Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a world of death-defying, die cast-inspired racing on life-sized toy tracks. A freeway-scale jumble of giant orange raceways, jumps, and loops across which you spill the contents of a dozen of the world’s greatest car museums. Actually you’ve definitely heard it before, because Playground Games did the same thing not all that long ago, in 2017’s much-loved Forza Horizon 3: Hot Wheels expansion. Sadly, that’s been delisted for some time now, so we’re all fortunate that Playground is putting the pedal to the Mattel all over again for its first expansion for Forza Horizon 5. Granted, driving supersized toy cars isn’t as surprising and novel as it was the first time around, but with the power of Forza Horizon 5 behind it and a progression system that pushes you to play with every toy in the box, it’s better than ever.
While Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels is similar to Forza Horizon 3’s version on the surface, there are a few key differences that quickly become apparent. The big one is that progression is gated in a new way, first restricting us to cars from B-class or below. The higher classes aren’t unlocked until you progress through each phase of competition in the Hot Wheels Academy. This does stop us from taking out our fastest cars immediately but it’s a system I like because of how it encourages me to think more about the cars I have in the lower performance class and reengage with them, dusting off old favorites. So even though there doesn’t seem to be quite the same amount of things to do as there are in Forza Horizon 4’s LEGO expansion, rather than having people immediately gravitate to the fastest handful of cars in the enormous vehicle roster, Horizon 5 Hot Wheels accomplishes the opposite. The expansion gives us the hulking new Hot Wheels-inspired Baja Bone Shaker straight off the bat, but we’re not restricted to it; any B-class car from your own garage will be sufficient initially.
The nine other cars this expansion adds are a real grab bag of models, though there are only three more overtly Hot Wheels-themed ones: the angular and aggressive Bad to the Blade, the fan-favourite Deora II, and a Hot Wheels-branded COPO Camaro. The remainder are pretty random and, while I am a true fan of the Brabham BT62, there admittedly doesn’t appear to be any tangible Hot Wheels synergy with them. It does feel a bit like six cars that were simply going to be ready come the arrival of the pack rather than six cars that feel like they’re necessarily designed to be here.
Orange you glad?
The real star of the show here is the mega map itself, which is both larger than the Forza Horizon 3 version, and also higher; it’s a floating quartet of themed islands miles above Mexico, meaning the vista is a spectacular blanket of fluffy, white clouds. Combining that brilliant backdrop with the fabulous level of detail in the scuffed and translucent orange tracks arcing and weaving through the map makes for an unsurprisingly gorgeous-looking racing game. It’s certainly capable of some genuinely stunning moments, particularly careening into the active volcano for the first time and racing across a bubbling, lava-filled lake.
Hot Wheels for Horizon 5 also adds several track types that weren’t present in the Horizon 3 version, including ice tracks, magnet tracks, wild water flumes, and long straights slung out under enormous fans that will help propel your cars to speeds I’ve never hit in a Forza game before. The added track types inject some pleasing variety, and the magnet tracks in particular seem well-positioned to create some incredible, stomach-churning drops without cars losing contact with the road and crashing at the base.
Playground has also chucked in a decent pile of new Hot Wheels track pieces into its Event Lab creation tools, meaning we can actually build fresh stretches of legitimate Hot Wheels track from one of several deliberately unfinished stubs on the map. The pieces snap together automatically when near enough to each other in an intuitive fashion, but I’ve found there’s a fair bit of trial and error involved in selecting the right pieces, which are twisted and bent in subtly different ways. It’s finicky, but I think there’s a lot of potential here (particularly for patient and talented creators who’ve previously built very imaginative stunt tracks in Forza Horizon 5 itself with more limited construction pieces) although it definitely doesn’t boast the same granular level of control to stretch, shrink, and warp track as the frankly incredible track builder in Hot Wheels Unleashed does.
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