I hate to say it — and hate that it’s making me say it — but Need For Speed Unbound (Xbox Series X / S, PlayStation 5, PC) gave me some serious “so what” vibes. While it’s not terrible or anything, this open world, arcade-ish illegal street racing game is just kind of…basic.
Like previous games in this series,
Need For Speed Unbound‘s story mode, has you trying to make a name for yourself in some city’s local street racing scene. Which is why you engage in a series of illegal races, both multi-lap and point-to-point, as well as other automotive activities (speed traps), in hopes of improving your rep, and earning the cash needed to buy better cars, better parts for the cars you already own, and your way into better races.
At its core, Need For Speed Unbound is a perfectly serviceable open world street racing game. The controls are fluid and intuitive (assuming, like me, you prefer arcade-y racing games over realistic simulations); the tracks are curvy, and with the kind of jumps and silly shortcuts you always find in these kinds of games; while every car comes with a nitro tank as standard equipment.
More importantly, your competition in Need For Speed Unbound is, well, competitive. And that includes the local cops, who will try to arrest you unless you can manage to get away.
the above description probably has you thinking, “Okay, so Need For Speed Unbound sounds like every other Need For Speed game.” And that’s the problem. While it is a solid racing game, it’s also a rather basic one. It doesn’t really add anything of major consequence, or anything all that unique, and what little it does isn’t much at all.
For instance, you have access to unlockable safehouses located across the city, where you can upgrade and customize your rides. But they also serve as hideouts, and give you somewhere to chill until the heat dies down (don’t worry, it’s instantaneous). It’s also where you store whatever money you’ve won since the last time you took a pit stop. The thing is, you earn more money the more the cops are after you, but if they catch you, they take whatever cash you have on you.
It’s an interesting (if not uncommon) risk / reward mechanic…but one that’s undermined by how you can unlock a fair number of safehouses across the city. Which means that, after a while, you’re never very far from one, which seriously reduces your risk of financial ruin.
A similar problem befalls the missions you do to unlock said safehouses. In them, you have to drive someone to theirs, and do so without getting busted. But that’s not hard given that the on-screen mini-map shows you where the cops are at all times, making them easy to avoid. In fact, the only time I ever got into a police chase while driving someone to their safehouse was when I decided to see what happens for the sake of this review.
Then there’s the aesthetic changes…
they’ve made for Need For Speed Unbound. In the story mode’s cutscenes, the photorealistic approach is swapped for an animated one, while doing jumps, hitting the nitro, or slamming into someone when racing results in some graffiti-like animations that look like someone handed neon markers to a bunch hyperactive of tweens.
This, of course, changes nothing substantive about Need For Speed Unbound. It’s also not done well. While the animation style used in the cutscenes isn’t as bad as some games we won’t mention, they’re not especially detailed or unique. Which is not to say they should’ve hired the animators from Rick & Morty or Attack On Titan; that would’ve been jarring and incongruous. But as is, these scenes barely reach the level of sophistication you’d see in an insurance commercial.
Similarly, your competitors in Need For Speed Unbound are also generic. An arrogant guy with a German accent? Your BFF was an orphan? Someone makes a crack about “family,” and is serious and not making a Fast & Furious joke? It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and better.
Sadly, Need For Speed Unbound‘s middling animation and lack of innovation isn’t the end of its problems. For one thing, there’s no cockpit viewpoint. Which is especially odd given that there are 5 viewpoint options: bumper, hood, near, far, and action. Well, four; the latter aspires to make this look like a Fast & Furious sequel, but instead makes it look like, well, the underwhelming Need For Speed movie, so it’s not much of an option at all. And even then, it’s really more like 3, since the difference between “near” and “far” is only slight.
Even getting around the city is irritating.
You’d think by now we’d have evolved past having to constantly look at the map to see where we’re going; that we’d have a more helpful on-screen navigation system like, say, the kind they have in the Dead Space or Fable games. Which would be especially helpful in Need For Speed Unbound, given how the on- and off-ramps of Lakeshore City’s highways are rather elaborate.
Though perhaps the most irritating aspect of Need For Speed Unbound is not found in the story mode, but is instead its online mode. In it, you cruise around the same open city as you do in the story mode, except that instead of racing against the computer, you take on other online drivers. Which might work for some people, but as someone who just wants to do a multi-lap race against other people in similar kinds of cars, and do so without having to drive across town first, this was more trouble than it was worth.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, that aforementioned crosstown drive actually took twice as long as it should thanks to all the online pricks who are more interested in crashing into random people than racing. I don’t know how you jerk-proof a game like this, and this mode would’ve been irritating even if it was asshole-free, but their presence whenever I went online made this that much more insufferable.
In the end,
Need For Speed Unbound is fine. Well, the story mode is, anyway; online can take a long drive off a short pier. But when you go it alone, you’ll enjoy how the skilled competition and curvy courses give the fluid controls a good workout. It’s just too bad it doesn’t offer much that’s new, and what little new it does offer isn’t all that new or interesting or unique or anything that would make me say something, anything, other than “so what.”