As fans of video games, we generally look to them as sources of fun, entertainment, and occasionally, nostalgia. While the latter may come into play to a lesser degree, nostalgia can often have more of an impact than all the other reasons combined. Enter Hot Wheels Unleashed, developed, and published by Milestone, a company that is counting on a high level of nostalgia to help transform many of us back into children. How? By conjuring up memories of living out our auto-centric fantasies on the local sidewalks, dirt paths, and of course those wonderful orange and blue flexible and connectable tracks designed solely for our enjoyment. With that said, let’s get into things here with this Hot Wheels Unleashed review.
What I Like – Hot Wheels Unleashed Review
While licensed cars and nostalgia are extremely important to a title like this, inevitably it comes down to how it performs on the track and the level of fun that it delivers. Thankfully, Hot Wheels Unleashed delivers in the most excellent of ways when it comes to adrenaline-fueled excitement once you hit the track. The developers have accomplished this by by presenting different challenges and events, creating a game that is affectionately known as a time-suck.
Each race presents a different set of challenges, and the more you become familiar with the track layout, the more you start to understand the nuances and when to utilize the strengths and power-ups of each vehicle.. Another aspect of what makes Hot Wheels Unleashed so much fun and absolutely addicting is how the AI ramps up as you move up difficulty levels. Even on easy (the lowest level) there are times when certain AI cars will push you to be almost perfect, and it creates an amazing experience that helps add layers to the experience.
One of the pitfalls of a title like this can be repetitiveness. Milestone avoids this issue by including a massive number of track designs, challenges, and race types. When you add all that up and include the authentic-looking cars, it’s easy to say Hot Wheels Unleashed delivers in almost every possible way on the track.
As much as I loved the gameplay itself, the design team who created the massive amount of track designs, locations, and visual effects need an award because the designs within Hot Wheels Unleashed draw you into a virtual living world of Hot Wheels.
Not only are the track options virtually unlimited in the way they are designed and presented, but the environments — all six of them — also surround the track and are alive and accessible. Even when flying off the track, I found myself being able to drive around the local surroundings, which was an extremely nice touch, even if it meant the AI was racing ahead during the event.
I found each setting and track to be full of detail, full of challenges, and a visual treat that truly enhanced and added to the overall experience. At times it feels like Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing got together and this is the result, and although the game does an excellent job of creating its own style, it’s hard to not compare for comparison’s sake.
As much as I loved the environments, the cars are the stars of the show. The level of highly detailed work is impressive, as is the amount of effort to help individualize each and every car
Milestone has included some of the favorites here, and here is the official line:
The starting grid roster features 66 vehicles, including Hot Wheels’ most celebrated original designs over the brand’s 53-year history such as Boneshaker, Rodger Dodger, and Twin Mill, automotive icons of pop culture such as the Batmobile from DC, Party Wagon from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Snoopy from Peanuts, Time Machine from Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s Back to the Future, K.I.T.T. from NBC’s Knight Rider, and OEMs including Audi, Ford, Honda, and many others.
Beyond that, in the future Hot Wheels Unleashed will include more vehicles from iconic brands such as Street Fighter, Masters of the Universe, DC, and Barbie, along with OEMs with a racing pedigree like Aston Martin, BMW, and McLaren.
What I found to be most exciting about the choices, and I alluded to it earlier, is how each car has its own strengths and weaknesses and can be upgraded to compensate in the areas where it is lacking. The cars are limited out of the gate, and each car can either be purchased via in-game currency, unlocked through completed challenges, or won during certain events.
Each vehicle has specialized attributes and rarity levels that players can upgrade. Hot Wheels’ original designs and OEMs can also be personalized with unique liveries via the Livery Editor. Players can also upload their creations or download designs from the community.
The inclusion of a track creator seemed like an absolute no-brainer for a title like this, and thankfully Milestone delivered in just about every way.
The track creation system is a simple-to-use interface with tutorials that help you create the track(s) of your dreams. The ability to create a simple to very complex track is straightforward, and the game does a wonderful job holding your hand until you have everything down.
On top of having a wide array of choices and options to choose from, Hot Wheels Unleashed also gives you the chance to purchase add-ons with virtual currency won in-game. These choices range from props to unique track pieces and special options that I will not ruin by giving it all away here in the review.
Simply put, Milestone delivered a deep track creator that is easy to use and a system that will let you create just about any creation you want.
What I Don’t Like – Hot Wheels Unleashed Review
No AI For Multiplayer
The multiplayer options that are included with Hot Wheels Unleashed are decent enough. However, I rarely care to venture into the online world to race with random people. I want to race with my friends and really no one else.
It is a missed opportunity that you can’t combine AI racers and humans on a private server. Private servers are in the game, which is great, but they only shine when you have seven or eight people who can jump on all at the same time on the same system. This system does not work as well for those of us looking for a great time with a couple friends while the rest of the field is filled out with competitive AI drivers.
I have sent in a request to the developers in hopes of getting this in the future, and while they didn’t say it would not or could not be done, they made it clear it was not an option that was on the table at this time.
No Jukebox Or Music Upload
This is less of a complaint and more of a desire, but the gameplay of Hot Wheels is addictive and exciting, which makes me desperately want to upload my own music to enhance things further. I understand the cost of including a certain style of popular upbeat music can start to weigh heavily on the bottom line, but there are other ways to circumvent the rules — and do it legally.
To reinforce the idea of this as something that many would love, a group of friends who were watching me race all agreed that it would be amazing to have a playlist available that included adrenaline-pumping music to add to the overall excitement that the game delivers each time on the track.
Other games have allowed for this for as long as I can remember, and maybe it is an option that can be added as the title matures, but for now, I will list this as a “want” for me and hope that somehow it will find its way into Hot Wheels Unleashed in the future.
City Map Confusion
When playing what is basically the career mode (Hot Wheels Unleashed City Rumble) there is a city map that is included, and this map allows you to move with linearity, but it also allows you to move around the map and see what events and challenges await you in the future.
During my time doing the review, I was confronted with map options that were designated as “special” items. These were special challenges and races that unlocked special gifts and higher currency allocations. Problems arise because it’s unclear how to enter these special races, with only a few tips available — and those tips are extremely vague.
The confusion became a bit more problematic as I learned I could not progress any further without entering, racing, and winning these events. It seemed like an odd approach to include these special events, disallow track advancement until they are beaten, and yet be so vague about the requirements.
I was lucky I had the help of the developers to get through these jams, and I am curious to see if this approach is changed in the near future.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is not perfect. There are some design choices that bother me, some options left out that would have added to the shelf life in terms of online play, and the inability to upload your own music into a virtual jukebox seems like an opportunity wasted. That said, the amount of time I spent doing the review was time well spent, and this is a title that I will revisit often in the weeks and months ahead.
Whether you care about this game due to nostalgia or had no interest in Hot Wheels growing up as a kid, there is something inherently fun and addictive at play here. The single-player aspect is deep and entertaining, and the game caters to those who are looking for a challenge or playing to relive some memories. With a little bit of luck, Hot Wheels Unleashed should pop up in some “best racing game of the year” awards discussions, and that should be helped by Milestone’s plan to keep rolling out new content over the next several months. This is an absolute must-have title for your rotation.