Hot Wheels Unleashed hit me by surprise. I have always loved racing games, from Need for Speed to Forza to Simpsons: Hit and Run to Mario Kart. But Hot Wheels Unleashed seems to be something totally different and special. It’s not only nostalgic with its tracks inspired by the classic toys and their giant monsters. It’s built upon a truly winning formula. The Hot Wheels Unleashed multiplayer, in particular, has become a surprise contender for my favorite multiplayer game of 2021. Read on to find out what makes this game so hot.
A Simple System That Works
Hot Wheels Unleashed doesn’t have fancy modes, items to throw at enemies, or complicated driving mechanics. It’s just a drive, drift, and boost around bends, over gaps, and through loops kind of game. And this is perfect. Without the trappings of more complicated driving simulators, like gear shifting or anti-lock braking systems, or even distinct weather patterns to contend with, you’re left with just the basics. But those basics are so, so satisfying. Mastering the drifting in this game feels better than any racing game I’ve played, thanks to the subtle controller rumble, the boost meter it fills, and just how tight those turns can be. Plus, the tracks do have several gimmicks, including giant monsters that spit webs or breathe fire, giant fans that try to push you off the edge of bumperless tracks, and magnetism that lets you drive upsidedown without falling off. As a result, every race feels exhilarating every time.
Hot Wheels Unleashed multiplayer is extra special because there are limitless possible tracks to race on. Each race has the contenders vote between five tracks, an easy, medium, and hard pre-made track, and two custom tracks uploaded to the servers by random players from the track builder. While most of the game’s pre-built tracks are plenty of fun and don’t honestly feel repetitive even when played repeatedly, the custom tracks are where some of the most fun happens. Unfortunately, there are no real rules governing what can and can’t qualify for turning up online. Sometimes, these are total duds—they’re test tracks 10 seconds long with absolutely no competitiveness to them.
But sometimes, they’re absolute venues of chaos. As long as the creator could complete it once, it’s valid. So tracks may possess impossible jumps, ridiculous turns, or wacky gravity. Sometimes, this doesn’t work well. But when it does, which it often does, it makes for some of the best races. I once pulled off a last-second photo-finish victory on a custom track by using a short jump to skip just a sliver of the track around a downhill turn to bump ahead of the player who was besting me the whole previous two laps. Mastering the quirks of the game’s gravity is something that may seem like it’s not meant to be a feature but turns out to be one of the most fun parts of the whole game.
It’s Always Fair
While it’s not always easy managing your speed and gravity on custom tracks, or even when you’re on pre-built ones, the game always feels fair. There are dozens upon dozens of cars you can collect, each with its own speed, braking, acceleration, and other stats. Many of these cars are even upgradable to make them faster, drift better, or hold onto more surplus boosts. But in the end, it feels like with an at least good-enough car, any race is winnable. Maybe not literally true, as some cars are simply better than others, but I’ve raced dozens of online races with just a fully upgraded starting car that took me maybe an hour to fully upgrade and have plenty of wins and podiums under my belt. Unlocking more cars is never all that strenuous either, eliminating any pay-to-win concerns.
But really, the great equalizer is simply skill. Even if their car is technically not the ultimate stats-wise, better racers have a better chance of winning. Avoiding obstacles, including other cars that slow you down, takes skill, not luck. And sometimes poor luck with odd collision physics or bad jump timing will play in, or against, your favor. Missing the starting boost never feels good, but it doesn’t spell defeat either, as you can always catch up with sharper skills and a bit of luck. The fun mechanics and joy of mastering drifts, shortcuts, and jumps get me going in Hot Wheels Unleashed multiplayer, but the fairness of every round is really what has kept me hooked.
Hot Wheels Unlimited is my surprise favorite multiplayer game of the year. It’s obscenely fun, fast-paced, skill-based, and totally fair. Check it out now on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.