Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged Review (PS4) As a child of the 70s who inherited his older brother’s Matchbox cars, Hot Wheels were an unknown quantity to me growing up. When I did eventually come across a Hot Wheels car in a charity shop, it seemed cheap and tacky compared to my solid and beloved Matchbox cars. Hot Wheels’ outlandish, unrealistic and unashamedly Trans-Atlantic designs were an anathema to an Euro car nerd, who cherished his bland but realistic Renault 5 as much as his perfectly-formed orange BMW 3.0 CSL. However, when Mattel started advertising Hot Wheels tracks on TV in the UK, the glorious orange track and the promise of toy cars travelling at incredible speeds won me over, even if the car designs didn’t. And besides, my Matchbox cars worked with the Hot Wheels tracks.
Fast-forward 40 years and my 4 year old son is now a lover of Hot Wheels cars – my Matchbox collection is sadly long gone and following the Mattel buyout of Matchbox in 1997, Hot Wheels are now the ubiquitous toy cars. Matchbox cars have been relegated to the display shelves of bearded middle-aged nerds who refuse to take anything out of its original box. With my son’s love of Hot Wheels in mind and my youthful prejudices left behind, I relished the opportunity to review the latest Hot Wheels game from Milestone, hoping that my son would give me a valuable second opinion as I assumed that the game had been tailored for both adults and children alike.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged Review (PS4) – Speed Freaks
Hot Wheels Unleashed, the first Hot Wheels game from Italian developer Milestone appeared in 2021 and was universally praised for its hi-octane arcade racing, crazy tracks and how the Hot Wheels IP had been lovingly recreated in digital form through the “collect-em-all approach” via the garage. The praise was peppered with caveats though – the track design was often unforgiving or repetitive and the track designer, which should have been simple and accessible to mimic the joy of making real tracks, was somewhat clunky and unrewarding. Several reviewers also pointed out that for a game based around toys for children from 3 upwards, its gameplay mechanic and difficulty level entirely failed to cater for younger players, instead aiming itself more at the kart racing demographic of young adults.
When you first take your car to the track, there is a convincing approximation of toy car racing, with their diminutive size, astonishing speed and twitchy handling mirroring that of remote control cars. There is a genuinely different feel between each vehicle, even of similar design and class which is admirable considering there are 130 cars up for grabs once you accumulate enough coins to shop for them all.
The driving itself is unashamedly simple with the normal arcade controls supplemented by Triangle to jump once or twice, Square or Circle to side swipe left or right to ram opponents off the track and Cross to boost. Your boost bar is activated through drifting through corners via L2 and steering, or by driving over boost pads.
The newly added jump ability and side-swipe add to the core gameplay but detract from the racing element, moving towards karting where aggression is as important as skill. It feels like a half-baked addition as the developers may as well have stuck with the straight racing from the first game or gone the whole hog and added missiles, oil and other power ups.
The one player campaign, ‘Creature Rampage’, opens with some nice animated story-boards to introduce the upcoming missions / races with comic-book villains which require defeating as you progress through the branching map of the city. The one player events have some inventive and varied ideas to supplement the straight racing including elimination events and timed checkpoint races which are reminiscent of Micro Machines as you drive your toy car around the house. However, the latter courses are some of the most frustrating racing events I’ve experienced for a long time with anything but pin-point positioning being punished with a dead stop or requiring a reset with R1. Even accurate positioning of your car isn’t always rewarded, with a tiny clip or bounce sending your car floating through the air uncontrollably, again requiring a restart in order to complete the event in the required time limit.
The drip feed of increasingly complex tracks enables newbies to learn the ropes and understand the driving mechanics. Alongside the familiar orange tracks peppered with boost power-ups, there are a whole load of off-road surfaces and more open areas where there are no edges to the track which require you to anticipate corners far more in order to keep up with the pack. This changes the whole racing philosophy and edges towards standard karting fare which for many, will offer up some much needed variety after the repetition of Unleashed #1. However, as per the checkpoint races, these off-road sections are frustratingly unforgiving and highlight some limitations of how the cars handle, meaning you’ll often be relieved when you’re back on the orange plastic. It seems that the developers have sought to widen the variety of surfaces included in the tracks, but haven’t quite engineered the handling or designed the tracks to provide smooth and fast racing meaning that you’re effectively playing two different games within one track.
