and most important of all, fun. It controls like a dream, and Hot Wheels Unleashed is an essential game for any racing fan.
Most of us grew up with the Hot Wheels brand, and that same energy of fun, frenetic play time we had as kids is reflected in this game. Skidding around corners with a satisfying drifting system, you’ll gain a burst of boost energy, propelling you forward at high acceleration. The rush of going around a loop-de-loop, a Hot Wheels essential, is thrilling, and the creativity that Milestone clearly has for the property shows. The tracks are engaging and have some unexpected turns along the way that will trip up the savviest of racing game players. There’s so much to love about Hot Wheels Unleashed.
Furthermore, Hot Wheels Unleashed rewards its players well for continuing to play the game. If you check out the City Rumble campaign, you are given challenges to go further along in the map. Just like in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s World of Light mode, you are rewarded for taking certain paths in the map with blind boxes and completely new cars in your collection. It’s a great single player mode with plenty of well-crafted stages throughout. If you play multiplayer matches only — which run very well, by the way — you can collect gold to redeem more blind boxes down the road.
There are a few things that turn me off from Hot Wheels Unleashed, despite the praise I am giving it. The bland and repetitive soundtrack of heavy electronic music can degrade the experience after a little while, and I ended up turning it down in the options menu. I wish it would include some licensed songs similar to Burnout or tracks with a fun and friendly vibe like ModNation Racers and the Mario Kart series. It all feels too generic.
Also, Hot Wheels Unleashed can feel unfair in parts with its track design. I love its imaginative flair, but sometimes it’s simply down to luck as to whether or not you get first place. For example, you’ll have to enter a dinosaur’s mouth to get further in the track, and it closes sporadically. If you come up to the mouth at high speed and then it closes all of the sudden, you’ll fall into the abyss and will have to respawn. While this is happening, your rivals on the track can overtake you as its mouth opens once more. At these moments, Hot Wheels Unleashed doesn’t respect your skill as a driver, and this can be frustrating. This is exacerbated even further when the multiplayer track selection process includes user-created levels that can be wacky in design and seemingly untested by the developer.
Despite these roadblocks, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a treat to control. I played the PlayStation 5 version of the game, so I felt the rumble of the motor starting under my fingers with the DualSense. It pulled me into the experience and got me excited to start the race. When you boost, you can hear the burst of energy being released through the controller’s speakers. With Milestone’s prior experience in simulation games, you can sense your car moving around the track in precise detail. The funny thing is that Milestone even took into account that it’s a toy, not a vehicle, that you’re controlling with a lighter center of gravity. It’s a nice touch.
Overall, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a remarkable licensed game and certainly should be called a diamond in the rough. It controls like a dream, the tracks are mostly entertaining (with some hiccups), and the variety of modes on offer is well worth a purchase. I didn’t even scratch the surface, as the game contains a surprisingly in-depth track creation mode. Did I even mention the car customization? Hot Wheels Unleashed is like the KFC Family Bucket of racing games — there is so much to do in this budget-friendly title that will give you and potentially your kids a lot of entertainment.
This impressions article was written using a code provided by the publisher.