Reprinted on Wednesday 28 September 2022: We’re bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of October’s PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text is as follows.
After years of fine-tuning its various motorcycle racing titles, developer Milestone has made a significant detour with Hot Wheels Unleashed. Instead of tackling simulation-style and striving for realistic tracks and locations, this new project takes Mattel’s ever-popular die-cast vehicles and brings them to life in a modern game. While it’s certainly a change of pace for the studio, its racing expertise and penchant for high-quality visuals has spawned an arcade racer that looks and feels great.
The car models in particular are amazing. There are dozens and dozens of Hot Wheels vehicles to assemble in the game, and each of them has been painstakingly rebuilt. They’re a joy to look at—the materials are brilliantly rendered, even for imperfections, like joints where plastic meets the mold. We spent no small time moving the cars around on the selection screen.
They look a lot like little toy cars, and they feel the same way to drive. Driving along the classic bright orange track (though much wider than in real life), it’s extremely arcade racing. The sweeping turns allow for some huge powerslides, and they feel great when you pull them off smoothly. It may take you a while to figure out how the game operates, but once you get used to, you’ll spend less time bashing into obstacles and more time moving and drifting like a champ. Racing is fast and chaotic – cars can knock each other around, and the many tracks involved have lots of twists, turns, and jumps.
There’s physics in the game too, which means you might need a boost to get through loop-de-loop, and you can even use said boost to control yourself in the air, Potentially course-correcting if you ramp up at an awkward angle to . The skill limit is surprisingly high, all told; Looks like there’s definitely room to find some super-technical maneuvers with mid-air controls. Milestone makes sense given that the game will have a wider audience, and the physics gives hardcore fans something to chew on, while younger or more casual racers will have a good time just tinkering and collecting cars.
Hot Wheels City Rumble is the meat of the single-player experience, offering several quick races and time trials across a generous selection of games. As you fill up the map, you’ll receive in-game currency, new parts to customize your dungeon, and a car or two. While slowly working your way through the overworld, you’ll also come across boss races. These are the major events that feature some of the game’s more interesting hazards and longest tracks, and will also reward you with the most stuff. Secret events require that you meet certain criteria before they can be unlocked. It’s a fun idea, but it seems like they mostly rely on you winning races in a few cars, which is a bit tricky when most of your collection will be randomly unlocked.
Yes, the game’s blind boxes are the main way for you to get new vehicles. When you unlock some exclusive Hot Wheels within the City Rumble campaign, most of your cars will come from these lootbox-style items. Earned or purchased with currency in the above single-player events, you will open these items quite often. Cars are rare items, so once your collection fills up, you might get a few repetitions, which isn’t a lot of fun.
The good news is that duplicates can be destroyed or sold for gear or currency, respectively, allowing you to upgrade your cars or buy something else. A limited offers section in the shop rotates a handful of vehicles, so you can either check there to see if a favorite appears, or you can keep trying your luck with the blind box. It’s a little fun to open them up and do something nice, but we imagine that if you want to fill your garage with every car you can get away with for a while.
Still, there are plenty of other ways to fill your time in between assembling Hot Wheels yourself. Split-screen for two players is and works in a treat with no noticeable impact on the game’s smooth, 60 frames-per-second performance. Online multiplayer lets you take on 11 other racers, either on milestone tracks or on community-made racers that are clearly hit-or-miss.
Speaking of which, a robust track editor lets you take the city on your own circuits and courses. It’s a surprisingly in-depth mode that the developer apparently uses to build their own stages. The track pieces click together, but you have a lot of freedom in the shape of each piece, and can throw in special modules to give your race some hazards, divided paths, anti-gravity sections, and more. It’s fairly easy to use once you learn how it works, and the need to validate tracks before you share them means you don’t troll other people with Impossible Circuits. can do It’s a really nice inclusion, and with a similarly deep Livery Editor, it means you have plenty of options to customize your own experience.
The problem with games’ tracks, whether user-created or developer-created, is that they can all feel very similar. There are quite a few environments around that give you a change of scenery, but they are very static and don’t add much to the gameplay. Threats, such as a spider that pulls out webs to trap you or a snake that opens and closes its mouth, are more annoying than entertainment, and too many tracks blur at once.
We’ll also say that, unless you really care about getting them all, it becomes controversial to collect cars when you find a good one. If you have one or two vehicles that you can consistently win races and time attacks, there’s no reason to expend energy acquiring others. The bumper car is lovely, but it’s not going to compare to a slick speedster with high stats in every category. As we’ve said, cars are a lot of fun to collect, but you only need a couple to see you through the game.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is a rock solid arcade racing game that gets a lot of things right, but doesn’t measure up in some areas. Drift-heavy handling and physics-based mayhem make for super fun action on the track, and the cars themselves are just as good to look at as they are to drive. While the tracks feel a bit similar and the random nature of the unlocks can cause some frustration, the end result is a strong racing game that will appeal to fans young and old.