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

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As a video game developer, Milestone is known for its motorsport simulations. Demanding motorsport sims, like the MotoGP and Ride series for racing bikes, and the WRC license back in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 days.

It doesn’t mean to make an arcade racer like Hot wheels unleashed was a vacation, or a light 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 a way that adherence to the ultra-sim motorsport format simply couldn’t satisfy.

“We know that racing games are a niche, and simulation games are a niche in the niche,” Caletti told Polygon in an interview leading to Hot Wheels Unleashedlaunch at the end of September. “The auto racing games market is quite crowded; could I make a game at the level of, I don’t know, Gran Turismo? Technically speaking, yes. Should we face Gran Turismo? It doesn’t sound like a good idea.

At first, it was a surprise to learn that Milestone had come up with the idea for a Hot Wheels racing game to Mattel, instead of Mattel coming to studio or parent company Koch Media, which bought Milestone in 2019. Mattel’s classic cars have a long video game. story, but were last featured in their own console video game (as opposed to one expansion for another) in 2013.

But just because the chassis is die-cast metal, and the vehicles are largely gravity-powered, doesn’t mean Hot Wheels isn’t a natural fit for Milestone. Once Mattel’s pitch was lit green, Milestone brought its motorsport values ​​to its toy line, much like the studio would with the Monster Energy Supercross series, Caletti said.

“We figured out that the license was never really processed with triple-A quality,” he suggested, “so it was all about connecting the dots. We love simulations, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t like the arcade [racing]. “

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

Some arcade racers, Caletti felt, can break down into a “scripted” experience – that their racing action is little more than a third-person camera meandering across the track, almost on rails, with irrelevant or greatly reduced traction, course surface and braking as gameplay influences. Go-kart racers in particular don’t really integrate physics, which leads to a very seamless experience, and probably a reason why no Hot Wheels game in recent memory has stood out like unleashed.

“We developed the system of manipulation based on real physics,” Caletti said, although in its final form it is nowhere near as strict as physics and manipulation in Ride 4, sure. “So, [we were] bend physics so you can do drifts, loops, jumps, landings, without bouncing madly or not being able to complete the loop.

In my time with Hot Wheels Unleashed, I found out that you really, purposely have to try to stop in the middle of a loop to get out of it. But the fact that you can, and that you can get off the track completely and spend the rest of the event exploring the surrounding environment, speaks to Milestone’s goal of making him a legitimate racer, who doesn’t. is not locked to a track. or a few lanes inside.

This kind of quasi-realism also explains why Hot Wheels Unleashed does not have the traditional weapons of a kart racer to sabotage other competitors or give your own driver super powers. It uses a boost (and at higher difficulties you’ll be using it almost constantly), but that’s mainly because its application – at high speed only – can be easily expressed in an environment where physics has the final say. Additionally, players reload their boosts while drifting, which is another physics-based act that Milestone has managed to tie into a traditional arcade racing tool.

“The boost goes way beyond what goes faster,” Caletti said. “It can save your race. You drift, you put the car on its side, and you engage the booster, it compensates for the way the car tries to go [wide] of [corner exit]. “

1970s Hot Wheels racer with gold flake paint takes a long jump

A peeling green paint job is perfect for the fabulous 1970s Twin Mill.
Image: Milestone / Koch Media

None of this is to suggest that Caletti and his colleagues brought a wacky take on a toy game. Caletti said that many designers have their own Hot Wheels collections and that he has around 100 of them for himself. Her 11-year-old daughter has an equal number.

It helped when it came time to represent all the different materials and surfaces that make up a Hot Wheels car or track, with virtuoso authenticity. “We were wondering if we should make these cars so that they look like full-size cars, or miniature cars, or video games, cartoon cars? Caletti recalled. “And the point was, no one made them in the most obvious way – that is, like the ones you can buy in toy stores, right?”

Hot Wheels Unleashed launched with a fleet of around 60 vehicles, all based on real Hot Wheels toys and listed by series and year of release. Caletti’s 1985 Audi Sport Quattro (a die-cast toy, not the true rally racing legend) was part of the first batch of Milestone cars put together to launch Mattel, and it’s in the game over – 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 branding and other writing; again, this is exactly like the toy in real life.

And maybe this little detail explains why Milestone’s commitment to realism and authenticity, even for a series of toy racers, made the studio the only one that could offer something like unleashed. Sim-style physics and arcade-style cars and tracks give fans a racing experience they only really imagined by being behind the wheel of their Rodger Dodger, Rip Rod or Motosaurus, and taking this loop with the butterfly wide open.


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