It’s been this way for a while now, but playing Hot Wheels Infinite Loop really highlights a big issue with free-to-play mobile racing games: They suck. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying going for realism, cart racing, or arcade nonsense, they’re all bad, and mostly in the same way.
What is the underlying secret behind all of this suckage? Well, no matter whether you’re wrecking other drivers in Asphalt 8, boosting down the strip in CSR Racing 2, or drifting around the iconic orange Hot Wheels tracks in Infinite Loop, you’re still playing a free-to-play game that has decided to prioritize gambling psychology over actual gameplay.
This is true of almost every free-to-play sect of any genre, but it affects racing games more than almost any other. What you actually do in free-to-play racing games is so vastly different than their premium counterparts that they feel like entirely different games. CSR Racing 2 is the easiest example here, as it doesn’t even pretend to give you control of your car. You just shift gears and if you have a car with high enough stats, you win.
In designing games this way, the real race in f2p racers is about who can go through the progression system more quickly, and—of course—all of these games let you get ahead by spending money. Again, this isn’t new, but for racing games, this model poisons the core design. Racing games are supposed to test the skills of players based on their actual ability at maneuvering a course, but in free-to-play racers, you don’t necessarily need that. You just need a fat wallet, a lot of time, or both to pull ahead of everyone else.
As compared to CSR Racing 2, games like Hot Wheels Infinite Loop obscure this somewhat by actually letting you steer your car, but that hardly makes them better. The way the steering works makes it almost feel like an afterthought (there's a button that automatically lets you drift perfectly around corners), and the game still ultimately boils down to who has collected better cars. No amount of added control or visual flair can fix a game with this kind of rotten core.
Things don’t have to be like this, though. There are good premium racers out there. One of them is even free at the moment. Another one just got updated with live events. They’re both fantastic. Go play those, and maybe then we’ll see a better crop of racing games pop up on mobile in the future.