Editor’s note: EA provided a copy of Need for Speed Unbound to India for this review. This review is for the PC version of the game.
The latest Need for Speed entry from EA is a bit different. It is a lot flashier, and not just because of the attractive cars. This time, the company has improved upon its formula to deliver a fresh experience on Need for Speed. And it both looks and plays good, for the most part.
Need for Speed: Unbound’s Calendar progression system
Now, I may not be a seasoned expert in racing games, but I have spent a countless amount of time playing Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition in the PS2 days. Need for Speed Unbound bears a strong resemblance to that game, although it lacks the same level of quirkiness.
However, Unbound still has a lot to offer that still makes it unique. The progression system is the highlight of this game. You begin your journey in a pretty decent car that lets you have a feel for the game. However, after the prologue is finished, you are given a lower quality car to start with. This provides a sense of progression as you will have to work to upgrade your vehicle and improve your skills. In contrast, in games like Forza Horizon, you get access to high-end supercars from the start, which removes the sense of progression and the thrill of starting from nothing and working towards something better. In Unbound, starting with a lower quality car allows players to experience the excitement of gradually improving and upgrading their vehicle, culminating in the feeling of becoming a skilled racer with a powerful car. And this is something I heavily felt after spending hours racing on the street of Lakeshore City.
Game mechanics that make NFS Unbound tick
Developers Criterion Games have clearly put a lot of thought into this system. Basically, the game is divided into weeks where the last day of the week is a qualifier, which is the only way to progress further into the story. Each day is divided into daytime and night, and one whole day counts as one session. Unlike other arcade racing games, Need for Speed Unbound made me carefully consider my actions and make strategic decisions, such as whether to risk my money on another race or save my restarts for a more important race. Oh yes, there are limited restarts per session. While this concept has been implemented in other games, it works particularly well in this title due to the additional systems in place. If retries were only allowed for individual races, players might be inclined to constantly restart races until they come in first place, as any unused retries would be wasted at the end of each race. However, Unbound forces players to make the most of their limited retries and to carefully consider when to use them.
The careful consideration part is my favorite part of the game, as I felt immersed while racing. These restrictions and punishing mechanics can be challenging, sure. But they also made me better at driving my cars in the game. The element of stakes and consequences is likely the only thing that wanted me to keep racing, as I wanted to see myself improve. As I donât have the option to retry infinitely, I have to accept my mistakes and strive for improvement, rather than simply restarting a race for the 50th time until I win.
Betting on your talent and the case of risk and reward
The game’s car rating system ensures that it is not necessary to win every race. I even enjoyed participating in races where I wasnât in first place. Opponents who are faster than you are expected to win, and betting against a rival gives you a specific goal to work towards. For example, a few races into the game, I knew that I was not going to finish in the top three in most races. But I still have the option to compete with a racer who is likely to come fourth and bet against them. I would still get some cash for competing in the race anyway, plus extra money from the bet if I beat them. This creates a sense of purpose to even the difficult races that youâre not likely to win and takes away the need to retry races until you come out on top.
The high stakes of races requiring a buy-in and the need to get to the garage to deposit winnings before the police arrive add to the excitement and tension of the game. Speaking of the police, Unbound has returned with a tiered system for your heat â it works like a wanted level. You accumulate more heat the more you race in a day. While itâs a good idea, the police are very unrealistic in the game. They only focus on the player, which can be frustrating if other racers ram you off the road. If you get a higher heat level, it could take an awfully long time to make it to the garage to bank in your earned cash, as it wonât open until you get the police off your tail.
NFS Unbound in-game world design and AI
Lakeshore City is a city for street racers, as the layout feels well-done for fast driving. Drifting is hard to master, as often I found my car over drifting and spinning around the corners. Crashing even once can significantly impact a player’s chances of winning a race, and the rubber banding AI can make it difficult for players to catch up to other racers once they pass you.
Art style, visuals, and music
Not everyone will find the art style appealing. The human characters have this cel-shaded look, and they can stand out a lot. I got used to it pretty quickly and found it unique, but some may find it immersion breaking. The soundtrack for Need for Speed Unbound is unexpectedly good and goes well with the underground street racing vibe of the game. The voice acting, particularly for the cop characters, is well done and adds to the overall experience. The dialogue is aimed at a younger audience containing a lot of modern slang but avoids feeling cringy. Overall, the game is a visual treat, but some racing game enthusiasts might not be impressed.
Need for Speed Unbound is a solid arcade racing game. With a campaign that progresses as you start with nothing and work your way up, and limited retries that add stakes to races, the game is more involved than your typical arcade racer. However, the grind in the early game can be frustrating, and the annoying cop chases can turn some players off. NFS fans will enjoy the game, and it is worth the price to try out the game through EA Play Pro, but I canât recommend blindly buying the game at full price to casual players. It is also worth noting that EA offered the game discounted just weeks after the launch. It is best to wait for the next discount on the platform of your choice.