Originally created in 1968 in response to Matchbox cars, the Hot Wheels brand is instantly recognizable to people of all ages. Part of that comes from how the company recreates popular licensed cars in miniature form. Others love how the original designs are both beautiful and ridiculous. Diecast metal cars are valued for their durability. The fondness for the brand has spawned several video game adaptations over the past few decades from the PlayStation era, but none have received the love of fans and critics except for the released DLC pack. a few years ago for Forza Horizon 3. Hot Wheels Unleashed is the latest attempt at a good standalone game using the license, and while many scoff at the idea given the property’s history, a few runs can change your opinion to a positive one.
Games have vacillated between embracing the fact that they are toys and increasing the size of the vehicles and tracks to be more life-size, so it’s worth noting that Unleashed go for the first. You have six environments to race in, from a customizable basement to a construction zone and a skate park. That doesn’t sound like much, but you’ll forget about the variety of backdrops when you see the 40+ tracks that draw heavily from the toy line. Sections of road with and without bumpers intersect with ramps and loops. Magnetic fields allow racing on the ceiling, while tracks can be littered with barricades, fans, and speed pads. There are even giant spiders that set web traps and dragons that breathe fire. It’s all imaginative stuff that feels like it was dreamed up by someone with a large collection of games, and it gets better when you see some of the tracks use the environment to their advantage.
The actual race is reminiscent of a modern version of the To rush series due to the speed carried. You’ll be holding the throttle most of the time and also hitting the brakes to initiate a drift through virtually every corner. Drifting also creates a boost meter, but taking off ramps showcases the influence of the arcade, as you can control tilt and spin in the air to give you more landing distance or you put in the perfect position to hit the turbo on landing. This air traffic control also helps with finding shortcuts since the races don’t have a checkpoint system, so those who are adventurous can find plenty of ways forward once they know the layout of the track. The AI Opposition also follows those arcade principles, but less about shortcuts and more about speeding up to catch you when you make mistakes. It’s easy and fun to pick up and play thanks to the game’s responsiveness, but you’ll need to practice avoiding the railings.
If you play on PS5, Unleashed uses some of the features exclusive to the DualSense controller, and your opinions on their use will vary. Every time you hit the turbo boost, you’ll hear the exhaust coming out of the controller’s speaker, which is a nice touch because the shrill sound is better than when mixed with the rest of the soundscape. The game also uses the adaptive triggers for braking and throttle. The trigger resistance is great for those who want true immersion, but the added pull makes more competitive gamers want to turn the option off as soon as possible.
There aren’t too many game modes, but what’s available is pretty good. For offline players, the title only offers two types of races: the standard races which are either lap races or races from point A to B. Having something else like a stunt mode would have been nice, but the race and handling are good enough that the lack of other types of racing isn’t a deal breaker. Not all tracks are available from the start, so unless you run through the campaign first, you’ll be stuck with five tracks. The game also features local split-screen play, and even though it’s only for two players, it’s nice to see this rare feature, no longer seen for most major racing titles.
Online players can participate in quick races or create lobbies in 12-person races. The mode doesn’t feature bots that take up places for real human players, but the community is healthy enough that it’s easy to find a match online. Online performance is good with no signs of lag or teleporting players, but be prepared to stay off the podium and come away with meager gains as online competition is fierce.
For those looking for the single-player experience, the campaign is dubbed City Rumble, and you’re tasked with battling your way through races to take on 11 bosses and free the city from their tyrannical rule. The mode starts out linear before becoming more open-ended, so you can select which events to take part in and decide the order in which to take on the bosses. It’s a new approach, but with so many races and secret quests, be prepared to spend a lot of hours on it.
While you can earn this in all modes, the Campaign is where you will get the bulk of both in-game currencies. Gears are used to upgrade your existing cars, but these are more global upgrades as individual adjustments of boost, speed, etc. With few exceptions, each car has four rarity levels that coincide with their performance increases. Coins, on the other hand, can be used to purchase cars, and a limited selection appears every few hours in the in-game store.
Although you can use the store to unlock specific cars – provided you don’t mind the high prices or expect the store to change after a set period of time – the majority of the 66-car lineup comes from loot boxes. The bad news is that the loot box system does not hesitate to provide duplicates. The good news is that you can turn these cars into gears or cash, and the payout is decent. The best news is that there is no way to use real money to get the virtual currency to get more boxes, so even if it’s hard to get the whole collection, at least you do not pay extra for the bet.
No matter what you think of the loot box system, the lineup is a great mix of the modern Hot Wheels brand. There are real-world cars like the Dodge Charger Daytona and Fiat 500. There are a few quirky creations, like the Bone Shaker, Tricera-Truck, and Roller Toaster. If registered cars are more your thing, there are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Party Van and KITT from Knight Rider as well as Snoopy at the top of his niche. The roster is deep and varied enough that there’s something for everyone, but be prepared for plenty of upcoming DLC to add to the lineup.
While the loot box system prevents players from using real money to obtain the cars included in the base game, the Race Season Pass can be purchased with real money (not to be confused with the pass, which provides a host of new cars, customization parts and track parts). Similar to titles like fortnite, the pass grants access to a premium tier, where racing races and upgrading grants access to more cars and customization parts. It’s strange to see this in a game that isn’t free, and it’s also disheartening to see that your chances of getting XP for the pass are slim, since you have to reach the podium to get some. a part. The game encourages you to use the offline Quick Race mode to clear daily challenges, and while it will take a long time to do so, it’s an option for those who want to spend an extra $6 to get it all. before he left.
Creative types will find something to love with the inclusion of two modes. There is a livery editor that allows you to change the paint and decal job on almost any car. It’s not as extensive as something in a Forza game, but it works quite well given the limited number of designs, and the designs can be shared online. The Track Editor is what more people will gravitate towards, as you have a good amount of space and a multitude of parts to work with. The editor is easy to use and track placement is flexible with a little practice. You can record and publish tracks online, but unlike livery, there’s no way to browse tracks to select what you want to play. Instead, two are randomly chosen as selectable tracks when playing online; it’s better than nothing, but it would have been much better to have a browser to download and play the songs offline.
The overall presentation is fantastic. Besides the engine noises of the cars, your speakers will be dedicated to the soundtrack, which is an eclectic mix of electronic material and original funk. It may not look good on paper, but it works. Graphically, the game runs at a smooth frame rate and the environments show good detail. From the sheen of the speckled paint to the embossing of the undercarriage, everything is as precise as the real toys. What’s even more impressive are the little details you’d expect to see on cars that have been out of the box for some time: paint chips, plastic wheel wear and fingerprints on the bodywork and the windshield.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is perhaps by far the best standalone game to use the license. It gives the feeling of racing with tiny die-cast cars and combines it with a presentation that looks much better than you’d expect for a licensed title. The variety of races is lacking, given the presence of only two types of races, but the variety of tracks more than makes up for this shortcoming. He may have flown under everyone’s radar, but Unleashed deserves everyone’s attention.
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