Preview: Hot Wheels Unleashed


Chris Harding

Writer and Storywriter


Milestone is best known for its realistic motorcycle racing games. Now the developer is branching out with Hot Wheels Unleashed, an officially licensed racing game based on the famous brand.

Preview: Hot Wheels Unleashed

Hot Wheels Unleashed could soon become my favourite racer. Well, my favourite two-player local split-screen track racer. It’s releasing in September, which means it gets a month head start on Forza Horizon 5, and once that comes out, it’s going to take over my gaming life. I know it, and that’s fine. But there’s still a place for an awesome track racer like Hot Wheels Unleashed, especially as I have a small child who has a room full of the bloody things, and he loves nothing more than playing two-player games with his daddy, who is me. Probably. I sometimes have my doubts.

Cars, cars, cars

Hot Wheels Unleashed has cars, lots and lots of cars. Some of them I even recognised from Charlie’s collection, others from the mobile Hot Wheels game that Charlie used to force me to play so that we could collect the cars.

They look great, too. Almost like they’ve been plucked from my living room floor, had the stickiness cleaned off them, and then pushed through the screen into the game. The attention to detail is amazing and it was great to see Charlie point out his favourites, then run around the house collecting them and lining them up on my desk. It’s rare that I can actually see the real-life inspiration behind the vehicles in a racing game – how many of us can compare the in-game Lambo to the one sitting in the drive? Very few of us.

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The cars all come with their own stats and rarity levels which help determine their stats. For the demo build I was given, I was able to flick between all rarity types. Common cars are slower and will be the first vehicles you send smashing around the tracks as the game eases you into its flow. Then there are the Rare cars, Legendary cars and the Super Treasure Hunt cars, all of which you’ll unlock as you play through the game. The rarer the car, the faster it goes and the more difficult it is to control.

hot wheels unleashed car selection screen

I warmed up with some of the easier handling toy cars and then moved up to the blistering fast Super Treasure Hunt racers with no difficulty, though I am a seasoned racing game veteran. You put a pad in my hand and a racing game in front of me, I’ll be in sync with the game within minutes.

The full game will boast a car list of over 60 digitised Hot Wheels cars, and that’s probably more than I would ever need. Even in my beloved Forza Horizon with its hundreds of cars to choose from, I tend to find a handful that I like – one for every occasion – and stick with them. We’ll see if Hot Wheels Unleashed can’t break my habits

Tracks, tracks, tracks

I only nine tracks to try out in the preview build but they were a good taster of what’s to come, with the full release set to offer more than 40 tracks, plus whatever the community puts together in the Track Builder mode. This was not available during the preview. Not that I would have used it – I much prefer to leave that kind of stuff to the more talented players to figure out while I enjoy the fruits of their labour.

The few tracks I did get to try out were really good fun and set within a few different environments, like a college campus, a run down garage, a skate park, and even an unfinished skyscraper.

hot wheels unleashed split-screen gameplay

I sent my cars flying down the familiar orange track pieces, around the looped sections, and even over the edge of the track and into oblivion more than a few times. I was really heavy on the boost mechanic, so when the connecting jumps came, I was often going a bit too quick to control my flight, and I’d end up overshooting and sending my car to its doom. A quick hold-down of the Y button (I played on PC using a Series X controller…) and my car was respawned.

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The tracks come with some hazards, too, though I’m happy the game hasn’t gone for the kart-racer style picksup with offensive and defensive items. It’s purely racing and it’s not trying to take Mario’s lunch money, but it still offers some variety to its tracks. There are barriers that’ll slow you down if you hit them, and webs spat onto sections of the track by a giant spider. If you drive directly into one of these webs, you’ll be stuck for a few seconds while the competition passes you by. Did this annoy me? Yes. But I laughed when it happened to Charlie in split-screen. I didn’t laugh when he threw the controller in a tantrum. Got to be a nicer dad…

But is it fun?

Yes! I’ve had good fun banging around in Hot Wheels Unleashed, and that’s with just Quick Race and Split Screen. The full game will have much more, like the Story Mode Hot Wheels City Rumble, which will have races, challenges, and even bosses to beat to unlock new stuff and earn in-game currency – there are no microtransactions here.

hot wheels unleashed in game screenshot

Everything in the game can be earned through play, which is awesome and will definitely save me a ton of money when the game releases and Charlie takes over the game. I’ve spent enough money on Minecraft, Plants vs Zombies, and everything else, so I’ll be happy to not have to spend any extra to keep him entertained with this one.

The gameplay is solid and the racing feels great – this is coming from racing experts Milestone, after all – and I’m really looking forward to hitting the rest of the tracks when the game releases on September 30th, 2021.

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