It’s been a long time coming, but EA has finally cooked up a brand new racing title for us, and we’ve prepared our Need For Speed Unbound review after exhaustively playing through it.
In the past, studios such as Ghost Games took the helm in developing entries for titles such as NFS Heat which saw the series returning back to its roots with high-speed police chases and street racing.
However this time around, Criterion Games was the one in charge of development on this new title and most racing game fans will recognize them for creating the critically acclaimed Burnout series. And they’ve added a fresh new coat of paint to the series with Need for Speed Unbound. But does it surpass previous entries in this legendary franchise? Let’s find out in our review.
Story And Setting
The main setting this time around is Lakeshore City, which is a large metropolitan area that is based on the real-life city of Chicago. Right off the bat, we are introduced to the world of street racing that occupies the heart of the city, as numerous gangs and cliques trailblaze across the roads and districts. We are also introduced to the main character of the game, alongside their close friend, Jasmine, or ‘Yaz’ for short.
Our unnamed Protagonist and Jasmine borrow a car from their close friend and mechanic, Rydell, who helps us get on our feet during the starting hours of the game. So with a new-found car from a trusted companion, we soon arrive in Lakeshore city where both characters are eager to make a name for themselves and to reunite with Rydell once again at his new auto-mobile shop in the town.
However, things suddenly turn for the worse during the prologue for our hero as they and Rydell both get double-crossed by Jasmine during the pivotal moments of the game. So with nothing left to lose, the game kicks you into second gear to become the best of the best in the City, as you do whatever it takes to enter ‘The Grand’ and gain back the stolen cars for Rydell and most importantly, confront your former friend.
Overall, the story doesn’t have much substance, but it is intriguing to say the least, and far better than what we saw with the likes of NFS Payback. The characters have colorful and distinctive personalities, and each one you meet throughout the story has a different tall tale to tell you when it comes to their legacy within the city, whether it’s as a racer or an overseer on the street racing scene.
I personally enjoyed playing through the main campaign because it’s a fun little story with some heart behind it. It’s not the most refined narrative, but there are a handful of interesting moments. And if you’re really into rap music, you might even enjoy the handful of moments in the game where big-name musical celebrities show up as NPCs.
But at the same time, it all comes down to personal preference if you enjoy the storytelling style or not. Because the main star of the show in the NFS series has always been the high-octane gameplay, and that’s what we’re going to talk about now.
Need For Speed Unbound features a fantastic arcade racing system that will impress even the most hardcore fans who have been playing the series since the time of the original PlayStation console. The franchise as a whole is soon arriving at its 30th Anniversary in a couple of years, and the fact that Criterion has managed to elevate the gameplay to newer heights with Unbound is unfathomable to me, considering some of the lows we have seen in previous years.
When it comes down to it, the game is oozing with style and personality. It builds upon the foundation left behind by NFS Heat and builds on it spectacularly, adding new layers to it, fine-tuning the mechanics, and presenting its own twist on the formula.
The Glitz and Glamor of the presentation aside, players will be happy to know that this new entry to the series yet again delivers exhilarating racing gameplay, filled with brand-new ways to earn bank, customize your rides, as well as new and improved ways to adjust the racing mechanics to your personal preferences. Criterion has done an exceptional job of allowing more accessibility options for you as you can endlessly tweak the traction and steering of the car to better suit your playstyle.
Being a long-time fan of the series, playing the previous few titles in the series had constantly left me in disarray with how lackluster the games felt in comparison to their older entries. But with NFS Unbound, it goes to show that EA still cares about the series. It also manages to exceed the expectations of someone like me, who were worried that the franchise may slip into a dark pit once again.
On the surface, you might not be able to notice the differences straight away, but this game allows you to express your creativity more than ever, as you are able to customize your experience in more ways than ever before.
The most notable, and my personal favorite new additions, are the new Driving Effects the game now sports. There is an all-new cell-shaded visual design, where the cars can be outfitted with neon trail and smoke stream colors. It will not only make each player stand out from the rest, but also makes it all the more satisfying to build your dream ride as you slowly progress through the game.
