Hot Wheels Unleashed (Xbox Series X) Review

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a near perfect recreation of the real world toys with the additional benefit of a tough yet fun arcade racer built into it.
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Tiny Cars That Are Deceptively Tough

If you are a gamer of a certain age, you will fondly remember the top-down antics of the Micro Machines games. Based on these tiny cars that you could collect in real life, this game had you recreate your playground antics on your CRT TV in these wonderfully created tracks in virtual bedrooms, garages, and playgrounds. Hot Wheels Unleashed from Milestone recreates that for the modern gamer with a toy line that has stood the test of time and survived the vagaries of the toy market for well over half a century.

Like its predecessor Hot Wheels Unleashed takes place on tiny tracks, the same orange and blue tracks as the real-world toys, placed in a bedroom, in a skate park and even a skyscraper. Basically any place that kids would set up racetracks in the real world (Well maybe not the skyscraper but you get the idea). And like in the real world, when you run out of track the course will just use whatever surfaces are handy, be they couches, table tops or plain asphalt. This creativity in course design makes each race unpredictable as you race some tough opponents as well as the course. 

As an arcade racer there are of course additional obstacles as well as advantages to face. Each course has some weird and wonderful environmental obstacles. Simple ones like barriers that you can smash through that will slow you down, to exotic giant spiders that spit webs onto the track that will immediately bring you to a halt. The most mundane obstacle is the classic loop de loop. Well less an obstacle and more an expected feature given how iconic these are in the toy line. To balance out the barriers are boosts scattered around the track, the most useful, if you hit them at the right time, is the speed boost that will accelerate you up the loop de loop. A necessary boost given that these are magnetised parts of the track that while they keep you stuck to the track when upside down, do affect your speed.

While the game is vast with any number of tracks to race on, developer Milestone has included a fully featured track creator. The tools are complex and will take time to master, but once you do you can unleash your inner child without fear of real-world physics limiting your creation. Building your track will see you spend hours extending or shortening tracks planning elevated sections and downhill segments as well as shortcuts and the impossible quadruple loop de loop. All of this while trying to hide that hairpin behind and under the couch leg before ramping up to the dining room table. This track creator is one for all the mad circuit builders out there looking to challenge themselves and any friends.

A Hot Wheels game would be nothing without the cars. And luckily the game has access to nearly all the cars ever produced. I say nearly as the game uses modern reissues of classic models instead of the originals. Unless you are a true collector you probably will not know the difference. Honestly though the game offers a nearly limitless number of cars to be unlocked. And the models are recreated in nearly flawless detail, sometimes it is hard to believe that these are computer recreations and not the real deal. Graphically the game is near perfect, and I defy anyone to say that they didn’t spend as much time in their “garage” inspecting each centimetre of their cars as they did on the track.

The one aspect of this game that gives me pause is that the cars are revealed via a loot box animation. I say pause as at the time of this review, there are no microtransactions in the game, but as we saw with other games these can easily be activated by a patch. Currently, using in-game currency you can purchase blind boxes in the hope of landing an amazing car. I find this mechanic in a game based on a toy deeply disturbing as it leans into all the worst aspects, the gambling aspects, of loot boxes. In a game that parents will likely purchase as much for their children as themselves it does face criticism of introducing children to these mechanics and the possible long-term effects thereof.

While the game is based on toys it is by no means child’s play. On normal difficulty you must have your wits about you and timing near perfect when drifting and engaging your speed boosts. The AI is fiendishly competent hitting the corners at the apex and boosting past you just as you think you are about to place in the top 3.

The first few races surprised me at how often I found myself at the back of the pack and even when I managed to get the upper hand and take the lead, the tiniest mistake led me to fall all the way to the back of the pack and place last. The game is not frustrating, this is not the Dark Souls of racing games. However, to win races and complete the game you must learn how to drive and learn each track. Thankfully, each back of the pack placement is just an incentive for you to return so that you can improve your skills and placement.

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a surprising addition to the arcade racer library. The deceptively difficult but satisfying gameplay coupled with the gorgeous models will keep you coming back for more. Throw in the track creator and you will spend hours in this game. Hot Wheels Unleashed is no mere appetizer before the Forza Horizon 5 main course, it is a game that can stand proudly on the podium next to FH5.

A review code for Hot Wheels Unleashed was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher

8/10
Total Score
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
  • Graphics
    9/10 Amazing
  • Sound
    8/10 Very Good
  • Ease of Play
    7/10 Good
  • Longevity
    9/10 Amazing

Pros

  • Perfect recreations of Hot Wheels cars
  • Fun, twisting and challenging tracks
  • Detailed track creator

Cons

  • Can be very difficult, but not frustrating
  • New cars can be “bought” using in game currency via blind boxes
Total
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