Review | Hot Wheels Unleashed

Review | Hot Wheels Unleashed

LifeisXbox’s Hot Wheels Unleashed review | Mattel’s toy cars brand Hot Wheels has been around since 1968 and it is pretty much a miracle that nobody did anything with the IP in racing games for the past decade. My last Hot Wheels experience was with Forza Horizon 3. Playground Studios can make something great with pretty much anything but it did show how much potential Hot wheels has for the videogame industry. Before Forza’s add-on, the last console game was Hot Wheels: World’s Best Driver back in 2013 for Xbox 360.

This emptiness must stop is what Milestone must have thought. Known for more realistic racers like RIDE, MotoGP and MXGP they now released a more arcade racer with Hot Wheels Unleashed. My initial faith in Milestone was high but Hot Wheels Unleashed isn’t more than a fancy collecting game based on a video slot machine with average racing gameplay. I will obviously motivate that more in this review, but first something important for the future of this game title. I understand that Milestone wanted to focus on the part of collecting cars. That’s what Hot Wheels is about but the mechanics around it was clearly created for post-launch downloadable content and hours of farming for coins. So far three large season volumes have been announced for the steep price of €30 each. In the first volume, you get the Batman expansion, 10 new vehicles and more builder and customization pieces. As you guessed, all the cooler licensed cars are locked behind a paywall, for example, Barbie, Wonder Woman or Street Fighter. In other words, be prepared to open up your wallet if you’re a fan of Hot Wheels Unleashed. Now that I explained the post-release plans it is time for me to motivate my disappointment.

What we liked!

  • All toy cars look incredible, just like seeing them in real life | It doesn’t matter at what angle you look, each Hot Wheels toy car is impressively detailed and highly accurate. All the different kinds of material have a very realistic look and even some small details like model numbers are present. It is like they took a real toy car and simply dropped it in the game world. They even go so far and to give cars fingerprints after a race, as if your race actually happened on some playground. Absolutely incredible work with details! More than 60 toy cars are available (with more coming) and everyone received the same design love.
    • Part 2 | And they can be customized! | To my surprise, you can change the looks of the toy cars. I wasn’t really expecting this as licensed stuff often comes with limits. Not the case here though, except for the odd few cars. Creating liveries is something I love to do in racing games so I was glad to do this with my favourite Hot Wheels car.
  • Visually everything looks colorful and pretty | Race tracks mostly built by plastic parts look great with the colorful Hot Wheels cars, multiple jumps give the player many awe-moments. The mix between the created race tracks and the real-life backgrounds works splendidly too. It looks better than Forza Horizon 3 and that’s a big compliment, even if that game was released in 2016. Visual setpieces like starting in a T-rex mouth or seeing curved rollercoaster-like race tracks in the distance never stop to amaze me. One improvement they could have made was the visual presentation of the campaign mode, this is done in a 2D selection screen. But that’s easily forgiven if you look at how beautiful the graphics are while racing. So yeah, Hot Wheels Unleashed completely nails the visual part of the game.
  • Track editor | What the main game actually lacks a little is solved by the community! Over-the-top track creations that play with gravity and fresh ideas. Making your own tracks are a bit harder to pull off compared to TrackMania and the possibilities are more strict too but I have seen some epic things while exploring the community-created levels. As always with user-generated content, there’s a lot of rubbish but the masterpieces is what makes it so special. You unlock more and more options for your background environment by playing the campaign, so it is a nice touch to see how far players have progressed by playing their self-made tracks.

Somewhere between

  • Car physics can be a bit unpredictable | There’s not really a sweet spot when it comes to predictable car handling. Even after playing for multiple hours with the same car it still unexpectedly flips over when drifting. Nudge the wall just a tiny bit and your toy car suddenly acts like it has been hit by a whale. This is also the case with jumps, I love the risk and reward factor here but the airtimes are never coherent and landing your cars can be compared with Crocodile Dentist from Hasbro. A mystery if the crocodile will bite or in Hot wheels Unleashed case, you never know if your car will land as intended. These moments were often a deal or bust moment for winning races on higher difficulties.
  • The actual racing gameplay | Milestone went with the arcade and fun approach here, which makes sense. The somewhat hardcore gameplay from their other portfolio wouldn’t have fitted the kid-friendly brand of Hot Wheels. A Problem arrives though, racing gameplay is undoubtedly fun but it ain’t special. Other racers in this genre do a far better job at giving you a sense of speed or challenge. Largely the main issue is the track design and car physics, before you start yelling, there are some wicked designs that truly stand out but most of the other tracks or parts are just always the same. Tracks are often created by the same plastic parts with not much variation, with a few exceptions where sections open up. The racing feel just misses something and doesn’t even reach the knees of far superior games like TrackMania, Inertial Drift or Hotshot Racing. There’s isn’t even a slightly addictive rewarding system either, taking risks while driving isn’t necessary and the broken balance between cars are to blame.

What we disliked

  • Extremely repetitive soundtrack plagued by a ‘trying-to-be-cool’ effect | Imagine hearing the same tunes over and over again. Imagine on top of that each time you increase your speed or have a high jump there’s this annoying sound distorting effect, supposedly making it more awesome to boost your speed. It has been a while since I played a game with a more terrible soundtrack. There is just a deep lack of anything original here or something that makes it distinct. Luckily the car sounds make up for the blatantly bad music selection, my guess? They got it free with a 1+1 action somewhere in a supermarket, you know… looking at some real-life drivers they seem to do it with driver licenses too.
  • Unlocking cars and broken balance | I mentioned the video slot machine in the introduction and that’s basically what is happening with Hot wheels Unleashed blind boxes. It blows my mind how they fucked up one of the most important parts of replay value and the heart of the source material. People all over the world are buying Hot Wheels toy cars to collect them so why the developer decided to work with random blind toyboxes WHO GIVE DUPLICATE cars is beyond me. Sure, there is a shop that resets new purchasable cars every four hours but they are so expensive that you are forced to farm race after race to get enough in-game coins. Another huge problem is car balance, there is no point in actually changing your toy car as some are so overpowered that there is zero reasons to pick an inferior one. Honestly? I think this system is completely broken and a middle finger for the Hot Wheels brand. And damn it is annoying to purchase two loot boxes and find out both are duplicate cars.. AAARGHHH!! There was no need for this as collecting every available car in this game without the duplicate option takes ages too.. they just made it frustrating and far from player-friendly, for what? I have no clue.

How long to beat the story | 8 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 20 hours
Similar with | TrackMania


Hot Wheels Unleashed feels like a missed opportunity to make Mattel’s brand relevant in the gaming scene. Players will have fun playing it but other similar games are vastly superior, so this might only be something for Hot Wheels collectors. Visually the game is fantastic and the track editor works wonders for replay value but the chance is high that the racing gameplay loses your interest. is the largest Belgian Xbox centered website, your reading time is greatly appreciated! Please consider sharing this review with your friends on social media, that means a lot for us! If you are Dutch-speaking also consider joining our Dutch exclusive Facebook group Xbox Gamers Belgium. Feel free to use quotes for PR purposes.