by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Simple Racing That Brings Me Back
Many, many an hour did I spend with Hot Wheels cars in my youth. I’d spend entire days down in the basement with my tub of track parts and bag of cars trying to make a steeper drop, a longer jump, or or a more perilous crash. I don’t play with toy cars any more, but I do enjoy the occasional foray into racing games. Given that, I’m pretty much the ideal target audience for the nostalgia-packed racing title that is Milestone S.r.l.’s upcoming Hot Wheels Unleashed.
While the final build of the game will contain a lot more content in September, the preview build I was given access to only contained quick race mode. Even with limited content, though, I was able to test out a large selection of cars and a pretty wide array of tracks. Mechanically, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a pretty darned simple racer. It’s much more arcade-y than Need for Speed or Forza Horizon, but it’s also not nearly as crazy as the cart racers that it more closely resembles visually. As far as actual driving, the only things to worry about are acceleration, brakes (which can be tapped to initiate a drift), and a nitro-style boost, which differs slightly from car to car. There aren’t any power-ups, weapons, or player controlled hazards, but the tracks do throw a few things out there to make races a bit more complicated. Some stretches of track don’t have edges, a few boost pads pepper some of the courses, fans give a subtle push in a given direction, and plastic spiders can shoot down webs at passing cars to muck them up for a few moments. The whole thing very much feels like a “my first racing game” kind of thing, which makes sense given the IP, though those looking for something with more depth may be disappointed with the relative straightforwardness of it all.
Playing With Toys
The game’s big selling point is, of course, the novelty of racing the titular toy cars through to-scale everyday environments. I didn’t personally recognize any of the 28 cars included in this build, which makes sense given that the oldest model is listed as a 2014 release, but I was able to appreciate that the cars haven’t been stylized at all. They look like little plastic cars, which is exactly how it should be. I was also pretty excited about the variety of cars that I was able to test out, which ranged the spectrum from the badass to the hilarious. Everything from standard-looking cars, to sharks on wheels, to rolling toasters were present, and, with over 60 vehicles included in the full version of the game, everyone is going to be able to find a ride that fits their vibe. The tracks themselves are the other draw, and the 9 tracks I was able to try out were spread across the garage, college campus, skyscraper, and skate park environments. Each environment has been nicely done and has players racing across a mix of track and natural objects (like, say, through a vent or across a table). There are also some inverted sections in many of the tracks on which the cars stick magnetically, though, with no actual effect on handling or any other mechanic, I often didn’t even realize I was upside down unless I took a second to focus on my surroundings. I will say that I was hoping for a little more interactivity or “alive-ness” in the environments, whether they be the elements (a spray bottle making rain, maybe?), living things (a dog or cat?), etc. As it currently stands, each environment is strictly visual, and it’d be nice if they had at least some effect on the tracks or cars. Supposedly some more interactivity is coming in the final release, which would be great.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is set to release with a few other bells and whistles too. The final track count is set to be “+40” (I’m not sure if that means over 40 or if it means the original 9 plus 40 more), and there will be a career mode, car customization options (both for performance and visuals), and a track creator. While I was left a bit luke-warm with the actual racing I was able to get into here, car customization and the track editor are sure to be huge boons for the game’s longevity and replayability. Both cars and tracks will also be able to be shared online, so there should never be a shortage of places to race or ways to look while you do it.
I wasn’t able to form a particularly strong opinion on Hot Wheels Unleashed based on the limited content in this preview build, but it’s definitely a game worth keeping an eye on for those interested in a more casual racing experience. What it lacks in complexity and depth it’s looking to make up for in customization and charm, and that might be enough to make it worth your time.
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