One of the surprise racing game announcements of 2021 has been Hot Wheels Unleashed.
Hot Wheels has clearly had an eye on the gaming arena for a while, adding its cars and track to Forza Horizon 3, and very recently including the rather recursive Hot Wheels Legends in Forza Horizon 4. However both of these instances feature Hot Wheels models recreated as full-size cars, not as die-cast models, and that’s where Hot Wheels Unleashed comes in.
Developed by Milestone, normally better known for its motorbike simulators, HWU is a racing game for Hot Wheels cars. Essentially a toy simulator, Unleashed will give you an entire box full of track and cars to muck about with as you please.
We’ve recently been playing a preview build of the title on Steam to put it through its paces.
First things first, our preview build wasn’t fully featured. We didn’t have access to the track editor (and that looks set to be the killer feature), nor any multiplayer modes, just quick race and split screen. There were just nine tracks of the 40 planned for launch, and in four of the six environments, but just over half the planned 60+ cars were available at the time.
That ultimately means our preview is all about how the game looks and drives, and there’s pretty good news on both fronts.
As you’ll spot from the images, there’s no mistaking these cars for cars. They are Hot Wheels models through and through, with the different materials involved in the construction perfectly replicated. You can almost feel the difference between the metal, glass, and shiny silver plastic on the school bus above, and that carries on through to all the vehicles.
Outside the static menu screens and post-race cinematics, the vehicle visuals are downgraded slightly, but they’re still pretty faithful replicas of toys, and the track surface itself is beautifully recreated.
Naturally, the cars all have their own set of statistics and that notably includes a rarity stat. That would seem to imply that there’s a vehicle collection mechanism with chance involved (or straight-up purchases) though if there is it didn’t feature in this build.
The more unusual the car, the better its overall stats — or at least that’s our excuse for getting stuffed in the first race. Interestingly, each car seems to have its own boost capabilities. Some have several short bursts available, while others have fewer but longer boost periods; the Hot Wheels High bus above has a single, huge boost which can be awkward in the wrong place and takes much longer to fill.
Vehicle handling is surprisingly authentic too. In terms of actual driving — the one thing real Hot Wheels can’t do — it’s very definitely an arcade racer, with its boost and drift functions, but it’s how the cars react to collisions that surprises.
In the image above, we hit the floor a little bit nose-first, and rather than simply carrying on the car bounced tail over nose and skittered across the tiles. Anyone who’s ever ramped a small diecast onto a hard floor will instantly recognize this behaviour, which somewhat tempered our annoyance!
The courses themselves are pretty entertaining generally, and feature all sorts of hazards. In some locations there’s things like a giant spider spitting webs at you; no amount of speed or boost will get you out once stuck, so you just have to wait it out.
They’re also not necessarily linear. In many places it’s easily possible to escape the confines of the track — even out the sides — and head out to a different piece of the course, or even the environment’s floor (don’t try this in the Skyscraper environment) to muck around for a while. We can easily see there being some hidden Achievements/Trophies for this, though we didn’t find any truly viable shortcuts in our play test.
While this was only a preview build, and the game is still three months away. Hot Wheels Unleashed stands to be a good substitute for the real thing. It’s most likely a good deal cheaper than buying 60+ models and an infinite amount of track laid out around your home or office.
HWU launches on September 30 on PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam and Epic.
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