Need for Speed Unbound Review
Need for Speed Unbound is the latest entry into the long-running series and the latest game Need for Speed title from Criterion Games, returning to taking the development lead after about ten years. It’s been a while since there’s been a “good” NFS game, depending on your definition of good, so fans have been itching for a return to form for the series.
Enter Need for Speed Unbound, which offers up a new visual style that mixes up a realistic overall look with some graffiti-style effects, giving the game vibrant pops of color during races. The game undoubtedly shows off its Need for Speed DNA, for better or worse, and has left the previous-gen consoles out in the dust with this release.
Is this finally the year that Need for Speed gets back on track?
Paint the Town
Arguably the biggest differentiating factor that Need for Speed Unbound has going for it is its visual style. While the overall look and feel of the game still focuses on its realistic-looking cars and tracks, you can see graffiti flourishes throughout the game that really give it that anime vibe. It’s not for everybody, and could be a determining factor for some players, but I loved how it really added personality to the game.
You’ll see some angel wings as you grab some air, plumes of smoke as you drift through turns, and even some logos and symbols as you pull off some slick maneuvers. It’s not as distracting as you think it would be, and while it can be toned down in the settings, the game frankly feels incomplete without it. I can understand how some players might not like the style, but it’s also something I didn’t think I’d like until I actually tried it out.
Need for Speed Unbound has pretty good handling, as expected from an arcade racer, and while it mostly depends on what car you are taking to the streets, grip or drift driving will feel good either way. At some point, drifting is even encouraged to take on sharper turns that throttling the gas won’t handle, and the game doesn’t overly complicate how it is done, which is great for casual drivers such as myself.
The game definitely benefits from leaving the previous-gen consoles behind, as Need for Speed Unbound keeps performance locked at a solid 60 frames per second from the starting lap to the final cop chase, all while looking slick and stylish. While there could be some drops here and there, it’s not noticeable enough for the naked eye to see.
The Story so far…
Racing games aren’t really known for their story, compared to other aspects, and Need for Speed Unbound doesn’t really change the formula. The game starts out with a pretty lengthy prologue, where you take control of an up-and-coming racer that’s been double-crossed by a trusted colleague, leaving them down and out for the count.
Turns out, to get back on top, you’ll need to take part in a series of weekly qualifiers leading up to the big race, and another shot at your supposed rival. It’s basically what you’d expect from a racing game story, minus the guns and drama, but it does serve the purpose to keep things moving. The game also implements some surprises here and there to shake things up.
Need for Speed Unbound runs through a day and night cycle, which will allow you to rack up some runs (and some much-needed $$$) towards your journey. Each race you take will bring up your heat meter, determining how much the cops will go after you after the race, whom you’ll eventually need to outrun. Of course, the day and night cycle serves to reset things, giving you a fresh start the next day, but you’ll want to wisely manage your heat levels as you go while chipping away at the qualifiers.
Players will take on a weekly calendar of sorts, as all of your hard work will lead to a qualifier at the end of the week to determine if you will be moving ever closer to taking on Lakeshore’s best. The progression mechanics and car customization options begin here, as you’ll need to upgrade your car to even hit the qualifier cutoff, so finishing off a daily run because the cops are on you like white on rice might not be the smartest move as you’ll have fewer days to rack up money into upgrading your ride.
There are a ton of customization options in Need for Speed Unbound, and apart from the usual body kits and parts that have corresponding points attributed to them, you can also tweak the sound of your car, with sliders changing the aggressiveness and other aspects of your engine and exhaust. You can even tweak the look of your driver with some stylish threads from famous brands like Palace and Balmain.
Overall, the gameplay loop of Need for Speed Unbound is quite engaging, and this cycle of thinking about when to go or not is something that I definitely appreciated because it wasn’t just simply getting me in and out of races with no consequences to think about. In fact, the game isn’t a walk in the park, and even the simple races may prove to be a challenge as the AI in the game is quite competitive.
Unfortunately, what Need for Speed Unbound does so well in its single-player mode, it fumbles quite heavily in its online multiplayer mode. While this obviously allows you to take on the best of the best around the world, there are indeed some questionable design decisions present.
First, and probably the biggest offender, is that your progress is kept separate, meaning you cannot keep using your hard-earned rides in multiplayer, leaving you to fend for yourself in the early going as you build up your garage. There also aren’t any cops in the online mode, leaving a big part of the excitement as you travel the streets of Lakeshore.
What we liked:
- Steady 60 fps performance
- Racing is solid and handling feels good
- Fun customization options
What we didn’t like:
- Online mode has some questionable design decisions
Verdict: Buy it!
Need for Speed Unbound is a great entry in the series that has been hard-pressed to find a successful formula for its past outings. While the visual mix of graffiti and realistic visuals may not be for everybody, it’s hard to discount the fact that the racing experience is quite solid.
Online multiplayer could use some work, but the game is being anchored right now by its fun and engaging single-player mode, so fans looking to take their rides online might be slightly disappointed at the proceedings.
Overall, Need for Speed Unbound feels like a great step in the right direction for the series, and we can only hope that the developers build on this fantastic effort, even more, the next time around.
*Need for Speed Unbound was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.