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[Preview] Hands-on with Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged

Posted on June 27, 2023 by in Previews, Switch

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 preview

2021’s Hot Wheels Unleashed was a huge surprise for fans of arcade racers and the die-cast toys alike; I had a great time with it when I reviewed it, even if I felt the game could have benefitted from tweaked vehicle handling and more variety overall. Now, two years later, developer Milestone is gearing up for the release of Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged on October 19, and I had an opportunity to check out an early build of the game at Summer Game Fest. While some of my critiques of the first game – like environmental variety – look like they may not be resolved at launch, I enjoyed some of the new mechanics and modes the team is adding this time around.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 leaves behind the maps of the original game in favor of five all-new ones; in my demo, I raced through a backyard-themed environment that also stretches inside a nearby suburban home, as well as through a desert-themed landscape that hosts a mini-golf course. Both environments were beautiful, and felt quite large while exploring, with plenty of verticality for aspiring track builders to weave their crazy track designs through. There are different terrain types to race on too, like grass and sand, that should affect how racing feels when off-the-track. I was hoping that there would be a few more environments included in the base game, as I felt that they got repetitive to race through relatively quickly in the first Hot Wheels Unleashed; at the very least, it would have been nice to have some of the last game’s environments return. But I’m hoping that the bigger and denser nature of the locations this time around will help make up for the loss. The environments I didn’t get to check out – an arcade, a retro gas station/diner, and a prehistoric museum – all have a lot of potential.

One aspect the developers have definitely improved upon this time around is vehicle selection and variety. Not only will there be more than 130 vehicles available at launch, but new classes to play with as well, including motorcycles and ATVs. I was told that some vehicles that were DLC in the first game – monster trucks, as an example – are being included out of the gate this time around, too. While the game will have paid DLC down the road, fortunately (just like last time) there will be zero microtransactions in the game – while some cars are still obtained through luck-based systems, all in-game currency can only be obtained via playing the game. The developers told me they’ve also spent some time tuning how the in-game store works to help address complaints from the first game – you can now refresh the shop’s selection of cars if you’re hoping to build up your collection more quickly.

It feels like a substantial amount of work has been directed towards making vehicle handling more responsive in Unleashed 2, which was one of my big grievances with the first game. This time around, I felt like I had much more precise control across multiple vehicle classes – the timing of drifts feels more forgiving overall, and I no longer felt like I had to boost my way through every turn. You get some fun new moves, too – the new ability to jump is a blast, opening up new ways to build shortcuts into tracks and perhaps even jump over other racers. You can also now use either bumper to perform a lateral dash that lets you ram into opponents from the side. Naturally, tracks have been built to accommodate these new abilities, for example, by removing guradrails on the side of tracks to let you push your opponents off more often.

Vehicles can also now be upgraded in new ways via a skill tree-style system to tweak how they perform. By using what the game calls Upgrade Kits, players will be able to unlock different levels of customization for parameters like handling and boost. While I’ve only had about 45 minutes with the game, making it challenging to really gauge the impact this will have on gameplay over time, it looks like it at least has the potential to let players tweak how cars feel on a more granular level.

There are several new modes in Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged, many playable in both offline and online sessions, that are geared towards score-chasers. Perhaps the most freeform of the new additions is Waypoint, which has players racing around the game’s open maps to try and find the fastest route to the various checkpoints scattered around the environment. I had fun with this mode, but am curious about how long its appeal will last, as there’s no randomness to where Waypoints are placed between runs. The other new modes I sampled – Elimination and Drift Master – won’t be groundbreaking to seasoned racers, but were fun additions.

To my surprise, the sequel is promised to have a full-on story mode this time around, and while I didn’t get to see of any it, it sounds like it might end up being quite different compared to the first game’s primary single-player mode, complete with cutscenes and an overarching villain. Now, the last Hot Wheels game I played with a story mode was Hot Wheels Velocity X way back on the GameCube, so I honestly have no idea the direction they’ll be taking it in, but I could be very much down for a Saturday-morning cartoon-style adventure, especially if they write in characters with names like “Max Justice” and “Nitro Byrne.”

The first Hot Wheels Unleashed ran quite well on Nintendo’s console, so while I didn’t get to preview this sequel on Switch during my preview, I’d be surprised if it was a significant downgrade. The developers told me they’ve completely revamped in-game lighting and optimized particle effects to help accommodate Turbocharged’s more open environments, so hopefully this will translate to increased performance.

Overall, I had a great time with Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged. While at this point it feels like an iterative sequel rather than a revolution, the racing itself feels tighter than ever before and the increased selection of game modes is promising. I’m looking forward to playing more when the game launches on Switch on October 19.

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