Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is a shockingly ambitious sequel

Going into my Summer Game Fest Play Days appointment for Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 — Turbocharged, I had low expectations. Despite Digital Trends’ lukewarm review, I found this game’s 2021 predecessor to be a pleasant racing game surprise when it quietly came onto the scene. For a sequel, though, I was just expecting a minor refresh of the tracks and vehicles to be the extent of the upgrade, as can sometimes be the case with racing game sequels. While both of those things still happened here, after playing about a half-hour of Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 — Turbocharged, I found it to be a surprisingly ambitious evolution of core ideas introduced in the first game.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 - Turbocharged gameplay on Nintendo Switch.

Most importantly, the player’s moveset has expanded, as the boost meter can now be used to jump in the air and strafe to sideswipe other vehicles, and skills can adjust a car’s handling. Tracks now feel a lot more alive and ingrained into the world around them as you’ll be racing inside and outside, and a new Waypoints mode allows you to explore those hubs more freely. Add on even more features I couldn’t experience during my demo, like the story mode and some new multiplayer modes, and Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 — Turbocharged has become my most anticipated racing game of the year.

Boost, jump, strafe

Everything that made the original Hot Wheels Unleashed fun returns here. It still has a fantastic sense of scale as you race on Hot Wheels tracks through real-world locales; in fact, that’s only emboldened in these sequels as tracks now go outside and a vehicle’s handling can change depending on what type of terrain the player is on. This is still a very arcade-style racer that rewards drifting and boosting, but there are some remnants of more realistic physics, as you can crash into a wall or fly off the track if you aren’t careful.

The new boost powers and vehicle types emphasize that further. Strafing helps if you need to slightly adjust your positioning on a track, but if timed right, it can also bump enemies off the track in satisfying ways. Boost and jumps can also be utilized together to open up new shortcuts, although you may fly off in an unintended direction if you don’t time it or use it correctly. Handling also differs depending on what vehicles you are using and what skills you have equipped.

Two cars bump into each other in Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 Turbocharged

During my playtime with Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 — Turbocharged, I enjoyed using the new motorcycles. These reached exhilarating top speeds, although I had to be careful when I made turns because a mistimed boost or jump became tough to recover from. I was able to access the game’s skill tree and buy skills that adjusted the vehicle’s handling and boost, making the game easier. That skill tree system and earning currency to purchase new vehicles should be the main driving forces of the game’s progression. Unlike Lego 2K Drive, this game won’t feature microtransactions, making it safe for kids.

Milestone will let players experience all these gameplay enhancements in a wide variety of modes, including a story campaign. One of the new modes I got to try is Waypoint, which tasked me with driving around to preset waypoints across the environments tracks are set in. This gave me a greater appreciation for the environmental design and vehicle handling on different terrain. I’m sure other modes that I didn’t get to try, like Drift Master or Time Attack, will also do a great job highlighting other aspects of the game. Players will be able to keep the content fresh themselves too, thanks to a new sticker and livery editor and a returning track-builder mode.

Even if you’ve played a lot of the original Hot Wheels Unleashed, upgrading to this sequel seems like it will be worth it. The core identity of this racer is mostly the same as before, but the experience has been expanded in crucial ways that allow the game to one-up its predecessor. New vehicles, environments, and movement options go a long way to enhance what could’ve been an easy licensed cash grab of a sequel. Whether you’re a fan of the original or just wondering if you should buy this game for your kid because they like their Hot Wheels cars, this racing game looks like it will do both spectacularly.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 — Turbocharged launches for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch on October 19.

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