by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
Ready, set, go...
As with most any racing game, the best place to start is with its campaign. Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged features a lengthy career mode campaign that more than satisfies the minimum expectations one would have for a game of its caliber. However, its contents fall far short of peak enjoyment.
The game includes a whopping total of five playable tracks: Gas Station, Backyard, Mini-Golf Course, Dinosaur Museum, and Arcade. While each track features highly diverse background visual aesthetics, the tracks themselves tend to be thoroughly unremarkable. Go in circles with only the occasional vertical loop, or gap between tracks for one to leap over, to break up the monotony.
The AI opponents that you’ll find yourself pitted against are ridiculously easy to overcome. Only when pushed to the highest possible difficulty settings, such as Hard or Impossible, do you get something vaguely representing a real challenge. At Easy or Medium, any semi-competent player can breeze right to first place and remain there for almost the entire race, unless you find yourself victim to the game’s bizarre physics system.
Gravity is not your friend…
While many things seem somewhat off about the game balancing, there are few more overt offenders than the physics system. Even if you have a car with maximum stability stats, you have to constantly treat your car like it's on eggshells. Every tiniest bump, every slightest curve and turn in the road, has the potential to send your car flying off-track, in slow motion, into empty air.
Had this game been designed as a fast-speed high skill ceiling game, this design approach could perhaps have been justified. But given that the cars seemingly drive at speeds proportional to their real-life counterparts, it feels strange to see them behave here as if they were driving in low gravity conditions.
Control is everything
It becomes incredibly clear from the very beginning that Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 was designed primarily as a console game, with its PC port being considered a negligible afterthought at most. The main menu and in-game menu require the use of separate key mapping to navigate, the driving controls themselves are widely spread out across the entire keyboard, and mouse input is only inconsistently permitted. All this is especially strange because the only logical explanation for this would be that this game is intended primarily to be played using a controller.
However, according to its Steam store page, the game does not include full controller support, only partial. So who these controls are designed for is a mystery for the ages, as neither keyboard players or controller players seem to be the primary intended demographic.
Progression through repetition…
Like so many other modern AAA and AA titles, progression here in Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged comes in the form of a player levelling system, one specifically tied to cosmetic unlocks. Thankfully, there does not appear to be a paid in-game item shop or battle pass present, although one cannot really award a developer points for meeting the basic standard of not shamelessly exploiting their playerbase in a singleplayer non-live service modelled game.
That said, there is an in-game item shop that utilizes the free in-game currency players acquire from completing races and fulfilling other objectives or milestones. Players can here unlock cars and other items, although they will have to deal with the inevitable fear of missing out, as the item shop is timed and will refresh itself every day with a new random inventory selection. This system, of course, is explicitly unnecessary, and actively harms the game's fullest potential.
Given that Hot Wheels, as a brand, is all about escapism. Just simple childish fun, with you picking out your own car and letting it go for a spin around the tracks, it seems morally abhorrent to tell the player they can only use a handful of free pre-selected cars, or else hope that the car they really want is available within the timed item shop at that specific instance.
Performance and other nitpicks…
The game performed fairly steadily at both 1080p and 1440p, on both an intel i7-7770k Nvidia 2070 GTX powered desktop, and a intel i7-7790k Nvidia 3070 RTX powered laptop. There were no noticeable frame drops or other obvious failings, save for several specific instances of screen tearing on both rigs, mainly when executing turns.
That said, the aforementioned glitch appears to be an in-game camera issue rather than a GPU issue, given its consistency across both rigs and the timing of said identical issue.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a reasonably adequate racing game for beginners. Visually, it sets itself apart from many of its competitors. However, its floaty physics system, unappealing slow speeds, almost non-existent racetrack offerings, and awkward keyboard control scheme make it impossible to recommend in its current state.
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Decent visual aesthetic, large selection of cars
floaty physics system, appalling keyboard controls, timed in-game item shop