The Glorious Fast-Car 80s Have Come to Life - Hands-On with Hot Wheels Unleashed
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:22am 25/06/21 | Comments
We got hands-on with a PC preview build of Milestone's Hot Wheels Unleashed. Just how good can it be racing toy cars?
As a kid growing up, I was all about three worlds: He-Man, G.I. Joe and Hot Wheels. The latter, however, was my most consistent toy because it was the most parent accessible (read: CHEAP). My love of Hot Wheels wasn’t about the toy’s accessibility though, it was in its outlandish designs that sidled up against real-world cars, and growing up in the 80s, my whole world was cars; Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, Dukes of Hazard, Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit… cool cars; fast cars -- and cool cats in and around those cars.
It all just filled up my formative and aspirational self, feeding both a real-life want, while letting my imagination go crazy with the aforementioned “outlandish designs”.
Watch a full video preview of this preview feature embedded above
To that end, I’ve been champing at the bit for a go at Hot Wheels Unleashed ever since it was announced, and even now in limited Quick Race-only preview form, it hasn’t let either six-year-old me, or current me, down.
This is largely due to the initial selling point of the game: scale.
"And running on my Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 3070, this real-life world through the eyes of a Hot Wheel, as if it were alive, so, shrunken down, is simply a breathtaking amalgam of both spaces...”
In Hot Wheels Unleashed we’re introduced to the evergreen franchise in “Honey I Shrunk the [insert whatever you want here]” form, and running on my Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 3070, this real-life world through the eyes of a Hot Wheel, as if it were alive, so, shrunken down, is simply a breathtaking amalgam of both spaces, while also delivering on the immediate requirement of any such endeavour like this in amplified OTT. And I’m not talking about Sylvestor Stallone.
Only 80s people will get that.
Era-snobbery aside, there’s something special about the presentation here that transcends the “make the toys a videogame brief”. For one, while this is a racing game that follows a few racing game rules, the devs have played with the premise in unique ways -- you can smash about the place, go off track, ram other cars, launch and more, but the weight of the cars the whole time you’re doing this feels toys. But not at all to the detriment of the experience. In fact, it amplifies it.
And that lightweight approach to the game’s physics does play into those racing game rules I mentioned earlier. You have a Mario Kart-esque timed grid ignition bonus that fills a portion of your boost to electively use off the line right away, while the same boost as you race fills more quickly when you’re attacking the track with aggression, be it drifting or slipstreaming. It will fill regardless, but the game promotes a more proactive push for the player to juice themselves up as often as possible.
It’s also important because these tracks and races, so far in Quickplay-only preview form, are long. Really long. It’s not a bad thing, and I always felt like I was a chance to get back into any race I’d come unstuck on, but this did highlight that there might be some rubberbanding issues here, and possibly predicated by my own position on the track. This might just be a preview thing, but it’s definitely something I’m keeping an eye on as we close in on the game’s full release finish line.
But getting back to lengthy tracks. The longevity of a race here doesn’t feel like a hard slog or an uphill battle. Unless you count the gravity-defying hills on offer. What these expanded courses present though, is varying degrees of fun and approach.
Obviously part of the design remit here is to include real-world Hot Wheels track pieces, but having them -- marketing inclusion or not -- is awesome because the magic of videogames means they get to come to life beyond a special-effects-laden commercial, or from within the magic raceway of a Hot Wheelsophile’s head.
"These can be spider webs either already on the track or spat at you by pesky spiders, or a snake’s mouth closing right before you’re about to enter it...”
Parts of each track come with things like magnetic fields, or boost pads that help fill your nitrus or your one-button boosters, but there are also dangers that aren’t just precarious parts of the track without a guard that will likely see you plummet to your toy-car death. These can be spider webs either already on the track or spat at you by pesky spiders, or a snake’s mouth closing right before you’re about to enter it. Resulting in that plummet I mentioned a moment ago.
And while the tracks present their own challenges, dangers and personalities, the cars on offer here -- of which we had 33 to choose from -- also come with their own stats and personalities to play with. The depth of how tracks, cars, modes and playstyles all coalesce was hard to discern in the limited Quick Race mode available to play, but that we can already see so much on offer across different lines here, suggests there might be something a bit special lined up on the grid in the final version of the game.
What I was left with after having had access to this preview build for a while now is a pure hunger for more. On my rig Hot Wheels Unleashed is absolutely stunning, with each car presenting play scars, chipped paint and a general sense of wear and tear, and lighting that highlighted all of that seamlessly. While the surrounding environments simply sold that “toys to life” premise on attention to detail alone. I also had the game running on Ultra settings at 60 frames per-second and came across zero performance issues, so optimisation here is looking pretty good already.
But most importantly, even in limited access the game was just fun. Like, super-fun, and if all we get is that expanded upon in the final game, then we’re all in for a serious treat.