The first Hot Wheels Unleashed is, still, as capable a track racer as I’ve played in the last few years. It hit mechanical sweet spots like only a developer of Milestone’s pedigree could and made it feel like these little die-cast models, perfectly imperfect with their paint chips and flecks, might boost off of the screen and into our living rooms.
Ultimately, its lack of staying power can be chalked up to a few things.
A low-effort campaign that did little to mask the content crisis the game suffered at launch, a predatory microtransactions model, and perhaps warranted comparisons to another franchise’s own Hot Wheels expansion that already encapsulated what it means to be the hottest metal cars in the toy world.
While there is a Forza game expected this year, there’s a free lane for Hot Wheels to try and corner the arcade market provided they can curtail the concerns gamers had with the original. Based on half an hour I spent with the game, I believe they have addressed pretty much every qualm I had.
Although I didn’t get to sample it, Turbocharged is said to offer a far more expansive story than the original did, complete with characters to care about and actual, meaningful things to do. To deliver a meaningful story, even if it’s one aimed at kids, would do well to set the game apart from its arcade contemporaries already in the market like Forza Horizon, or those threatening to pinch the limelight like The Crew: Motorfest. Both offer curated playlists dedicated to the best of car culture without necessarily delivering a riveting story.
Most of my hands-on presentation of Turbocharged focused on a couple of new modes that’ll broaden the game’s multiplayer appeal, and gameplay mechanics that add both offensive and defensive dimensions to an already blisteringly quick thrill ride.
Waypoint and Elimination were two of the modes I tried, the former being a King of the Hill-like checkpoint race and the latter being a standard elimination race where the last in line gets picked off at the last chime of the countdown clock. The former definitely showcased the game’s new jump and double jump mechanics, especially at the backyard level which amazingly featured little-to-no trademark orange trackwork. Instead, the yard is full of real-world elements to avoid and hop over, though there’s an economic element to these jumps as they drain from your car’s already meagre supply of boost. It becomes a real risk versus reward situation and failure to manage it correctly can lead to some fun, tense emergent moments.
Elimination, on the other hand, and being more of an attacking mode where drivers claw for pole position, gave a better chance to try out the strafe dash. It has a real Road Rash feel to it, and it’s going to suit aggressive motorists to the ground. The mode itself doesn’t mess around either, while the game has generous rubberbanding and a quick respawn button to forgive moments of bad driving, it’s often too late and I found myself getting laid out of these races pretty quickly. Hubris is a bitch, it seems.
It’s no secret that the cars in Hot Wheels Unleashed were spectacular, and I’m glad Milestone is pouring a lot of effort into giving players a bit more agency over customisation this time around, as well as a whole new upgrade tree with points that can be assigned to your standard car attributes, like speed and handling. Your vehicle, a distinction I use because they’ve added bikes this time around, might end up looking like someone else’s, but it’s entirely likely it’ll have radically different specs. I was also relieved to learn that Turbocharged has done away with loot boxes and microtransactions. Instead, everything can be bought with a plentiful in-game currency with cars regularly refreshing in the shop.
Getting rid of these toxic features was the best thing Milestone could do to restore my faith that Turbocharged is headed in the right direction. If the story mode can hit and provide a decent distraction for kids and parents alike, there’s no doubt in my mind that, together with the new multiplayer-focused modes, mechanics, and community features, Turbocharged can be the sequel that not only leads the way but leads Milestone to the upper echelon of arcade racing royalty.