Hot Wheels is back! This very out-of-the-blue announcement seemed brimming with promise. Every bit of footage looked more and more amazing to me. So, how did the game shape up? Well, in my opinion, it’s shaped up to be a brilliant little gem, with some typical money-grabbing issues one would expect of the industry these days.
The first thing that’s apparent in this game is that not only does it look good in terms of graphics, but they also nailed the art style and the general scale of things. And not only that, the actual detail on the vehicles themselves is phenomenal. There are tiny little details everywhere and it feels really 1:1 to me. You can tell this was made by people passionate about Hot Wheels who really wanted to try and nail that feel and look in every way. Everything else is default UE4 but for the type of game this is, it works perfectly and performs quite well, which I will get to later.
It goes without saying that this is an arcade racer, but all arcade racers handle differently. So, if you are one who likes very tight drifting, then you’re in luck; this game is for you. The cars handle with weight and drifting is very tight with a respectable learning curve, especially with each individual vehicle. There’s a single-player mode with a lot of challenges and completing them earns you gear which you can use to upgrade cars, cosmetic customisation for your avatar, loot boxes, items for track building and so on.
The courses are well designed and all are very distinct visually. Every course has checkpoints, however, so there are no shortcuts or cheesing; you all must follow set paths. There are times where the track splits in two which adds some variety, but again no opportunity for cheesing which is fine. There are also different types of tracks within the course, some that help build nitro, some with boost pads and even slowdown pads, and even spiders that shoot webs. The AI is very challenging and even on medium difficulty coming in first can be quite a feat.
The cars are all quite unique both in looks and performance-wise. Some cars have one big nitro point you can use in one go, while others have multiple ones you can use in bursts; there are also ones that have one big bar you can burn off as you see fit. These bars can be built up by just raving, but drifting builds the nitro bar more quickly.
There’s split-screen and online multiplayer, with an option to make private lobbies or quick join someone else’s match, however, there doesn’t seem to be any dedicated servers and no cross-platform play, which is massively disappointing.
The track builder however is phenomenal and the star of the show. You can really build just about anything in it, and this is absolutely going to be incredibly fun to play which will add to the longevity of the game. There is also a basement you can customize and play with, but I imagine most people will not get much out of it, although it’s a nice feature nonetheless.
My main issue with the gameplay is twofold and ties into each other: the microtransactions. This game is very MTX-heavy. Yes, there is a £70 edition which gave early access and some extra unlocks and two passes, however, that is not all the content. There will be separate season passes as well as vehicles that you must buy with in-game currency. Again, all cars have unique stats, so I feel incredibly uncomfortable about all this. And all of this is in addition to loot boxes. There is far too much paid-for content in this game and given the recommended retail price it has no excuse. It’s retailing at £40 on Steam in the UK but you can get a key from a key seller for around £18, which is much more reasonable. Frankly, the MTXs in this game are indefensible. While it is more generous than others with its single-player rewards, once that well runs dry…
The other problem is a direct result of the MTX. As stated, the vehicles all have different specs and you also use them in multiplayer, so you could argue the game is somewhat pay-to-win. If you’re outdone by xXx_N00bslay3r69_xXx since your dinky little car can’t hold a candle to his souped-up Tanknator, well, there’s nothing you can do in this game except to either take the L or break out your credit card.
There’s not much for me to say here. I’m not a fan of the electronic music soundtrack, but there’s been a legit effort here with the sound effects, with cars like the DeLorean having their own engine and nitro sounds and so on. It’s solid and does the job.
Now I am very happy to report that the performance is actually pretty good. Due to the nature of the number of platforms this is on including Switch, there has been a substantial effort on optimisation here. In 1440p maxed, I get a locked 140fps with plenty of GPU to spare. At 150% res, which is around 4K, I can get a locked 140fps on some tracks and 113-130fps on others with my 8700k and RTX 3080 OC, which is incredibly impressive to be pulling frames that high at 4k. This should run on a wide variety of rigs without any problems.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is a solid game, with great gameplay and a plethora of content. The fundamental gameplay is solid, the detail on the cars is fantastic, and the track builder is great. There is a legitimate attempt here to make a great Hot Wheels game. Its track courses are great, the racing feels good, but the lack of crossplay, dedicated servers, and the huge amount of MTX really holds it back. Which, again, is a shame since you can tell that the devs did put a lot of work and their actual love of the toy cars into it.