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Hot Wheels Unleashed from developer and publisher Milestone is releasing on PC and Playstation 4 and 5 on September 30th, and here is my review.

I know, I know, a review of a Hot Wheels game on RaceDepartment? Come on, get serious! I had a similar reaction when I was given the opportunity to review Hot Wheels Unleashed. In fact, I passed on the opportunity, but my interest was piqued when I started seeing game footage and pictures shared on Twitter and YouTube. And then I tried it, and three feelings became immediately apparent, which will form the basis for this review.


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1) HWU is a callback to a happy, carefree childhood – Before I had a mortgage, a spouse, a career, or a retirement account, I had Hot Wheels. Clicking pieces of track together and including just enough pitch to get the car rolling occupied entire days of my youth. Hot Wheels, along with posters on my wall, were the first manifestations of my love for cars.

Earning a few dollars for doing household chores meant a trip to the store to buy a new car. Opening the package and rolling the new car down your track or across the basement floor was bliss.

This feeling of building a car collection and trying out your newest car on ever more complex tracks is captured expertly with Hot Wheels Unleashed. With the massive and complex track building mode, your imagination is the biggest boundary for what can be done with your car collection. It’s a welcome escape from adult life, one that evokes memories of a happy and carefree time.

2) HWU reminds me of when I judged racing games on fun primarily – Once I was done with toy cars as a child, a new phase of fun began. Racing games were the primary focus of the second phase of my childhood obsession with cars.

Before online gaming was a thing, gathering around a Sega or Nintendo system was our multiplayer. The final criteria of what got played was the fun factor. Titles like Mario Kart and Rock N’ Roll Racing ruled.

The fun factor is clearly how developer Milestone wanted HWU to be judged. The basic driving controls take only a few minutes to understand, and the freedom to bounce off walls and other cars with impunity makes the game extremely accessible. There’s no commitment required; play for 5 minutes or 5 hours, progress in single player mode or design a track with 20 loops, or do anything else you feel like doing. However you choose to play Hot Wheels Unleashed, fun comes first.

3) HWU brings generations together – While I hesitated to commit to reviewing HWU, my daughter constantly reminded me of how badly she wanted to play it. The shiny visuals and ridiculously fast on track action hold a simple appeal for kids.

Conversely, the appeal of a driving game that allows you to speed through tracks built on every axis with an impressively deep track building mode, all in 4K resolution, spoke to me. Hot Wheels Unleashed is as complex as you want it to be.

For kids, the visual appeal mixes with the simple controls and accessible gameplay to create simple, fast and fun game. For seasoned gamers, beating the time trials is a challenging feat, and building a track is a complicated virtual road building exercise that can take hours or even days to complete depending on the layout you have in mind. HWU might be the closest thing to “fun for all ages” we’ve seen in a racing title in a long time.



Hot Wheels Unleashed Review 02.jpg


Because there aren’t comparisons to be made to analogous titles on the market like we typically do with sim racing reviews, I’ll keep my review of Hot Wheels Unleashed concise.

Graphics – This game is gorgeous at every level. My review was done on the Playstation 5 version playing to my large 4K TV, and it was one of the most visually appealing gaming experiences of my life. Tiny car and track details complement stunning backgrounds, making this title aesthetically undeniable.

Sounds – Sounds might be the weakest aspect of Hot Wheels Unleashed, but they’re still fine. Most of my negative feelings toward the sound stems from the mix rather the audio contained within. The music seems too high in the mix, and it tends to bury the nicely varied engine notes and cinematic effects like crashes and speed boosts.

Driving Experience – To be clear, realistic driving physics are not present here. Ripping your 1:64 scale fictional car through loops, upside down and sideways, over speed boosters or through spider webs is clearly meant to be enjoyed for fun rather than for accuracy. In HWU, your car has a fixed top speed that limits your ability to beat the time trials or races. The goal is to build up your boost charge and unleash a speed burst. This charge fills itself slowly over time, or rapidly by drifting or driving over charge zones. So, the focus while driving is drifting corners and then blasting through the straighter sections. It’s an easy to learn, hard to master format that plays well.

Game Modes - Because this was a preview copy, the multiplayer experience didn’t have much to offer. But if this title sells as well as I think it will, players will be in for a low stakes, high-speed blast against a field of strangers.

For those who prefer to keep it solo, the primary game mode has you running a series of events mapped out on a playmat. Winning or completing a particular challenge unlocks the next stage. It’s a simple format but provides enough of a challenge at certain points to keep you engaged. But much like the childhood quest of collecting physical Hot Wheels cars, building your collection of virtual cars in HWU is the true fun. Winning enough in game currency to buy new mystery boxes and opening a new but unknown car brews the same feelings in me that I had when I was a kid and went to the store to see which Hot Wheels car I might be able to buy on a given day.

There is also a deep and technical track building mode in Hot Wheels Unleashed. Building tracks is not a simple drag-and-drop exercise. This is simultaneously good and bad. The good is that there are limitless configuration options, which allows you to build almost any track configuration you can dream up. The bad is that those looking for a simple tool to build basic tracks will likely feel overwhelmed. Particularly the younger members of the household.

Overall – Hot Wheels Unleashed is perhaps the most fun you’ll have in a racing title this year. It’s striking to look at both up close and from afar, and the speed at which the action comes at you is staggering. If you need a break from the serious and occasionally heavy nature of racing sims, this might be the perfect escape.
About author
Mike Smith
I have been obsessed with sim racing and racing games since the 1980's. My first taste of live auto racing was in 1988, and I couldn't get enough ever since. Lead writer for RaceDepartment, and owner of SimRacing604 and its YouTube channel. Favourite sims include Assetto Corsa Competizione, Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, Automobilista 2, DiRT Rally 2 - On Twitter as @simracing604

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Comments

It really shouldn't be a dated experience. As a child of the late sixties myself I can say that building the tracks taught us hands on creativity - having to figure out what we wanted to do, do it, and then we would be rewarded by running our cars on them (although in my case it was Matchbox cars and tracks - same thing though).

It was the same with Train sets, Lego, Meccano etc, they taught us valuable life long skills - You didn't get everything right first time therefore you learnt perseverance, problem solving, visualisation, and practical hands on skills at a young age - something I consider was invaluable, and something to this day I cherish.

It pains me immensely whenever I see a two or three year old with a real book trying to do touch and pinch gestures on it.
I would argue that the children of today can still learn those skills you have listed, they might do it differently but that isnt something you should fear. As with anything there are positives and negatives. You want to talk creativity just go look at minecraft, one of the most popular games for children. Back on topic though making hot wheels tracks was so much fun as was lego and well meccano I never really rated because airfix was king.
 
Game is a blast to play. If you’re a fan of kart-racers like sonic all stars racing, you’ll probably love it. Surprised to see it reviewed here, but good that more people might see it’s not shovelware.
 
Game is a blast to play. If you’re a fan of kart-racers like sonic all stars racing, you’ll probably love it. Surprised to see it reviewed here, but good that more people might see it’s not shovelware.
Why? It's a racing game, and the site is called Racedepartment. Therefore it doesn't seem out of place.
 
Considering that RaceDepartment is very focused on Sim-racing titles as well as IRL racing, it might be strange for some to see an arcade game here. But, arcade racing games are still racing games and have appeared in RaceDepartment before, like Forza Horizon, for instance.
I kind of see both points tbh.
Also, arcade racing games can offer quite a lot of fun in a more relaxed way than sims, so if you haven't tried one, you should.
 
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