How Hot Wheels Unleashed recreates your childhood dreams

Thomas Harrison-Lord
How Hot Wheels Unleashed recreates your childhood dreams

When Hot Wheels Unleashed launches on 30th September 2021 it aims to provide a family-friendly recreation of diecast toy racing with a fresh twist of online multiplayer, livery creation and a track editor.

While games based upon the popular toys have been around for generations, dating back to 1984’s ‘Hot Wheels’ on the Commodore 64, Unleashed will be a fresh start, recreating miniature vehicles and brightly coloured tracks in more detail than ever before.

Aside from being a fresh adventure for Mattel’s signature model range, Milanese game developer Milestone is also breaking new ground, expanding its game portfolio alongside the likes of MotoGP, Ride, MXGP and Monster Energy Supercross.

Koenigsegg Jesko and Audi Sport quattro in Hot Wheels Unleashed

The importance of something new

I spoke to the game’s Lead Designer, Federico Cardini, recently to see how development has been going ahead of launch, and he was keen to stress the game’s importance.

“It’s beautiful and terrifying at the same time, I tell you, because on one end, there are a lot of passionate Hot Wheels fans at the office.

“Of course, Milestone does a lot of games, but this game was a little bit of fresh air for the studio. At the same time, we are representing the Hot Wheels brand. And you know, this is not shovelware that we are throwing out of the window. It’s a game where really, really, a lot of work has gone into it. And well, we feel the pressure.”

Hot Wheels Unleashed gameplay

Creating unique aesthetics

Despite the challenge of doing a world-renowned toy brand justice by creating a new game from the ground up, the team so far looks to have surpassed its targets.

During our hands-on preview, which was just single races, the Unreal Engine is firing on all cylinders. The environments are detailed, the tracks authentic to a real playset, but the real breath-taker is the lighting – making the vehicles not look just like small cars, but accurate diecast representations.

“I’d say that this was the most important thing from the beginning. We did not want to do anything else other than using the original design files from Mattel and recreate the vehicles in the game exactly one to one,” explained the Milestone veteran.

Hot Wheels Unleashed vehicle

Environmental headaches

Aside from the astounding vehicle attention to detail, the levels need to match up too. Here, Federico highlights the lengths the team has gone to make the surroundings part of a holistic experience.

“We needed to strike that look and not cheat on the scale. Probably from the [gameplay] videos you don’t [immediately] notice. [Hot Wheels] are 1/64th models and the game is actually also 1/64th. The environments are exactly as in real life. 64 times bigger.

“It was a headache, I won’t deny it. Because everything is that much bigger than usual. And you know, when if you’re using the Unreal Engine, which is a very powerful engine, well, there are some drawbacks too, like the shadow are now 64 times bigger.

“But, thanks to this, since everything is physics-based, and lighting of course uses real-time logics, they actually reflect correctly. And so, from day one, we went for this route. And we are very glad it paid off.”

The origins story

On the surface at least – we are yet to try the career, vehicle collection and upgrade systems, final AI and online multiplayer – Milestone looks to have pulled off its most slickly produced game to date. Even on a mid-to-low specification PC, the visuals have a distinct flair and provide a ‘next gen’ feel.

This has clearly not been the work of a moment, and as it turns out, the origins story dates back further than you might expect.

“It’s actually something that has been behind the scenes for some years.

“Milestone is always trying to improve our line-up of games and really show the world what we can do. We wanted to get into the arcade genre for a while and an opportunity came around with Mattel and Hot Wheels. I was working in the pre-production department at the time, so I had the pleasure of following Hot Wheels since the beginning, and then when you know our team was being formed, I was chosen as the Lead Designer.

“The beginning was 2018, if I remember correctly Then there was a little bit of a void because Mattel was actually busy at the time. Then they actually came back [to us]! And we were like ‘oh, this is unexpected but super cool’ And then we started. It was really unexpected, but a happy surprise for us.”

Livery Editor, 'The Basement' unveiled in Hot Wheels Unleashed Customization trailer

More coming soon

Now with just 10 days until it releases across PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, the culmination of three years’ work is about to be set loose. There’s a lot to this game, and it should appeal to all ages too should it reach our expectations.

We’ll have a lot more on Traxion.GG about Hot Wheels Unleashed as it nears release, including an in-depth review, but for now, you can hear more about the development, the post-release plan, livery editor and vehicle licencing on the latest episode of the Traxion.GG podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or below, YouTube.

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