Hot Wheels Unleashed Preview: Small Cars, Big Fun

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I think nearly everyone has owned or at least played with a Hot Wheels toy car at some point, haven’t they?

I used to have loads of Hot Wheels cars when I was a child, and going hands-on with Milestone’s upcoming Hot Wheels Unleashed has made me wish they hadn’t been thrown away or sold for mere pennies at a car boot sale. Though it’s also thanks to the game that I can feel like I have a worthy collection of them, with each and every model featured being so wonderfully recreated.

When it launches this September, Hot Wheels Unleashed will have a line-up of over 60 cars, including classics such as Boneshaker, Skull Crusher and Veloci Racer. Each has been painstakingly recreated to make them look just like a die-cast model, and on the vehicle select screen you’re informed of the year of their release and the series they belong to. You’re also given their statistics, of course, allowing you to make an informed decision for the race ahead.

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Along with stats such as speed and handling, for example, we found that vehicles have one of two types of boost. Some have shots of boost that you can activate when a node is full, with vehicles having varying number of nodes. Others, though, have a bar that fills as you drift around corners, and you can use as much or as little as the bar as you want. Boost starts appear to be different for some cars, too; with the Twin Mill, a gauge appears on the screen and tapping the displayed button to keep a marker in the green results in a speedy start off the line. With other vehicles we tried there was no such gauge; instead a boost starts seems dependent on pressing the accelerator at the right time.

Jumping into a handful of quick races, we quickly grew to like what Hot Wheels Unleashed has to offer. This is an arcade racer through and through, with the aforementioned boost complemented with a healthy dose of drifting; all you have to do is tap the brake as you turn and away you go. That doesn’t mean you can just dart around the track without any thought, however; jumps and sections of track without walls can easily catch you out if you don’t drive with skill, taking you from first to last in an instant.

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There are other things to watch out for on Hot Wheels Unleashed‘s tracks, too. Loop-de-loops are thrilling, but if you don’t have enough momentum going into them you can look forward to gravity laughing in your face. There are also various boost pads that might help or hinder you, while some tracks are besieged by spiders who sometimes trap you in their sticky webs.

We only had access to nine tracks in the preview build, but in the full release there will be over 40 spread across numerous environments including a garage and a college campus. Each environment provides its own scenery and hazards, while the tracks themselves are mostly made up of traditional Hot Wheels track pieces and are very elaborate in their design. Milestone has clearly run wild with the creative freedom that such an IP provides.

Perhaps the only thing we can pick an issue with at this point is the single paltry view that the game provides. We can understand there not being an in-car view, but it would be nice if there was a hood or bumper view option, or at least the option to get a little closer to your vehicle or further away. The saving grace is that the only view provided is perfectly serviceable, but it would be nice to have a choice.

We only had access to Quick Race and Split Screen modes in the preview build, but the full game will feature a single-player campaign mode called Hot Wheels City Rumble in which players complete races, time attack events and special challenges in order to unlock new vehicles and track pieces. It will feature boss battles in some capacity, too, which sound interesting. Outside of the campaign, players will also be able to create their own tracks and engage in online multiplayer races.

Another thing to note is that cars will be upgradeable. Gears are earned by racing, and can also be obtained by dismantling the cars you don’t want. With those gears you can then upgrade your favourite vehicles, increasing their rarity level. Meanwhile, a livery editor will allow you to change their appearance.

It’s safe to say that after going hands-on with Hot Wheels Unleashed we’re now looking forward to its release more than ever. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it appears to be a very enjoyable arcade racer with the word ‘fun’ at the centre of its development. Throw in a massive number of tremendously unique cars and a large assortment of inventive tracks, and you have a racing game that could prove to be one of this year’s nicest surprises.

Hot Wheels Unleashed launches 30th September on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.

Preorder Hot Wheels Unleashed on Amazon