The Hot Wheels brand should be ripe for the racing scene. But much like those Micro Machines that went before it, it’s in how the iconic brand is handled that will be key. And, again like the Micro Machines, we’ve seen what can happen should care not be taken. There’s a reason that former genre leader fell off the edge of the tabletop.
I’ll admit to having a lukewarm reception to the original Hot Wheels Unleashed. I was fully onboard with what Milestone Studios were trying, but the execution was a little bit lacking. It felt like an opener; setting the foundations for something that could hit the big time.
Now Milestone are back, and with Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged they’ve tweaked and twisted things just enough to warrant a sequel. It’s far from a must play arcade racer, but as a fun little aside to the blockbusting race simulations that dominate the market, it does the job. We’re not sure it’s quite Turbocharged, instead more Hot Wheels Unleashed 1.5, maybe.
A full-on arcade racer, you need to come to Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged with expectations tempered. Jump behind the wheel of the cars, trucks, bikes and ATVs included, expecting to have an intricate handling experience and you’ll be left sorely disappointed. As an evolution of what has gone before though? Yeah, it works. Just.
Milestone have looked to push on with Unleashed 2, and they have obviously thought adding in a narrative, a reason for this miniature racing, would help aid immersion. The thing is, the Hot Wheels Creature Rampage tale that plays out throughout the campaign is a bit rubbish. Told via a number of stop-start cartoony cutscenes, fully voiced, the story is not just uninteresting, but veers into the strange at every opportunity. Perhaps it would appeal to a younger audience, but I’ve plonked my daughter in front of this, and she has been left equally bemused.
I’m not overly keen on the way that campaign plays either. Taking place as a series of different events, it should be all so easy to move between Quick Races, Elimination events, Waypoint finders, Drift challenges and Boss ‘Battles’ (Battles in inverted commas as they are very much just glorified checkpoint races). But these events are scattered across a huge map screen, with pretty much a linear route through them. Traipsing back and forth as you complete and redo events, trying to tick various objectives as you go, is a bit of a ballache; slow and cumbersome shouldn’t be something associated with the Hot Wheels brand. It would just be much nicer – and easier – to have a list of events to pick and choose from.
That career / campaign is huge though. The best part of 100 events are in place, with multiple objectives present for each and various challenges ticking away in the background. When you consider that Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged is a pretty tricky racer on anything higher than the easiest AI level, there’s a good chance you’ll find multiple tens of hours of racing action within. The opportunity to go grabbing rewards, unlocks and the like mean that you may just want to keep racing through too. You can’t fault Turbocharged for not being content rich, although, admittedly, each race does start to feel like the next, and the next…
There’s more away from the career as well. Solo quick modes cover all the usual racing staples – one off races, elimination, drifting. It also adds in some fun little diversions and whilst it takes a little while to fully appreciate the Waypoint events, for instance, once you do, you will find the time targets for hitting numerous checkpoints comes across as pretty exhilarating.
Split screen is available should that be your bag (spoiler: for us, it isn’t) but many will find a more enjoyable type of racing in the multiplayer scene. It’s here where the proper tests of arcade racing skills are found, with a neat little ‘Vote’ system mixing up race types and locations. We’ve found a bit of a glitch/bug in that the online multiplayer lobbies do sometimes break down, with errors focusing on various ‘blocked content’, but mostly it’s fine. The inclusion of some decent variety in the likes of Clash Derby and Grab the Gears game modes heightens that online excitement.
However you play though, Turbocharged is pretty fast and furious. Slamming the throttle, nailing drifts and building boost is key to any success, with much of the handling fully arcade’d up. It plays fine too, although that is mostly only correct when you find your vehicles planted with four wheels (or two in case of the bikes). It’s when you start to come to jumps, leaps and gravitational changes where frustrations lie; the physics sometimes go nuts and you’ll be left tossing a coin as to whether you make track-to-track action stick. Thankfully Milestone have included a fairly swift actioning respawn mechanic that is vital should you not want to get left behind, whilst the new ‘jump’ mechanic fast becomes essential. I can’t say the same for the sideways dash/strafe though; that just feels a tad pointless.
Mid-air movements help, but for us, it all becomes too tetchy, inaccurate and left in the lap of the gods whenever the racing takes you airborne. Again though, remember, this is an arcade racer so that type of thing should perhaps be expected.
What we do like are the race locations and vehicles. There are an absolute ton of the latter included, as Milestone go to town with Hot Wheels favourites. From Monster Trucks to Drag Racers to Bikes and on to the weirdest of oddities that only Hot Wheels can deliver, there’s some decent joy in taking a car and understanding its limitations. With upgrades aplenty, it’s super easy to turn those vehicles from Stock to Powered to Ultimate trims. You’ll need a bit of everything in your garage too, as certain vehicle restrictions apply to various races.
For us, it’s the locations that really hammer home some proper Hot Wheels vibes, whilst also building on the feeling that this is a modern day interpretation to that which the Micro Machines first honed. A mini golf course, dinosaur museum and backyard locales excel, all brilliantly realised, heavily detailed and full of charm. Granted you’ll mostly be going so fast to not really pay too much attention to the background elements, but in the slower corners or as you go searching new routes and shortcuts, the locations start to prevail.
And of course, that iconic Hot Wheels track is front and centre throughout. The orange and blue pieces slot nicely together, combining well with a ton of the finest obstacles, boost pads and more. And if you’re not liking what has already been put together by Milestone, the Track Builder and community creations deliver even more. As a game that feeds on the Hot Wheels action, Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged delivers.
With all that considered, is Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged a sequel that sees the franchise improve? The answer to that is probably yes, but the improvements are fairly small; a shame that Milestone haven’t properly gone to town with the brand. It’s even more of a shame that they’ve dished up a poorly introduced ‘story’.
It all leaves Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged to be seen as a decent alternative to its predecessor. If you want to blast around with your favourite Hot Wheels vehicles, this is as good as you’re going to get. But if it’s a massive racing overhaul you were expecting, you’ll be left disappointed. More of the same will have to do you.