Since its inception nearly three decades ago, Need for Speed’s finest contributions have combined style and substance to produce gripping tributes to the street racing scene. Need for Speed Unbound feels like the ultimate realization of that philosophy, creating one of the franchise’s best in years.
Stepping into the driver’s seat of the almost 150 cars in Need for Speed Unbound feels great. Hurtling down a straight in a McLaren gives a remarkable sense of speed, but cornering drift in a Mitsubishi feels just as good. Actions like drifting and slipstreaming fill your boost meter, creating a satisfying rhythm in moment-to-moment races as you flow from one move to the next.
Different visual effects permeate almost every moment of Need for Speed Unbound, making it one of the most stylish racing games I’ve ever played. Although the city and vehicles retain their photorealistic looks from previous games, the characters are cel-shaded cartoons. These two opposing styles sound like they’re meant to clash, but they work together to create a refreshing fusion. Unbound further borrows from the stylization by adding street art-inspired flourishes to the car as you drift, accelerate, and jump off ramps. I appreciated the neon colored smoke in a tight corner, but the tag that pops up when your boost is full sometimes blocked my vision at critical points in the race.
As you venture onto the open streets of the fictional town of Lakeshore, you have a variety of events to choose from. You can take part in linear races, turn-based tracks, head-to-head competitions, and drifting events – not to mention the various collectibles and challenges scattered throughout the city. All of these present exciting challenges, but my favorite event is Takeover, which puts you on a tight course and rewards you for drifting, boosting, hitting ramps, and smashing targets.
Need for Speed Unbound’s single-player story centers around a betrayal and subsequent rise of the city’s underground racing scene. While the overarching story is easy to ignore, the constant chatter between characters emphasizes their offending personalities. Rivals repeat hackneyed lines throughout each race, while open-world exploration is often punctuated by phone calls from your pesky manager or radio segments featuring clumsy politician caricatures. After my first few hours I turned off the dialog in the menu. I did enjoy hearing from Rydell, the owner of the garage and father figure of your created character, though, as his conversations deliver some seriously serious moments despite this game’s brash style.
Cop chases have long been a crucial part of the Need for Speed formula, and Unbound implements them effectively. Each event and chase you participate in increases your Heat level for that day, with higher Heat available for more relentless cops with better vehicles. I often left the base model police cruisers in the dust on heat level one, but as the ranks of heat rose and the cops erupted more powerful vehicles, tension crept through my body as I gripped my controller tighter.
Making it back to a shelter in hot weather can be daunting. I often detoured my path to avoid a long chase. Although I usually escaped, the danger of knowing that all the money I made in that session would be lost if I was apprehended leads to adrenaline-pumping affairs. While the few times I’ve been caught have left me wanting to run away in frustration, the exhilaration of a high-stakes escape is hard to match.
Unfortunately, cop pursuits are absent from the game’s online suite. That wouldn’t be such a disappointment if I could reliably find full events. However, since the online site only puts you in a Lakeshore instance with 15 other players who seem more interested in exploring the town than racing, the online races themselves are often thinly-staffed. Once you’re in a race, the servers are stable and crossplay works well, but I was disappointed that my garage progression didn’t carry over into the story, leaving me ill-prepared for my early races. Luckily, the generous reward system made me catch up quickly, but I missed the upgraded vehicles I’d grown accustomed to from the story.
Need for Speed Unbound feels like a basic entry point for where the series could go from here. Competing in the title’s many events is a blast, and I love the juxtaposition of the visual aesthetic. While some elements left something to be desired, Unbound is as fun as I’ve had with a Need for Speed title in years.
Download at: https://www.gameinformer.com/review/need-for-speed-unbound/turning-a-tight-corner