Hot Wheels Unleashed Review — Stunt Track Racer

In 1998, a certain Hot Wheels game was released for PC: Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver. Being a game for kids, who most likely didn’t have access to computers with high specs, the game saw you racing through pre-rendered movies avoiding obstacles. I played this game to death as a kid, and what made it special was that it took place entirely in one kid’s house – tracks would weave through the living room and backyard sandbox. Even if none of these tracks could be recreated in real life, they felt like they could be and served at the very least as inspiration. Hot Wheels Unleashed has the benefit of being a modern game available on all consoles, with fully 3D tracks and cars, but ultimately fails to capture the magic of its predecessor.

Hot Wheels Unleashed falls somewhere between a realistic racing simulation and a wacky kart racer. There are no items and the miniature vehicles follow something closer to physics, but at the same time you’re drifting to build up boosts, avoiding hazards like spiders or a fire breathing dragon, and sticking to magnetic track to drive on the ceiling. The controls reflect this dichotomy as well: you can accelerate with RT or the B button and boost with RB or A. When going off jumps, you’ll also have to make sure you land upright by turning and spinning with the left and right sticks.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Gameplay - PC [Gaming Trend]

Cars have unique stats, and the car you choose will completely change you play each race. Some cars have high acceleration or top speed, while others are better at turning and braking. You also have to take into account the cars’ boost type: a few build up a meter but most have 1 to 3 charges you can use once they’re full. It’s great to have so much variety to choose from, but in no way is this system balanced. Cars with higher top speed and more boost charges are straight up better than others, at least in single player.

The campaign in Unleashed sees you forging a path through one of those cute little town carpets by completing missions and unlocking secrets. This is how you unlock pretty much everything in the game, including the developer made courses. Missions will have you racing against the AI or completing time trials with no other mission types whatsoever, even the “bosses” are just standard races against the computer. The aforementioned secrets simply ask you to redo a specific mission with a specific car. It’s a fairly dull mode, with missions either being incredibly easy or so difficult that you can’t make a single mistake thanks to the AI’s fierce rubber banding. AI controlled cars can sometimes drive straight through hazards and recover from them much faster than you.

The tracks themselves have very interesting designs and can make clever use of the real-ish environments they’re set in. These locations feel like a grown up version of Stunt Track Driver, with a basement, college campus, construction site, and more. However, what made that game special was the fact each stage took place in one connected environment – a child’s house – and these choices can feel less impactful because they feel so isolated both from each other and the tracks themselves. Tracks can just float in the air with nothing to hold or support them which can make the gorgeous locations inconsequential. Sure, you could run the race through some vents or on the ground at some point, but you’ll always have to return to the floating track eventually.

As you play through the single player, you’ll be rewarded with cars, tracks, track parts for the editor, currency, and Blind Boxes. Blind Boxes are simply loot boxes by another name and contain a random car which you may or may not already own. You can spend coins to purchase Blind Boxes or specific cars from a random selection that changes every few hours in the shop. While there is currently no way to spend real money on loot boxes, everything is set up in such a way that they could add it down the line seeing as there’s already a season pass and a car you can purchase which always shows up along with your collection. For a game that already costs money and seeing as cars are in no way cosmetic, there’s no reason for this system to be here and only serves to make collecting everything more difficult.

Much like the environments, the cars themselves are beautifully rendered and look like real, played-with toys. They’re made from all kinds of materials like metal and plastic and have slight scratch marks on them or scuffs. You can even create your own livery for your favorite cars and choose your own colors, materials, and stickers and share them online for other players to download and use. You’d think all this pretty would come at the cost of long loading times or poor performance, but on my rig with an SSD and powerful graphics card they only last a second or less even at the highest possible resolution and 60 fps. Of course, being Unreal Engine, textures may take extra time to load their full detail, but everything is usually settled by the time a race begins. While I prefered to play with a controller, the game does support keyboard and mouse and even cursor support in most menus (Though no steering wheel and pedals support as of writing).

As for playing with friends on the couch, there is an option for playing in split screen. Many know of this long lost art, and it’s really nice to see it included, especially for a Hot Wheels racing game. It’s as simple to start as everything else, with all of the tracks and cars you currently have available in your garage. The only bad thing would be not earning any in-game currency while playing together, but it’s a minor inconvenience given this option isn’t always there, even in many racing games where you’d think it’d be a simple inclusion. I’m also happy to report the split screen doesn’t affect the gameplay, there were no extra technical issues in the middle of all the extra power being dropped into a second player.

Aside from single and local-multiplayer, you can compete online and utilize the game’s suite of customization options. We’ve already mentioned creating your own livery, but you can also completely change the look of the basement environment by changing wallpaper, flooring, and the appearance of furniture and decorations. Admittedly it doesn’t actually do anything, but it’s neat to have one of the locations feel uniquely yours. Finally, we come to the track editor which contains Unleashed’s biggest potential and failures. You can select any track piece you’ve unlocked and place it in any manner you see fit to make your own courses. You can twist them, turn them, change their length and color, or place decorations. It would feel like you could make anything you want, were it not for the controls and UI.

Placing things haphazardly is pretty easy with a controller, but making any sort of fine adjustment is an impossibility. If you don’t get everything in place on your first try, good luck adjusting any problematic parts of the course without completely breaking anything. This is compounded by the fact you can only test your track when it has a finish line or a full circuit, so if you make a mistake it would probably take less time to start over than to fix it. The precision of a keyboard and mouse could have helped here, but much like the map of the single player controls here are just a copy of the gamepad.

David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.

Lead Video Game Editor | [email protected]

David Burdette is a gamer/writer/content creator from TN and Lead Editor for Gaming Trend. He loves Playstation, Star Wars, Marvel, and many other fandoms. He also plays way too much Call Of Duty. You can chat with him on Twitter @SplitEnd89.



Hot Wheels Unleashed

Review Guidelines

Hot Wheels Unleashed is a competent enough racer, but lacks anything to make it unique compared to previous games. It’s generally very bland, relies on loot boxes, and the AI rubber bands constantly.

David Flynn and David Burdette

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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