Need for Speed Unbound is the latest in the NFS franchise and is available on PS5, Xbox Series X/S as well as PC. Developed by Criterion Software, famed for their Burnout games, and published by EA, will Unbound be a winner or one to drive by?
NFS Unbound – The World is your Canvas
With a bit of a twist when it comes to graphics, I know that many have been a bit wary of how this iteration of NFS looks. The ultimate question is a simple one; Does it work and play well?
While Criterion has made some of my all-time favourite arcade racing games such as Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Burnout Paradise (A title I have somehow managed to buy since its launch in 2008 on almost every platform along the way!) NFS Unbound has seemingly ventured into a very vibrant and graffiti-culture-inspired world. With photo-realistic cars and breathtaking locations mixed with cartoon drivers and accentuated high-energy cartoon car animations, it is almost as if Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz has taken over production.
NFS Unbound features an offline single-player campaign as well as a separate online multiplayer mode. Online features up to 16 players per server with 8-player race playlists and the ability to party up as a 4-player group.
In the single-player story mode, you take charge of a young driver who wants to rise up to be the best street racer while taking part in qualifier races to ultimately win a race called “The Grand.” There is another motive to winning this event in that you want to get back a custom car that was stolen from you. It is a story that has been told many times however there is a lot of fun to be had on how you get there.
Driving around the streets of Lakeshore (loosely based on Chicago, Illinois), it is an open-world environment where you compete in a number of events against other AI drivers as well as try and evade the Lakeshore Police Department.
Cash is king, therefore taking part in as many events as possible earns you that dollar. With the ability to place side bets on rival racers, you can maximise the prize pot allowing you to enter paid events or spend on upgrading your whip.
Customisation is a big focus of NFS Unbound, after all, you want your ride to represent you in the best possible way! From altering body styles, increasing boost, changing rims, and adding decals, to deploying that all-time much-loved NFS neon under-glow, you’ll find it. If painting and stickering your car seems too much like hard work, then you can always search to see what other players have globally created and then download the ones you like for your own amusement!
When it comes to the actual driving of the cars there is a slight learning curve in regard to drifting. Now Criterion has given you a few options when it comes to how you like to engage the drift. From tapping the brake, or accelerator to applying the handbrake, you can find the one that feels natural to you. I found the controls fairly sensitive when steering and usually found myself oversteering and not trusting myself when getting into the drift. Needless to say, I was met by a few barriers and also a drop off a hillside as a result.
Using the DualSense controller, the cars I drove had some amazing feedback through the haptics. With road surface changes, grip on the road and collisions, everything could be felt. If the car steering does feel a bit overzealous then you can alter the car handling as well as the dead stick zone should it affect your playing style.
On the car list, there are 143 licensed vehicles at the time of writing. From Acura to Volvo there is something for everyone including Japanese sports car fans, American muscle maniacs, British Iconic supercar lovers, and Italian stallions. The Ferrari F40 is my all-time fave! Can you find something to suit your driving style?
Graphics & Audio
When I first saw the trailer for NFS Unbound I was really not sure how the street graffiti feel would work when racing. Would it take the immersion away from the game by having a Who Framed Roger Rabbit twist? Well, the answer is quite simply, no. What NFS Unbound does is revitalise the NFS franchise by giving it a very dynamic and artistic way for the player to self-express themselves however they see fit. From the cars to the clothing you wear, everything is down to choice and style. The tagging of the city allows you to claim spots and leave your mark for others. It looks a lot different but it works!
On both PS5 and Xbox Series X, NFS Unbound uses the Frostbite engine to output a dynamic 4K resolution at 60FPS. The result is some very jaw-dropping, smooth visuals.
While the engine and tyre noises of your vehicle hauling ass down the street sound powerful and also customisable, it is the banging hip-hop soundtrack that binds the graphics and gameplay together.
With the spotlight on American rapper A$AP Rocky, there are 72 licensed songs in NFS Unbound. Featuring a number of artists that I have never heard of before other than Charli XCX, you can be drifting to poutyface, deploying your boost to Lil Eazzyy and losing the law while Playboi Carti blares out. Either way, rest assured for some naughty words to be poppin from the music as you explore Lakeshore!
NFS Unbound, in my opinion, can be quite tricky to get the hang of the vehicle handling, therefore you will take a while replaying single-player events in the story early on. You are looking at around 20 hours of gameplay to complete the main story while there are several more hours if you wish to complete all the side missions and extras.
Online is a different kitty. While there is a long grind and no transfer of collected cars from the offline story, what keeps it fresh is the variations in players and their vehicles that you come across. No two races are quite the same as a result.
NFS Unbound feels fresh thanks to the urban hip-hop blend of graphical style and soundtrack. If you enjoy your driving games then it is one to pick up and have a play with. Customisation options are off the scale which gives you the ability to feel unique as you drive around. While the driving of the actual vehicles takes a bit of getting used to, the overall gameplay is fun once you master the art of drifting around corners and dodging oncoming traffic. As an added bonus, there is definitely a feel of Burnout going on with smashing billboards, driveaways and building boost by driving dangerously. All in all, a good gaming experience!
NFS Unbound gets a nitro-boosting Thumb Culture Gold Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.