Speaking of progression, the core of that experience remains mostly the same here, as you get to partake in different kinds of events in order to earn bank so that you can purchase new cars and parts for them around the shops. There is also the addition of new side missions, which not only give insight into the various characters of Lakeshore City but also help you earn extra cash on the side when you’re not constantly grinding out underground street races.
Of course, entering The Grand isn’t an easy feat for most racers in the city, as you will first have to earn placements in the qualifying races by generating the required amount of cash and rep rank. The latter of these is your main level in the game, which can be greatly increased by successfully winning races and other events and generating heat from them. But be warned as winning races and banking heat will slowly put you in a direct confrontation with the local authorities.
The Police Chases make an exciting return with NFS Unbound, maintaining the same level of ruthlessness as seen in the previous entry but with a brand new set of mechanics to help you evade them. Getting immobilized by them will greatly decrease your progression, but thankfully with new strategies to exploit them during races in order to lose sight of them, they hardly ever become a problem for experienced players.
There is an enormous roster of cars available for you to buy, as you can find almost every single legendary manufacturer here including Jaguar, Nissan, BMW, and many more, with each car supporting a different tier. The tuning options laid out for you will help you drastically alter their performance in order to make them applicable for each of the main events and meets in the game. The new Takeover events will surprise players the most as you will be required to drive with style and grace to keep the combo going and finish as a perfectionist.
Overall, if you loved playing the series as a kid, then chances are that you are going to enjoy this entry. It safely, yet brilliantly, incorporates an enigmatic racing style to the formula to make it stand out from previous entries in the series.
Visuals And Performance
NFS Unbound supports an entirely new look this time around as the character models are now vibrantly cartoonish with a cell-shaded finish to make them stand out more. The details on the cars themselves remain the most realistic aspect of the visuals.
And while the new flair may require somewhat getting used to, there is no denying that an imaginative overhaul to the visuals is a welcome surprise. The new art direction heavily emphasizes this neon graffiti visual in your rides too, and you can add tags to the cars to give them a nuanced look during races. Not everyone will agree though, and there are options in-game to turn off some of these effects while racing.
Lastly, going over the performance, I am pleased to acknowledge that Need For Speed Unbound ran like a dream on my machine as the game supports both AMD FSR 1.0 as well as Nvidia’s custom-tailored DLSS upscaling technology. We tested the game out on an RTX 3060Ti with DLSS set to ‘Quality’ and there was hardly any point where I experienced a major frame dip, whether it was during races or the chaotic police chases.
The Graphical settings were tuned between High To Ultra, but even if you are running older GPUs such as the GTX 1060ti or even an AMD RX 580, then worry not, as the AMD FSR upscaling will greatly improve your performance without sacrificing the image quality too much. Another highlight worth mentioning is that loading times were significantly less than I imagined, allowing you to hop in and out of the game as well load up the race events in less than a minute on an SSD drive.
Whether it’s drifting through the tight streets in your Porsche or battling through a wave of racers in a high-stakes race battle with your Nissan GTR, Need For Speed Unbound hardly misses any opportunity to impress you. The storytelling can be considered somewhat of a cliche, but thankfully there is not a single moment where it became annoying.
The brand-new animated art style is certainly pleasing to look at, and it beautifully expresses itself during racing too with its eye-popping graffiti effects, which can all be adjusted to your liking if you don’t prefer them. However, as one might assume, the entire experience isn’t flawless as there is still room for EA to improve on most fronts.
But it is safe to conclude for now that Need For Speed is back and better than ever.
This has been our Need for Speed Unbound Review. While you’re here, consider checking out some of our other articles.
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Need for Speed Unbound Review
- Story And Setting
- Visuals And Performance
Whether it’s drifting through the tight streets in your Porsche or battling through a wave of racers in a high-stakes race battle with your Nissan GTR, Need For Speed Unbound hardly misses any opportunity to impress you.
- Reimagined Gameplay
- Customization Options
- Driving Feels Better Than Ever
- Flashy Art Direction
- Unimaginative Storytelling
- Recycled Gameplay Features
- Potentially Distracting Effects