With over two million copies sold, Hot Wheels Unleashed was a surprise hit for Milestone, the Italian studio best known for its motorbike simulations including MotoGP, Monster Energy Supercross, and RIDE.
With its frenetic arcade racing and love for the source material, Hot Wheels Unleashed defied all expectations for a licensed game tie-in. It did for Milestone what Micro Machines did for Codemasters. After strong sales and positive reviews, the inevitable sequel has arrived.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged could have easily been a minor update with a handful of new cars and tracks. But the sequel builds and improves on the original, enhancing the experience in significant ways.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2’s main and most surprising addition is a story mode starring original characters. Presented in comic book-style cut scenes, the story sees you race alongside rebellious teenagers Robert and Darla with a talking robot called XR046 to save the city from being destroyed by creatures on the rampage.
Sadly, the story isn’t as engaging as it could be. The wisecracking characters are clearly aimed at kids, but while they are voiced, they aren’t fully animated. You also never hear characters interact with each other during gameplay.
This makes race events feel disconnected from the story until the final boss battles, where you fight creatures including an octopus and scorpion by hitting targets on the track to deplete their rage meter. You are defeated if their rage meter maxes out.
Luckily, the campaign’s strong event variety makes up for the story’s shortcomings. Hot Wheels Unleashed was limited to standard races and time trials, but the sequel adds new eliminator events, drift challenges, and waypoint time trials, injecting some much-needed variety. Waypoint challenges are a particular highlight as you freely explore the environments to find the fastest route for each checkpoint.
Extra Class Derby (a demolition derby mode where you crash into each other’s cars for points) and Grab the Gears (a capture-the-flag-style mode where you hit other players to steal gears) modes are restricted to the online multiplayer for up to 12 players.
Crossplay is supported for all platforms except Nintendo Switch and a new leaderboard ranking system should make the online multiplayer more competitive. Joining sessions with friends is also easier thanks to a new party system – a basic feature that was missing in the original game.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 retains the fun, fast, and frantic racing that made the original so enjoyable. The loose handling rewards drifting with boost, and the vehicle classes have distinct characteristics. Heavier vehicles are slower but easier to handle, while lighter vehicles are faster but harder to handle at speed and can flip over easily if you're not careful.
Like the best arcade racers, the controls are easy to grasp and powersliding around corners is very satisfying, with enough depth to satisfy players of all skill levels.
This time, the boost meter can be exploited to jump in the air or strafe left or right. These new abilities add a new dimension to the gameplay. A well-timed boost jump can help you discover alternative routes, find shortcuts, or soar over opponents. Likewise, strafing next you make last-minute adjustments and knock opponents off the track.
At launch, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 boasts over 130 vehicles – nearly double the original game’s day-one car count. Iconic cars from Hot Wheels’ history like the Bonecrusher and Twin Mill return alongside licensed cars, with new additions including the Bugatti Chiron hypercar and BMW M2 sports saloon, along with a handful of TV and film cars like the Back to the Future DeLorean and James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5.
New vehicle types including bikes and ATVs expand the roster, but they look peculiar with no riders. Bikes can reach exhilarating top speeds but are surprisingly heavy to handle and tend to understeer unless you upgrade them.
Unlike LEGO 2K Drive, there are no microtransactions, and the original game’s loot boxes (called “Blind Boxes”) for unlocking cars are removed. We don’t miss them though as they often gave you duplicate cars you already owned. Instead, you can only unlock cars by winning campaign events or buying them in the shop with in-game currency.
The only downside is that you can only view five cars for sale at once, with the selection rotating on a timer every four hours (it’s not real-time, thankfully). This makes it slow to unlock cars, though it mimics the joyful experience of browsing the latest stock on toy shop shelves. In a nice touch, cars for sale are displayed on cards like the Hot Wheels toys.
Hot Wheels Unleashed was criticised for its hefty amount of DLC. Nearly 70 DLC items were released after launch, from car packs to expansions. Much of this DLC was overpriced, leaving fans who bought the base game feeling short-changed.
Unsurprisingly, DLC is already planned for the sequel. Two season pass volumes will add nearly 50 cars combined, including a Fast & Furious expansion. But with almost double the number of vehicles on day one and Blind Boxes removed, the DLC is less egregious.
Milestone has once again recreated the car models with outstanding attention to detail. You can see subtle differences between plastic and metal types, paint flakes off in collisions, and there are even visible fingerprint marks on the bodywork.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 introduces a new Skill System for upgrading cars. This lets you equip perks that improve the handling and speed or make the vehicle immune to obstacles.
Equipping four perks in the same category also unlocks a special ability. For example, assigning four handling perks increases the top speed.
This streamlined system is easy to use, but there’s also an element of strategy. Each perk increases specific stats but decreases others, and you can only equip up to six at a time. It allows you to focus on a specific aspect that suits your driving style, whether you want to create a drift car or a speed demon.
Races send you on twisty plastic tracks built around a garden, petrol station, mini golf course, dinosaur museum, and arcade. It’s a shame the original game’s locations weren’t carried over because the small number of environments gets repetitive.
Thankfully, the 50 original tracks are well-designed and full of personality, incorporating massive jumps, giant loops, and even anti-gravity sections that flip you onto the ceiling. Obstacles from swinging rocks to spider’s webs that tangle up your car bring the tracks to life along with dynamic objects that bounce around the track when hitting them.
Whereas the original game’s tracks were confined indoors, some of the new tracks feature outdoor sections. This not only adds to the visual variety, but different surfaces affect vehicle handling when driving on dirt or asphalt.
The cars and tracks are built to scale against full-size environments, evoking Codemasters’ Micro Machines. There’s an excellent sense of scale, particularly in the gas station level set outside a diner as you drive under full-size vehicles and past towering tyre stacks and cones.
Returning from the first game, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2’s Track Builder lets you create wacky races by laying out plastic track pieces and adding stunt props to embrace your inner child. It’s comprehensive but not always intuitive.
Although you can modify track pieces after placing them, you must reconnect the track before you can continue building – something the tutorial doesn’t warn you about. This can be frustrating when constructing complex layouts.
The clunky controls don’t help either, especially when fumbling with analogue sticks on a console - trying to create an evenly banked corner is frustratingly difficult as it’s easy to turn the wrong way. Nevertheless, there’s scope for players who have the patience to create some wild tracks for the community to try.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 captures the fun of playing with tiny toy cars with satisfying controls, frantic racing, and over-the-top tracks. There are still a few flaws: the limited number of environments is disappointing, the story could be integrated into the campaign better, and the track builder is a bit convoluted.
But the expanded vehicle roster, new movement abilities, and skill system make Hot Wheels 2 Unleashed a significant upgrade over the original and one of the most enjoyable arcade racers right now. This is the new gold standard for arcade toy racers.
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