Need for Speed Unbound review: Just shy of greatness
Need for Speed Unbound – out now on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X – stands out from the competition by adopting a unique style inspired by street art, while still delivering the high octane action that the NFS franchise is renowned for. We’ve got police chases with real danger, a racing AI that’s happy to take you out, and a high-risk rewards system that keeps the action from getting boring. There’s also a classic underdog story in our hands in its “Story” mode. All of these things come together to deliver an exhilarating arcade racing experience.
Set in the fictional town of Lakeshore, the NFS Unbound map is smaller, considering the scale of most open-world games today. It still serves as an effective backdrop for street racing with varied tracks and terrain. Petrol enthusiasts will be delighted to see an assortment of some of the most iconic rides from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Porsche and BMW. Overall, Need for Speed Unbound includes over 140 cars at launch. There are also specific body mods and plenty of customization options available for each vehicle. These are some of the most realistic car models in an NFS game to date.
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NFS Unbound review: gameplay
Rather than asking you to take the perfect racing line, Need for Speed Unbound rewards players for cornering in the flashiest way possible. Drifts, near misses, drawing, and high jumps add up to your two nitrous counters – one meant for a long blast and the other meant for short bursts. Even on the starting line, perfectly timed acceleration can give you an instant boost. However, tip slightly over the edge or lag a bit, and the engine will stall, leaving you stuck and allowing other racers to gain the advantage. It’s this high-risk, high-reward approach that has kept me fully engaged for most of my play.
While getting to grips with the arcade-style manipulation was child’s play, mastering it took a long time. (There were a lot of crashes, I admit.) NFS Unbound can be a bit unforgiving in this regard. The game does not include a rewind option which has become a staple of modern racing titles. Instead, depending on the race, you get a limited number of attempts in Story Mode. The only saving grace is that the cars reset almost instantly after a crash.
The Unbound racing AI doesn’t make it any easier either. Other racers will fight for every little space and cause frustrating collisions. On the other hand, it’s just as satisfying to watch them crash into oncoming traffic when they make mistakes – or when you force them to. Need for Speed Unbound also has police cars, which increase the tension by interfering with races and continuing the pursuit even after crossing the checkered flag.
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Returning to the garage after racking up wins on the road, you’ll be able to spend your money on plenty of performance parts and body modifications in NFS Unbound. You can choose from a list of 140 cars if you have enough money in the bank. There are also a plethora of options available when it comes to paints and wraps. I’m glad there is an option to copy community created designs. However, if you’re more artistic than me, you’ll spend hours creating the perfect look for your vehicle.
NFS Unbound review: Story and multiplayer
Need for Speed Unbound features a single-player campaign that very easily could have looked corny and unforgettable. The premise leans heavily on traditional action movie tropes – betrayal, friends becoming rivals, and dirty police. But it’s the authenticity of the characters that sustains this underdog story. Their warm banter made me appreciate him more than I thought. More importantly, it does a great job of setting up the world of Lakeshore. Without going into spoilers, our protagonist has four weeks to qualify for The Grand, Lakeshore’s ultimate street race. Every week, you take to the streets day and night to win races and earn enough money to compete in the weekend qualifiers.
Races are divided according to vehicle levels, which encourages players to make conscious decisions about upgrading their vehicles. You can’t pack high-level performance parts into all of your cars and upgrade them to the highest “S+” tier. If you don’t have the right vehicle, you might miss high-stakes races. You’ll also need to think about which vehicles to upgrade and which to keep as the best model in its class. This is a minor change from the standard, but adds surprising depth to NFS Unbound.
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While races earn you money, you earn heat from the police with each race. Challenges like Speed Trap and Drift Zones are the only way to avoid attracting the police while earning money. The police will become a growing presence as your heat increases. The real thrill of the hunt comes from the fact that if you get caught, you lose all the money you earned in that particular session. Considering that a significant amount is needed to compete in the big weekend races, these NFS Unbound encounters become even more nerve-wracking. The only way to reset your heating is to get picked up or returned to your garage without getting arrested.
Unfortunately, police vehicles are limited to story mode only. There are no chases in multiplayer, or worries about losing money. This instantly makes the online experience duller than Story Mode. There are no live events, instant one-on-ones, or any other interactive way to make Lakeshore feel alive. Without these features, the whole city feels like a glorified multiplayer hub. And with NFS games having been terrible in terms of post-launch content, I’m not holding my breath for meaningful additions to its online scene. Overall, NFS Unbound multiplayer feels like a huge disappointment compared to its well-executed single-player mode.
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Need for Speed Unbound review: Music and graphics
The graffiti-inspired theme and its artistic flair complement the realistic world and vehicles of NFS Unbound. Even the character models have a cartoon look. But none of that bogged down the PC game graphically – it all flowed seamlessly together. My trusty AMD Radeon RX 570 8GB was able to produce 55-60fps, on a mix of “Medium” and “High” settings. Although Need for Speed Unbound ran smoothly and suffered no major crashes, there are frequent visual glitches in the game that can be annoying.
Music has always been at the heart of NFS games, and it’s no different on Unbound. There are tons of tracks that complement high speed racing. Unfortunately, the music only kicks in during races, which is an odd choice. Why can’t I listen to music while just driving on the highway? On top of that, there are no radio stations – nor is there an option to skip tracks. I got stuck with terrible songs during intense runs that sullied the experience.
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NFS Unbound Review: Verdict
Overall though, there are a lot of things that work in Need for Speed Unbound. Its arcade handling is easy for beginners, but a real challenge to master. Vehicle body customization is miles ahead of Forza Horizon 5. Its unique visual style and character models help the game stand out, with most racing games leaning more and more towards realistic graphics . Add to that likable characters and a simple premise, which makes its story mode an enjoyable affair.
On the other hand, NFS Unbound fails to take advantage of its open-world environment in multiplayer. The lack of online policing hurts especially. The way the music works in the game is also infuriating. All of these shortcomings knock Unbound down a few pegs, in what is otherwise a solid entry in the NFS franchise. If you’re on PC, I suggest you upgrade to the EA Play Pro subscription, complete Story Mode (and skip its abysmal multiplayer), and unsubscribe.
- Unique visual style
- Exciting police chases
- Rewards high-risk driving
- Friendly underdog story
- Variety of vehicles, customization
- Common visual problems
- Bland multiplayer experience
- No music radio stations
- No police vehicles in online races
Score (out of 10): seven
Gadgets 360 played Need for Speed Unbound on a PC with an AMD Ryzen 5 5600X CPU, AMD Radeon RX570 GPU, and 16GB of RAM.
Need for Speed Unbound was released on December 2 on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X.
Pricing starts at Rs. 3,499 on PC via Steam, Epic Games Store, and EA Store; and Rs. 4,499 on Xbox Store and PlayStation Store._
Need for Speed Unbound is also included in the EA Play Pro subscription, which starts at Rs. 999 per month. Standard Rs. 315 per month EA Play membership gives players access to a 10-hour trial for the game on all platforms.