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Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels Expansion Is a Wild Ride

Hot Wheels and Forza Horizon team up to bring the iconic toys to life in Playground Games' wildly popular arcade racer for Xbox and PC.

Purple Hot Wheels Twin Mill race car on orange plastic track
This isn't Forza and Hot Wheels' first dance together. Horizon 3 also featured a Hot Wheels expansion.
Playground Games, Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Arcade racing just got hotter. A new Hot Wheels expansion to Playground Games Forza Horizon 5 is available today for players who own the core game. Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels puts players behind the wheel of unique race cars based on the popular series of die-cast toys. Players can ride through a massive fantasy amusement park built from the brand's iconic orange track segments in the first of what will be two expansions to the game.

Horizon Hot Wheels Park

The Hot Wheels DLC supposes that the organizers of the in-game Horizon music and motorsports festival have built three giant floating islands connected by a sprawling, full-scale orange plastic Hot Wheels track. All of this is floating in the clouds above Forza Horizon 5's version of Mexico. Look, the Horizon series has always been the wacky, arcade-y branch of the Forza racing sim family -- try not to think too hard about the impossible physics of it all.

The new Horizon Hot Wheels Park is huge, containing three biomes -- Giant's Canyon, Ice Cauldron and Forest Falls -- that surround the central Horizon Nexus. What doesn't come across in the released map is how vertical the space is: The way the 125 miles of track loops over and around itself can be dizzying and is fun to just blast around and explore. However, the serpentine nature of the map means that often getting to the next event or stunt can take much longer than predicted; reaching a race that's right next to you on the map could end up taking you halfway around an entire section. Fortunately, fast travel is free in the Hot Wheels Park, even if you haven't unlocked it in Forza Horizon's main campaign. 

The expansion introduces a variety of different track surfaces in addition to the classic Hot Wheels orange sections. There are magnetic segments that keep cars affixed to the surface during low-speed inversions or high speed direction changes. Races feature slippery ice sections, water flumes, rumble strips and speed boosting launchers and wind blasters. Occasional breaks in the Hot Wheels track segments' characteristic plastic walls allows players to mix things up and explore the snowy, arid and luscious floating islands.

10 new unlockable cars

The game introduces 10 new cars as part of this DLC pack, including four scaled-up Hot Wheels toys -- the Baja Bone Shaker, the Deora II, Bad to the Blade and, the first ever Hot Wheels die-cast vehicle, the COPO Camaro. Details like the giant metal flakes in the paint complete the "life-sized toy" look. On the Xbox Series X, they look fantastic -- more so when examined in detail with the Forzavista showcase mode's ray-traced graphics.

Trio of Hot Wheels toy-inspired DLC cars

10 new cars are introduced in the expansion, including the Deora II, Bad to the Blade and the Baja Bone Shaker. (left to right)

Playground Games

Players first enter Horizon Hot Wheels Park behind the wheel of the Bad to the Blade -- one of the fastest rides vehicles in the DLC pack -- being rocketed straight up into the clouds from a full-scale version of Hot Wheels' rubber-band car launcher. After zipping around the map, hitting speeds well over 300 mph and getting a feel for the Park. The player is then dropped into the Baja Boneshaker, a lifted B performance-class off-road truck with a chrome skull theme.

From here, the player's access to vehicles is locked to B-class and lower until they complete enough missions and tasks to rank up, unlocking faster and more capable A-class cars and, eventually, S1, S2 and X-tier rides. However, play is not limited to just the new Hot Wheels cars; any of the hundreds of class-appropriate vehicles unlocked in the main campaign are also accessible, from supercars to cult classics. (The game does, however, discourage picking C or D-class vehicles, as they will likely struggle to maintain speed on the steep inclines and loops of the Hot Wheels track.)

A History of Speed

The Hot Wheels campaign includes new Hot Wheels: A History of Speed story missions. Over five chapters, players learn about the history of the Hot Wheels brand, the culture behind it and the people who helped bring it to life; all while completing themed races and challenges. The new map also sees the return of seasonal stunts like speed zones, drift zones and danger zone jumps and the addition of new piñata balloons to find and destroy. Players who enjoy creating custom courses will also be pleased to find over 80 new track and stunt pieces to snap together in Horizon 5's Event Lab. 

Hot Wheels Deora II speeds towards victory

Horizon Hot Wheels Park is a sprawling map packed with over 125 miles of track, yet somehow it feels emptier than Horizon 4's Lego expansion.

Playground Games, Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Along with the new content, Hot Wheels also comes with new accessibility features. There's a new stunt steering assist setting and a new roll meter in the head-up display, similar to what you'd see on a fighter jet, that helps players orient themselves as the course twists and banks beneath them. The Hot Wheels map also features a slightly wider default field of view in the third-person camera modes and separate FOV sliders that let players customize the view angle separate from the core game. Normally, I prefer a first-person cockpit view when racing, but third-person really is the way to go for this expansion given the Hot Wheels cars' massive superchargers or velocity stacks blocking the view over the hood and the wildly curving course.

One thing I wish Playground Games would have added with this DLC is a new radio station or at least new songs to Horizon 5's six current virtual channels. The current playlist is already beginning to feel repetitive.

Available today for Xbox, PC and Cloud

The Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels expansion is undoubtedly fun. But despite the massive map, this somehow feels smaller and emptier than Forza Horizon 4's Lego expansion -- especially with the lack of AI traffic. The Lego DLC felt almost an entire game's worth of content with dozens of races, challenges and a whole new radio station -- a station that only plays Everything is Awesome on a loop, but still. Granted, all of my play took place during a prerelease evaluation period with no access to online play, so I'm hoping that once more players start to fill the map and seasonal events begin to cycle through each week, the Horizon Hot Wheels Park will start to feel less empty.

Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels is available for owners of the core game to download today for $20 in the Xbox and Steam digital storefronts or included as part of the Expansions Bundle included as part of the game's Premium Edition for Xbox consoles, Windows PC and Microsoft's Cloud Gaming Beta.