Developer Milestone delivered an excellent arcade racer with Hot Wheels: Unleashed, which really sold the fantasy of putting you in the driver seat of your favorite Hot Wheels with interesting track designs and a gameplay loop that’s easy to pick up but has the depth to keep you coming back for more. Having spent dozens of hours finessing my way through time trials and collecting rare vehicles in the original, I was excited at the prospect of a sequel that irons out some of the shortcomings while expanding upon the same ideas in new and interesting ways.
Thankfully, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is just that. It’s a sequel that exactly knows what worked in the original, and what needs to be expanded upon to make it a more meaningful experience in the long run. While there are still some apparent flaws and design decisions that don’t quite hit the mark, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is a worthy sequel that fans should definitely check out.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – is at its core – the same drift-heavy arcade racer like the original, and features the same control scheme. The right trigger is used for acceleration and a face button unleashes a short burst of nitrous, while the left trigger is used to brake or drift around corners which gradually fills up the nitrous meter. Unleashed 2 introduces the ability to jump over obstacles, and you can also ram into opponent vehicles to get a leg up in a neck-to-neck driving situation.
"Unleashed 2 introduces the ability to jump over obstacles, and you can also ram into opponent vehicles to get a leg up in a neck-to-neck driving situation."
While the addition of the new maneuvers doesn’t rewrite the playbook in any significant way, it still adds a level of depth to the racing that just wasn’t present before. You see, ramming vehicles and jumping over obstacles take charge away from the same boost meter – so you have to be mindful of keeping an ample amount of boost in the tank at all times, or else you might run the risk of missing out on a crucial jump during the race.
Milestone makes good use of these new tricks to craft interesting track layouts that are a lot more imaginative and complex than what we saw in the original. While the game does take some time to really flex out its creative muscles, the levels eventually get interesting with plenty of obstacle jumps and nasty shortcuts littered through its looping multi-level tracks that take place in a wide array of diverse backgrounds.
One of the bigger changes in Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is the Career mode, which now also features a narrative of sorts that unfolds as you progress through each new zone on the overworld map. The main objective behind racing through these tracks is to eventually bring down the different creatures that are wreaking havoc throughout the city. It’s all very by-the-numbers stuff, which is why it’s great that cinematics are kept snappy and the writing never takes itself too seriously. All in all, it’s neither good nor bad – it just is.
"It’s all very by-the-numbers stuff, which is why it’s great that cinematics are kept snappy and the writing never takes itself too seriously. All in all, it’s neither good nor bad – it just is."
The sequel expands upon the race types of the original with new kinds of racing challenges ranging from drift mastery where you have to hit a high score by continuously drifting along corners without colliding against the sides of the track to elimination-style races where the last racer gets eliminated to navigation challenges where you must run through a set of checkpoints in an open area in a set amount of time.
Each of the five zones in the Career mode concludes with a climactic boss fight race, where you have to knock down targets laid out on the track before a timer runs out. It’s not the most challenging kind of race, but it does a good job of constantly keeping you on your toes as the time intervals between hits keep on decreasing as you inch closer to the finish line. Once you clear that race, it’s on to the next zone, and so on and so forth.
There’s a healthy amount of content available for players to grind through in this mode, and those who’d like to push their skills to the limits can work to complete Unleashed goals of each race or unlock additional pathways by completing challenges peppered throughout the world. Milestone also does a job of gradually ramping up the difficulty throughout this entire mode, though I will admit there were some difficulty spikes here and there.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 also makes a ton of changes to the vehicles, and how upgrade trees work. The sequel introduces bikes and ATV quads into the mix to give players more options to choose their style. I tried to switch to bikes for a handful of races, but the handling always seemed too wobbly in my experience. Bikes in Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 tend to have a habit of flailing around helplessly during jumps, which makes controlling them really awkward at times. I tried fiddling around with upgrades, but the handling just never seemed to hit the level of precision I wanted. Between this and the fact that bikes don’t have a significant advantage over cars in terms of speed, I always felt like I was handicapping myself by choosing to go with this vehicle type over the others.
"Between this and the fact that bikes don’t have a significant advantage over cars in terms of speed, I always felt like I was handicapping myself by choosing to go with this vehicle type over the others. "
And that leads us to the vehicle progression, where you can also use skill points to upgrade any vehicle to higher tiers, and you can also invest in skills that have an element of risk versus reward attached to them. For instance, a certain skill might make boost accumulate faster but in turn vehicle stability will be compromised. Other skills give a clear advantage like making your vehicle immune to certain obstacles – and I largely went for such skills since I didn’t really need any specialized builds to ace through my races.
As for the cars, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 has a wide array of cars on offer, ranging from vintage classics to luxury supercars and plenty of Hot Wheels classics. Like the original, different cars excel for different use cases – but that level of micro-strategy wasn’t really required during my playthrough of the Career mode at medium difficulty levels.
"Apart from that, you can create your own tracks using the surprisingly detailed Track Editor or customize your vehicles with stickers through a new Livery editor."
Once you are done with the career mode, you can indulge in quick races – or take action online and race against other people. Apart from that, you can create your own tracks using the surprisingly detailed Track Editor or customize your vehicles with stickers through a new Livery editor.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 features some gorgeous visuals, and everything from the faithfully recreated cars to the detailed tracks and high-quality reflections comes together to create a crisp image that’s an absolute treat for the eyes. It really feels like you are in the driving seat of these miniature vehicles as they swirl and drift through tracks set against weirdly gargantuan environments. All of this is accompanied by some great-sounding funky tunes and bass licks that really fit the chill vibe of the experience.
In conclusion, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is a sequel that’s bigger and better than the original in almost every regard. Right from the vehicle selection to track layouts and race types, each new improvement the sequel does helps in making this arcade racer a more polished and complete experience this time around. Some design decisions like the risk-reward-based progression don’t hit the mark, but looking at the broader picture – Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is a sequel that’s unmissable for fans of the franchise, or at least worth trying out if you are interested in the prospect of racing around at high speeds in such faithfully recreated cars.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Improved career mode, better track layouts, gorgeous visuals.
Bikes feel wobbly, certain progression elements are not fun.