On the face of it the Hot Wheels brand is highly fitting for the video game scene. There’s a huge variety in the roster of cars for one, but then the massively customisable pieces of track easily lend themselves to some crazy circuit racing. When combined with the sheer speed that these cars hurtle around at, it’s ripe for racing action. Hot Wheels Unleashed plays on these moments pretty well, able to deliver up some intense arcade racing which will more than suit fans of the brand. But there are issues too, and these hold this Hot Wheels offering back from really being let off the leash.
From the get-go, Hot Wheels Unleashed allows players a few options. There’s the racing (obviously), which will be the primary focus for many, as players take the roster of vehicles (some 60+ at launch) onto the track, racing, boosting, drifting, jumping and crashing their way through a range of track and circuit layouts, either alone or with friends in tow.
There is also the Basement; a space in which you can customise a multitude of options, showing off your style to the rest of the world. And in this Basement you get to create the Hot Wheels tracks of your dreams, utilising the Track Builder to your heart’s content.
This Track Builder is a highly customisable place to be, allowing you to drop track pieces, different items, modules and more as you see fit, whether that be in order to create a track for your own personal pleasure, or for sharing to the world, testing the skills of other Hot Wheels fans by making the most complex, most creative circuits you can. The Track Builder works really well too, and the more you play and race in Unleashed, the more pieces you’ll begin to unlock and be able to integrate into your dream tracks. The thing is, whilst it’s pretty simple to use, and allows for huge amounts of creativity to unfold, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s very much a niche option to have; much like detailed vehicle liveries in other games, you’ll need to have a certain mindset to get involved.
The same goes for the vehicle livery editor in Unleashed. This is far from in-depth, only really letting you amend colours and materials of the various car parts – livery, chassis, interior, rims, tyres. Again though, whilst this will appeal to a few, especially those who head online to race, it’s not the main focal point of what Unleashed is trying to convey.
What is front and centre is the racing and Hot Wheels Unleashed caters for a few different mode types which should cover the bases for those looking for quick hits, or longer term experiences. Now standard for any racer, it comes with the usual Quick Race, Time Attack and Split Screen opportunities, letting those folk who are constrained by time the chance to hop on, power through a race or two and then disappear without thought.
But it’s the Hot Wheels City Rumble which is the main affair. This whisks you off to a gloriously created world map, complete with a variety of events for you to partake in. Near 100 events are in place in all, split across standard Quick Races, Time Attacks, Boss Races and a number of Secret events which require specific conditions to be met in order for you to race them. Cryptically put together, initially these latter types seem a little annoying, especially when all you want to do is race, but slowly and surely as your vehicle roster expands and you begin to understand the needs of each event, these open up, letting you make faster progress.
Each and every race does however play out pretty similar, no matter whether winning conditions are attached to a completion of a specific number of laps, as a point-to-point race or via the aged old time attack style. They all put you behind the wheel of a car of your choosing, left to nail a starting countdown and then sent off to race, drift, and boost your way to glory.
Thankfully, this is Hot Wheels, and the tracks themselves are a wicked variety of segments, all hooked together to bring a huge range of variety. The iconic blue and orange race track is obviously in place at all times, but so are loop-de-loops, boost pads to increase your speed, a whole multitude of jumps and a number of additional fun modules; fire-breathing dragons and web-spinning spiders look to put paid to your race chances.
Throw in magnetic track pieces that allow the chance to defy gravity, path splits and shortcuts (albeit some which I’m pretty sure aren’t meant to be used specifically), and all the ingredients are there for a class racer.
It’s all helped along by a roster of vehicles that ensure each and every race can, if you wish, be entirely different to the next. There are some really iconic names from the Hot Wheels universe thrown in here too, and with 66 cars to choose from at launch, there’s a chance your favourite will be there. Personally I think it’s great to be able to power along with the likes of Bad to the Blade, Twin Mill or RD-02 – machines that are built for all-out speed. But seeing as every vehicle comes with different Speed, Braking Power, Acceleration and Handling stats, as well as different boost build-ups mostly dictated by whether they are Common, Rare, Legendary or of the Super Treasure Hunt variety, it’s more than doable to hit the track with some slower, more precise machines; Roller Toaster, Bump Around and the good old Buns of Steel are prime candidates for this. You can also include some cars from numerous pop cultures, like KITT for instance.
With your car roster building out as you race away, earning rewards in the form of Gold coins, Blindboxes and additional cogs to upgrade your cars as and when you can, there’s a bit of joy delivered with every new addition that you unlock. And honestly, Hot Wheels is all about the cars, and the style in which they are provided here is an appreciated one.
This is however an arcade racer and you shouldn’t expect anything even close to the precision of Forza Horizon or DIRT. This is a fast, frantic wallride of a racer, one in which you’ll do anything to drift in hope of building up your boost meter quicker than your competitors, fighting for track space and attempting to nail each and every jump. That is something which is great alone when put up against the AI, but no more true than when going up against real-world folk, either via the split screen racing or online multiplayer that is in place.
But it’s because of this arcade feel that problems occur.
You see, Hot Wheels Unleashed is fast, really fast. And at times the physics that help it along go awry, as your car goes spinning out of control, flipping this way and that for no real reason. There are also issues in lining up jumps and should you so matter as be slightly offline when taking to the air, there’s little you can do in ensuring that you’re going to land in a safe spot.
Respawning is a common occurrence and need, but the amount of time taken for this to automatically happen can be far too high, leaving you to hold the manual respawn time and time again. When you’re out in the lead of a lengthy race and just clip a barrier, spinning out of control and unable to stay trackside, it’s occasionally just too much to take.
You can add more little annoyances like how the mini-map shows very little and there’s hardly a thing to notify how far ahead, or behind, of competitors you are. It really is best to just stick the pedal to the metal and hope for the best. And whilst on the map subject, even though the world map which holds the key to the events in the City Rumble is nicely laid out, navigating through it can be a pain; especially in terms of discovering what is needed to unlock some of the Secret events.
But there’s more that brings Unleashed down a peg or two and even though I’ve been pleased with the visuals that are on offer, and the cars, the circuits and the arenas that you’ll race in are pleasant enough, the audio is a different matter. Screeches of tyres and boost hits are all well and good, but when the latter speeds up the music that is accompanying your racing into high pitched squeals, you’ll want to turn it off.
On the whole, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a decent effort at bringing the iconic brand into the video game scene for real. It’s able to deliver a wide variety of cars and tracks to gamers in a way that is fast and frantic, seeing it occasionally verge on being a really great arcade racer. Physics issues and little minor annoyances stop this from reaching the very highest step of that podium, but if you’re a Hot Wheels fan, Unleashed is well worth a visit – and should continue to grow with the promise of a huge amount of post-launch content.
The Xbox Store will sort you out with a download of Hot Wheels Unleashed