Hot Wheels Unleashed combines arcade-style toys with sim-racing action

Milestone’s motorsports simulations are a hallmark of its video game development. ExpectationsMotorsport sims include the MotoGP, Ride, and WRC. These are available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 3.

That doesn’t mean making an arcade racer like Hot WheelsUnleashed It was either a holiday or an amicable team building exercise. Michele Caletti, the studio’s executive producer, saw the game as a vital opportunity to grow the 27-year-old studio’s business, in ways that sticking to the ultra-sim motorsports format simply couldn’t satisfy.

“We know that racing games are a niche, and simulation games are a niche of the niche,” Caletti told Polygon in an interview leading up to Hot Wheels Unleashed’s launch at the end of September. “The car racing game market is quite crowded; could me make a game to the level of, I don’t know, Gran Turismo? Technically, the answer is “yes”. Is Gran Turismo the right choice? That does not sound like a great idea.”

It was surprising at first to learn that Milestone pitched Mattel the idea for a Hot Wheels race game. Instead of Mattel visiting the studio, or its parent company Koch Media which purchased Milestone in 2019, it was surprising. Mattel’s collectible cars have a long video game history, but were last featured in their own console video game (as opposed to an expansion for another) in 2013.

But just because the chassis are die-cast metal and the vehicles are largely powered by gravity doesn’t mean Hot Wheels aren’t a natural fit for Milestone. Once Mattel green-lit Caletti’s pitch, Milestone brought its motorsports values to their toy line, the same way the studio would for the Monster Energy Supercross series, Caletti said.

“We understood that the license was never really treated with triple-A quality,” he offered, “so it was a matter of connecting the dots. We love simulations, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like arcade [racing].”

The 1985 Audi Sport Quattro prepares to land a jump on a red plastic track

Audi Sport Quattro, a legendary-class car Hot Wheels UnleashedIt’s a good choice. The toy is one of executive producer Michele Caletti’s favorites.
Image: Milestone/Koch Media

Some arcade racers, Caletti felt, can break down to a “scripted” experience — that their racing action is little more than a third-person camera winding through the track, almost on rails, with traction, course surface, and braking either irrelevant or heavily reduced as gameplay influences. Kart racers in particular don’t really incorporate physics, which lead to a very homogenized experience, and probably a reason why no Hot Wheels game in recent memory has stood out like Unleashed

“We developed the handling system based on actual physics,” Caletti said, although in finished form, it’s nowhere near as strict as the physics and handling in Rent 4Of course. “So, [we were] bending the physics to be able to do some kinds of drifts, loops, jumps, landings, without bouncing your way crazily, or not being able to complete the loop.”

My time is up Hot Wheels Unleashed, I’ve found you have to really, deliberately try to stop in the middle of a loop-de-loop to fall out of it. But the fact that you can, and that you can crash out of the track entirely and spend the rest of the event just exploring the surrounding environment, speaks to Milestone’s goal of making this a legitimate racer, one that isn’t locked to a track or a few lanes within it.

This type of quasi-realism is also why this works. Hot Wheels Unleashed doesn’t have a kart racer’s traditional weapons to sabotage other competitors or give your own ride super powers. It does use a boost (and at higher difficulties, you’ll be using it almost constantly), but that’s mainly because its application — high speed only — can be easily expressed in an environment where physics have the final word. Drifting is an alternative physics-based action Milestone has tied to an arcade racing tool.

“The boost goes much beyond what is going faster,” Caletti said. “It can save your race. It can save your race. You drift and turn the car around. When you activate the booster it will compensate for any misalignment. [wide]The [corner exit].”

A 1970s-style Hot Wheels racer with golden flake painting takes a long jump

Flaked green is the perfect choice for the Twin Mill, which dates back to 1970.
Image: Milestone/Koch Media

This is not to say that Caletti and his team brought a gear-head, wonkish point of view into a game about toy. Caletti stated that many designers own Hot Wheels collections, while he keeps about 100. His eleven-year-old daughter owns a similar number.

It was a great help when it came to representing all of the surfaces and materials that go into a Hot Wheels car or track. “We were asking, should we make these cars in a way that they look like full-size cars, or toy cars, or video game, cartoonish cars?” Caletti recalled. “And the point was that nobody was making them in the most obvious way — that is, like the ones you can buy in toy shops, right?”

Hot Wheels Unleashed Launched with 60 cars, each based on Hot Wheels toys. They were listed alphabetically by year and series. Caletti’s own 1985 Audi Sport Quattro (a die-cast toy, not the actual rally racing legend) was part of the first batch of cars Milestone put together to pitch Mattel, and it’s in the finished game — with a Legendary rating and attributes to match. If the car rolls over, you can see its matte gray undercarriage, with the outline of the Mattel trademark and other writings; again, it’s exactly like the toy in real life.

And perhaps that little detailing explains why Milestone’s commitment to realism and authenticity, even for a series of toy racers, made the studio the only one that could deliver something like Unleashed. The sim-style physics and arcade-like cars and tracks give fans a racing experience they’d really only imagined — actually being at the wheel of their Rodger Dodger, Rip Rod, or Motosaurus, and taking that loop-de-loop with the throttle wide open.

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