Weird A.I. Yankovic
The single player campaign allows you to switch AI difficulty which I resisted until the sporadic frustrations with the track design started to creep in, so I switched down to ‘easy’ in order to progress through the single player campaign without screaming down the house and tearing out the minimal hair remaining on my head. However, the difference between ‘medium’ and ‘easy’ was huge, switching from hounding the back of the pack in ‘medium’ difficulty to effortless clean sweeps with ‘easy’, totally removing the challenge. It’s a shame that Milestone hadn’t play-tested this enough to split the difference and allow some middle ground when the going gets tough. At least the overly forgiving easy AI will give the younger children who are champing at the bit to play with Hot Wheels cars on the TV a fighting chance of finishing a race without being humiliated by the NPCs every time.
As you’d expect, winning races rewards you with coins, skills points and upgrade points allowing you to purchase new cars from the shop and upgrade your current cars with additional attributes for speed, braking and immunity to track obstacles or swipes from other players. The car shop vehicles are presented like real Hot Wheels blister packs and the limited selection is timed and rotated to encourage you to revisit and spend your coins regularly. Alongside regular cars, there are Monster Trucks, motorcycles, hot rods and outlandish ‘funny’ cars designed to look like animals, monsters or household objects with wheels.
Once you’ve purchased a new vehicle you can fully customise it, including materials, paint, decals and glass. For those that way inclined, there are hours of options here to noodle with the look of your vehicle. If you’d rather just change the look without cycling through a plethora of options, you can download any community designs for free and save them alongside the original, allowing you to switch when you feel like driving a yellow Aston Martin DB6 instead of a silver one.
Racing Construction Set
The track builder has enormous scope and allows for pretty much anything you can imagine to be created, with each track piece bendable and twistable allowing for some incredible corkscrew rollercoaster action providing you allow enough of a run up or boosts to give cars enough speed to make it around. Unfortunately, as per the first game, it remains fairly clunky to use and impenetrable for anyone without the luxury of numerous spare hours to dedicate to making anything other than an orange oval. Intuitive it ain’t. Still, if you have the time, you can create some truly outlandish and challenging tracks with numerous hazards to impede those who dare to race these monstrosities. Environments can also be changed from Arcade, Dinosaur Museum, Golf Course and many others, all very well designed for you to weave your track designs around. If you want to sample other designs from around the world, you can also race on any of the community tracks online of which there are many, and the most popular ones can be accessed so you know you’re getting something with some real playability.
Online races on PS4 weren’t that easy to find, but when I eventually did, they were enjoyable if you can luck out with finding players who are similarly experienced and evenly matched. Racing on custom circuits did occasionally reveal blank tracks which had been created to allow instant rewards for those who knew how to get to the finish line, but more often than not, the online experience was worth it. Offline, vertical split screen is available for two players on one console and this was a decent option for playing with my 4 year old, as I could hang back to allow him to participate while he familiarised himself with the circuits.
While Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is a generally pleasant distraction, after an hour or two of play, the loading times on PS4 really start to test one’s patience, particularly between menu screens. Relentless race-sandwiches where the loading times force you to stare at inanimate screens and spinning circles of doom for longer than expected become annoyances. I started to wonder why the developers hadn’t considered showing some vintage Hot Wheels adverts or fact files when it became apparent that anyone without an SSD would be faced with this. Still, the graphical performance on PS4 is impressive so it’s something you inevitably pay for with load times.
Overall, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged delivers some short-term light entertainment but with a niggling hollow feeling accentuated by the constant minor annoyances. The gameplay straddles a middle ground between kart racing and a straight arcade racer but ends up feeling like it doesn’t manage to deliver either. It adds up to making it a showcase for the Hot Wheels IP through the perfect recreation of the cars and self-build tracks so beloved of many young children, but without allowing them the pleasure of being able to enjoy the game itself. As a result, it’s hard to recommend it unless you have a particular penchant for designing your own tracks and customising toy cars, as the game delivers both of these aspects perfectly, providing you have the time to invest in the track designer.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is available now on PS4 / PS5
Review copy courtesy of Milestone