When I was a kid in the early 2000s, I not only played on Gameboy Color and PlayStation 2, but also played with Hot Wheels. I have a huge collection of small plastic (and older metal) cars, and I loved racing them in my childhood backyard. Hot Wheels Unleashed take that childhood experience and upgrade to 11, combining old toy cars I know with high speed kart racing.
My preview of Hot Wheels Unleashed, part of Milestone’s E3 2021 presentation, included a rather small amount of content compared to what will eventually be in the game. However, I was struck by its visuals, its open and shocking design, its variety.
I only have access to quick races in my preview of Hot Wheels Unleashed. The game also includes a split-screen mode, but without other people to play with, I couldn’t try it out. Hot Wheels Unleashed will ship with over 60 vehicles to choose from and over 40 tracks to race, but my version only has 28 cars and 9 tracks.
However, every car and track I see impresses me. The cars themselves ranged from ’90s-style hot bars to straight up eccentrics, like a hot dog or a tank. No matter which set of wheels you choose, they will look great. Each car is beautifully detailed, but not in a way that makes them look like real cars. They still look like toys, with paint, plastic pieces and aluminum parts. Hot Wheels Unleashed may look realistic, but it doesn’t want you to forget that you’re playing with toys.
That translates to the game’s tracks, which are largely made up of the toy brand’s iconic orange track pieces. Of course, these maps are not as sophisticated as the ones you can buy at the store. They are fast-paced, have obstacles, and a fairly open design. You’ll find the usual themes of kart tracks here – mostly upside-down segments and detours – but also some unique obstacles. Some routes have spiders shooting ropes at your car, stopping it in its path. Others have moving parts, like a snake that opens and closes its mouth, blocking cars off the track.
Some hazards on the track can be completely avoided if you are willing to take a gamble. Each map has an open design, which means you’re not limited to going in the right direction. Get over a jump or try to fly over a hurdle, and you might end up in a different part of the track. You can drive in any direction if you want. And while that often means you’ll crash and have to respawn, leaving you behind, sometimes these off-road excursions lead to huge misses. This open design leads to experimentation, adding another layer of replayability to each course.
What makes Hot Wheels Unleashed What’s really unique is the way it treats each car individually. Of course, they all have their own stats, but some also have their own buffs. Players accumulate power by driving and build it faster by drifting. However, the way each car allows the player to approach acceleration is different, with some splitting the speed into two or four segments. One car I tried chose not to use that mechanic, instead giving me access to an entire boost bar that could burn in an instant. If that difference shows up in the 60+ car lineup coming to the game, I’d be super impressed.
I played Hot Wheels Unleashed for just over an hour, but it made a big impression on me. The demo makes me wonder if there’s enough content in the final game, but that issue will hopefully be resolved when it’s finally released. In the first day, Hot Wheels Unleashed are getting a career mode, time attack and both local and online multiplayer, along with lots of tracks and vehicles. With all of that along the way, Hot Wheels Unleashed will almost certainly be a kart game worth considering.
Hot Wheels Unleashed will launch for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S on September 27.