Need For Speed ​​Unbound Review – Comic Book Racing

The first thing that strikes you when starting Need for Speed ​​Unbound is its vibrant art style. At a time when most other racing games are striving for photorealism, EA’s latest sets itself apart from the rest of the grid by embracing a stylized mix between reality and comics. While its cars fall on the side of realism, the characters behind the wheel are shaded, and its open world falls somewhere between the two aesthetics. Vivid graffiti-style flourishes also appear when you activate nitrous or go flying off a ramp, and drifting sends up colored tire smoke that looks like it was drawn by hand, with all of these effects punctuating the action with a unique sense of style.

There’s no modern racing game quite like it, but the rest of Unbound feels like a follow-up to 2019’s Need for Speed ​​Heat. From the distinction between day and night races to the cat-and-mouse chase that occurs when you have to escape from the police and get to a safe house to deposit your money. Unbound doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but what’s here maintains the recent quality of the series, even if there are a few wrong turns along the way.

Playing now: 12 minutes of unlimited Need For Speed ​​gameplay

As is now customary in Need for Speed ​​games, Unbound features a rather forgettable story about getting revenge on an old friend who stole your ride. There’s not much point in delving into the details because it’s ultimately inconsequential. Cut scenes are peppered from time to time, but for the most part, the story is kind of there, happening in the background as you drive around town, so it’s at least unobtrusive. There is some funny incidental dialogue from time to time, including a mission where you ride with a “weeb racer” who spends the entire trip telling you about the history of the anime and how it’s definitely not a cartoon. Rapper A$AP Rocky also makes an appearance (why not?) and feels like he’s been given a microphone and free rein to say whatever comes to mind. It’s a moment that stands out in a game that’s chock full of ancillary dialogue. Other than this, the story is relatively easy to ignore, but it manages to drive the structure of the game forward.

Unbound takes place over the course of four in-game weeks. At the end of each week, there is a series of qualifying races that ultimately lead to a grand finale where your goal is to get revenge by winning everything. There’s one entry for each qualifier, so you’ll spend the days leading up to each one taking part in various races and events to earn enough money to enter and upgrade your car along the way. In addition to racking up loads of cash, each of these events also draws the attention of the local police. If the police arrest you before you get back to a safe house, you’ll lose all your winnings and have to move on the next day, adding tension to every run-in with the law.

Need for Speed ​​Heat adopted a similar structure, but whereas that game featured legal street racing throughout the day and illegal street racing at night, Unbound takes the illicit 24/7 route. This means there’s no respite from police attention, and any money you earn during daylight hours must be deposited in a safe house before you can transition to late-night racing. Your heat level carries over as well and only resets once the night is over, so it’s up to you how much police presence you want to build up during the day before the sun disappears over the horizon. Evening events tend to feature significantly higher payouts, but often require a particular level of heat or a hefty input if you want to participate. You can still win money by participating in smaller events, but the biggest risk of the bigger events comes with big cash prizes. You are forced to weigh your options when deciding what to do on a day-to-day basis.

These decisions have more impact during the early game when the cars you drive aren’t up to the task. Unbound is surprisingly challenging in its early hours, and I appreciate how hard it makes you work for victory. You’re racing against drivers who are simply faster than you, racing in upgraded cars that your starting junker can’t keep up with. You start out crashing with those at the back of the pack, but you can bet at the start of each race that you’ll finish higher than a certain driver, giving you the chance to earn some extra cash while you set yourself a goal. beat even if you’re not competing for first place. Eventually, as the money starts flowing in and you can afford more vehicle upgrades, you can see the gap close as you start to achieve better results and pick up wins. You are made to make your way, and the end result is a palpable and satisfying sense of progression.

Unbound’s driving model is also flexible enough to allow for a couple of different racing styles. Each car’s handling falls into one of three categories: drift, grip, and neutral (which falls in the middle of the other two). If you love to turn corners sideways, a car that emphasizes drifting will make your life easier. On the other hand, if you prefer to slow down and get to the apex of each corner, a car with good grip is advantageous. Whichever style you choose, it rewards you with a chunk of nitrous for successfully pulling off these cornering techniques, making both viable. No matter which car you choose, however, they are all afflicted with a severe case of understeer. This makes it feel like you’re trying to drive a bus around town, but I’ve found you can alleviate the problem a bit by going into each vehicle’s drive settings and moving the slider for steering sensitivity to “high.” It’s not an ideal solution, but it does make handling feel more responsive and precise.

Like other arcade racers of its kind, Unbound relies on accumulating NOS by performing different actions such as trailing behind other racers, driving into oncoming traffic, and flying. You have a standardized nitrous meter that can be consumed in one go for a long speed boost, but Unbound also features another type called Burst Nitros. As the name implies, this allows you to activate a short burst that is powered by your own charging system. Drifting, for example, will fill up this separate meter, allowing you to blast out of a corner with a quick surge of speed. It’s a fun new addition that gives you more opportunities to take advantage of nitrous while encouraging risky driving.

The only downside is that the AI ​​doesn’t always play fair. Other drivers tend to match your pace whenever you implement nitrous, whether or not they’re boosting themselves, which dilutes the pleasure that NOS activation should invoke. The leading AI car will also sometimes overtake and finish the race more than 30 seconds faster than the others. This happens seemingly randomly and feels like a reverse rubber band, giving you no chance to catch up.


Other frustrations revolve around the police, particularly early on. You have few resources when it comes to defending yourself, so police chases can go on for a long time when your car isn’t the fastest. This ratchets up the tension even more and the general feeling that you’re severely outmatched isn’t a negative, but it’s daunting when you finally evade capture only to get into another lengthy chase when a police car pulls up in front of you. Undercover cops also feel particularly cheap, since they don’t show up on your radar. Even later, when escaping becomes a lot easier, Unbound floods the streets with extra cops, making getting from one race to the next a tedious affair.

Some of these issues were present in Need for Speed ​​Heat as well, reinforcing the idea that Unbound is a lateral move rather than one that propels the series forward. It’s no worse and no better than its predecessor, making it another exciting arcade racing game that’s still held back by a few annoyances. It’s another positive after the low point that was Need for Speed ​​Payback, but Unbound is unlikely to emerge from the shadows of the genre’s most popular games.

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