I never had Hot Wheels growing up – we were all in on Darda in my family – but the orange track and the sensationalised style of the American toys has always been iconic. Having already collaborated on one bombastic DLC expansion for Forza Horizon 3, the Hot Wheels have been scaled up to regular size once again for Forza Horizon 5.
Whisking you up to a floating Hot Wheels Park in the clouds high above Mexico, Forza Horizon 5 Hot Wheels immediately delivers the kind of epic spectacle that we’ve come to expect from the series. This new play area is made up of three distinct islands, each with their own microclimate that take you from arid canyons to lush otherworldly forests, and snowy mountains. That’s not really why you’re here, though, because they’re all joined up by a tangle of orange Hot Wheels track that feels about as chaotic as a serving of spaghetti bolognese.
As is customary for the series, you’re thrown right into the action with some stylised Hot Wheels cars, whipping you through some of the highlights of this setting and the eye-popping vistas it contains. That introduction behind you, you’re inducted into the Hot Wheels Academy and set on the trail of unlocking and beating new events and ranking up.
The Hot Wheels Academy gives a much more direct and dictated progression system than the freeform splurge of events and things to do that the main game gives you. You start off in the Rookie Rank with B Class cars to drive, given a strict set of races, stunts and other specific challenges to complete. There’s both Major and Minor missions, all earning you Hot Wheels Medals that gradually unlock further speed classes from Pro’s A Class up through S1 and S2 to Legend’s X Class. It’s a very different feel to the main game, and almost too prescribed given how stark a contrast it provides.
This gives you plenty of time to gradually unlock the new vehicles in the DLC and spend time with them, though. Naturally the up-sized Hot Wheels vehicles take centre stage, with the Hot Wheels Baja Bone Shaker your starter car, followed by the bizarre looking, but surprisingly fun to drive surf-board truck of the Hot Wheels Deora II. It builds up to the Hot Wheels Bad to the Blade, which looks somewhere between a Formula 1 car and an anti-grav WipEout racer. There’s real world cars as well, including the Schuppan 962CR, which looks as slick futuristic now as it did in the early 90s, the Brabham BT62, and more. Unlocking many of these requires you to complete specific objectives and then manually trigger the unlock through the menus.
In crafting this new Hot Wheels playground, Playground Games has cooked up some unique new ideas for the tracks you’ll drive around on. While you already have a lot of adhesion to the track at high speed, the magnetic track sections allows them to really stick you to the surface through some crazier twists and turns. There’s also ice track that will rob you of grip, and Water Flumes will have you lightly aquaplaning as you try to race. They’re all used sparingly, interspersed with more regular stretches of track to simply spice up the action in short, sharp doses. For the Speed Races, you’ll be sticking to the track, but Hazard Races will take you off-road onto the surfaces of the three different biomes, adding a smidgeon more variety.
One thing that you’ll immediately notice while racing is the new UI reticule in the middle of the screen. It serves two purposes, firstly giving a fixed point on screen that can help those who might suffer from motion sickness, but it also gives a roll indicator. There’s new skill rewards in Hot Wheels that are triggered by your speed and the intensity of your car’s tilt as you go through wildly banked and twisting sections.
There are some things I miss from the last time Forza ventured out onto the orange track, though. The Hot Wheels DLC for Forza Horizon 3 feels much more grounded in the Australian setting, coming down to touch the ground more often and having more crossing routes akin to a road network, there’s also more technical flourishes with little split paths, and visual touches like having side lights and cars eyes on the track for when night falls.
This new Hot Wheels map is big and broad, it arcs through the three biomes and out into the open skies surrounding this wild floating island, regularly showcasing the incredible vistas, and yet I often feel hemmed In. The barriers are pretty much always present, the track is always wide, the route to your destination is always forced to take the scenic route. Over the past few games, Forza Horizon has leant more and more toward giving instant gratification to players, but it feels like a telling sign for the Hot Wheels expansion that they remove the charge for fast travel for this expansion, accepting that the track might be pretty, but it’s a bit of a faff having to go so far out of your way to reach a destination.
One great new addition is the ability to dive into EventLabs and create your own custom track layouts using Hot Wheels track. You can do this using specific EventLabs starting points, with an open-ended section of track leading to free air that you can then build in. Track and stunt pieces can all be happily snapped together, automatically joining to give a generally smooth transition between pieces. You can also use this within the open world of the main game for your creations.
I think my main issue is that, even though it snaps together, it’s a bit too clunky to be universally accessible. You need to join up the connection points within 3D space, and that can be fussy if you clone a piece and that point is then off-screen. It also feels nigh on impossible to go from a noted starting point to another open-ended track divider, without luck, trial and error, or resorting to taking your creation down to the island surface. If there was some kind of rubbery flex to the pieces, perhaps an auto-complete, or a way to simply “drive” and create orange track without set pieces, similar to the old ModNation Racers game on PS3, I feel that would be a huge improvement. Even so, I’m looking forward to dipping into what people in the community can cook up with these new objects.