As a little boy (that was a very long time ago) I had so many Hot Wheels toys that I filled the entire house with tracks that you could build yourself. I’ll then start laying tracks in the attic and end up somewhere in the basement or in the backyard. My mom didn’t always like it, but I thought it was cool. I’ve had those model cars rip the house apart a thousand times and couldn’t get enough. So I was excited when Hot Wheel Unleashed was announced and was counting on a lot of nostalgia.
Hot Wheels consists primarily of model cars, but also of plastic tracks that you can click together on your own. Cars do not have a motor or a winding mechanism, but are simply powered by gravity. When building, you had to take into account the highest point, lowest point and whether the cars could build enough speed to overtake the rest of the track. The steep construction caused the cars to roll out of a corner, but the very horizontal position resulted in very little speed. Finding that balance was magical and I got so angry when I had to clean everything off of my dad.
How cool is Hot Wheels now that you don’t have to clean anything anymore?! At least that’s what I was thinking and hoping for. Hot Wheels Unleashed is actually just an arcade racer with some Hot Wheels effects, but you can’t really call it digitizing the basic principle. It has some of it, no more.
The good news is that the model cars in Hot Wheels Unleashed are beautifully re-engineered with the same amount of detail as the real thing. It looks exactly as you’d expect, and my collective motivation has really been fueled. The environments in which the tracks are built are also top notch. For example, you can tear up a playroom or a kitchen and everything around you is gigantic, so that you actually get the idea of driving miniature cars.
The track designs themselves are also amazing. In that respect, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a top arcade racer with impossible turns, loops, keys and plenty of possibilities for awesome drifts. However, the star of the show are the car controls, which have been taken care of to the last detail.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is designed by developer Milestone and the studio’s experience with racing games is clearly noticeable. Thus, this game is a typical example of “easy to learn, but hard to master” and anyone can play it, but if you want to become really good, you have to devote a lot of time. Especially in time trial events, you have to pull all the stops to cross the finish line within the given time. In fact, you have to drive and drift with perfection, otherwise you will not be able to.
The gameplay in Hot Wheels Unleashed is fun and plays well, but it’s also a bit simple. You can race against the AI or perform time trials against the clock, and that’s it. There is some kind of career mode, but you can rip it off in the evening. Then there’s the multiplayer, where you can race online or in split screen against other players and finally a track editor to build something yourself.
It’s definitely great to have a track editor in the game, as of course tracks can be shared online with the community, but that’s also the only thing that has real replay value. Then I came to the most annoying aspect of the game: assembling many different car models.
By participating in events, you earn in-game talents and gears. You can use these gears to upgrade cars, so that the top speed, for example, rises, accelerates faster or takes sharper turns. You don’t really need this for most events. It’s more than great for your favorite cars.
You can use bends to buy cars, but this is done randomly. You should exchange your hard-earned money for so-called “blind boxes”, so you never know what you’ll get. They are actually terrible loot boxes, but instead of spending real money on them, you can do so with in-game currency. I hate it with passion!
In order to collect everything, you will have to replay events over and over to earn coins, and then hope to unlock something you didn’t already have. If you get a car you already have, you can sell it, but it will cost you much less than blind boxes. As a result, Unleashed’s replayability is created unfairly, so to speak, and you keep playing because you need more talent, not just because it’s fun.
Every few hours, you can also put your hard-earned cash through an in-game shop for cars that you can choose yourself, but they often don’t consist of the legendary cars you want to collect, like KITT from Knight Rider or DeLorean from Back to the Future. So in the end you have to rely on blind chests and pure luck.
I had a great time with Hot Wheels Unleashed, but I ran out of it after the weekend. Not only because you passed all the events, but also because constantly repeating the same events in the hope that you would open something new through the blind chests quickly left a very bad taste in my mouth.
More variety in the events would have resulted in the game performing well and, if I’m being honest, even the race getting a bit boring and repetitive at some point. It feels like Mario Kart without weapons! After a while you know the tracks by heart and master the races with two fingers in your nose. The design of the cars shows that you are working with Hot Wheels, but it is really just a generic arcade racer with advanced controls. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely not what I was hoping for.
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