If you were looking for a fun racer to play, then you no doubt had Hot Wheels Unleashed on your radar already. The game’s out now for PCs and both the last and new console generation, and we’ve been loving our time with the PlayStation 5 version.
Ever since that Hot Wheels DLC was released for Forza Horizon, we’ve been thinking how great it would be if someone made a full game out of an experience like that. And yes, we ignored all the so-so adaptations of the franchise that were released in the past, but Forza showed us how the experience could work – and that was just a DLC package for a different game. Lucky for us, that wait was over when Hot Wheels Unleashed was announced earlier this year.
What was also exciting about that announcement was that Milestone was developing it, and that meant a return to their roots of arcade racing that started with the Screamer games for MS-DOS computers – essentially a PC take on the Daytona USA that was groundbreaking at the time. Since then, Milestone has been almost exclusively developing race games, but mostly sim-like games like the WRC, Ride and MXGP titles. Hot Wheels Unleashed is a very different beast, and possibly their most fun racer yet.
Filled with nostalgia and a love for the source material, the game takes the Hot Wheels license and doesn’t plaster it over a regular racer – instead taking the Micro Machines approach and placing these cars in real life environments that are true to size. In other words, you’re racing actual toy cars inside large environments, and mostly across plastic orange tracks that wind and loop all around entire rooms and other locations.
What’s also a cool touch is that all of the car models were designed to look exactly like real toys too, with plastic tops, metal undersides and a ton of details that fans will adore. A damage model that resembles how actual toy cars get damaged with little chips? Check. Text printed on the underside? Absolutely – even though that’s a detail you wouldn’t even think to check for it brings a smile to your face when you see your car upside down. And then there’s little smudges and fingerprints that look like there were handled by kids and their greasy fingers – it’s great stuff, and all these little touches really make these feel like toys rather than full sized racers.
Speaking of cars – there’s a whole range of them to play with, as you’d expect. You can also unlock more as you go along and pick up loot crates – and some of these include favorites will mean little to younger players but will get their dads excited, like the DeLorean that I eventually picked up. They recently announced a pretty aggressive post-launch DLC roadmap for the game that includes three separate DLC packs with new licensed vehicles, so I was glad to see some of these iconic cars already included in the base game.
When I first saw footage for Hot Wheels Unleashed, I expected the game to play a lot like the Sonic Racing games, but this one is in fact not too heavily inspired by kart racers and takes most of its cues from arcade racers with their drift mechanics and boosting. You have some amount of aerial control over your cars there are definitely some kart racer mechanics here, but don’t expect Mario Kart-like levels of power-ups and weapons here. Hot Wheels Unleashed sits somewhere in the middle, with easy to grasp yet hard to master racing mechanics and zany tracks and obstacles to get past.
Cars have different attributes and abilities too, so it’s likely that you’ll settle on a handful of favorites after a while, even though it’s fun to just look at and experiment with all that’s on offer. A story mode helps you explore much of the game’s content as well and is a good starting point, but the included multiplayer modes (which include local split screen) are where the lasting appeal is at. Despite the aforementioned DLC plans there are no microtransactions in the base game, and there’s plenty to collect without having to spend anything more than the base purchase.
If you feel like getting creative, then the included track builder is excellent as well, letting you easily create your own tracks – though it’s worth pointing out that some upcoming track parts will be exclusive to the DLC packs that are coming out. As with the cars there’s plenty in the base game, but if you’re afraid you might see yourself buying every individual DLC pack you might want to look into the Ultimate Stunt Edition of the game instead.
The icing on the cake is that the game also looks and plays great on the PS5 with some beautiful visuals and DualSense support, though we’re fairly sure the visual experience will translate well to less powerful consoles as well. Plastic tracks and living rooms don’t make for the most diverse scenery in racing, but of course part of the allure of toy cars is always the imagination you can use and just having fun with it. If you have nostalgia for arcade racers or the Hot Wheels license, you’ll have fun with this. If you enjoy both, you’ll love this.