When Need for Speed ​​Unbound launched, the first thing that caught your eye was its vibrant art style. At a time when most other racing games strive for photorealism, EA’s latest game stands out from the rest by employing a stylized mix of reality and comics. While its cars fall on the side of realism, the characters behind the wheel are cel-shaded, and its open world falls somewhere in between those two aesthetics. Vivid graffiti styles also appear when you activate Nitrous or fly off ramps, and drifts emit colored tire smoke that looks hand-painted, all of which punctuate the action with a unique style.

No modern racing game looks like it, but the rest of Unbound feels like a sequel to 2019’s Need for Speed ​​Heat. From the difference between day and night racing to the cat and mouse chase that takes place you need to escape the police and get to the safe house to transfer your money. Unbound isn’t about reinventing the wheel, but what’s here maintains the series’ current quality, even with a few twists and turns along the way.

Bland Story but with some entertaining dialogs

As is now customary in Need for Speed ​​games, Unbound features a rather forgettable story about getting revenge on an old friend who stole your ride. There’s not much point in delving into the details because it’s ultimately inconsequential. Cutscenes pop up from time to time, but for the most part, the story is pretty much there, happening in the background as you drive through town, so it’s at least understated. There is some funny incidental dialogue from time to time, including a mission where you ride with a “weeb racer” who spends the entire trip telling you about the history of the anime and how it’s definitely not a cartoon. Rapper A$AP Rocky also makes an appearance and feels like he’s been given a microphone and free rein to say whatever comes to mind. It’s a moment that stands out in a game that’s chock full of ancillary dialogue. Other than this, the story is relatively easy to ignore, but it manages to drive the structure of the game forward.

Classic underground racing gameplay – cat and mouse chase

Unbound takes place over the course of four in-game weeks. At the end of each week, there is a series of qualifying races that ultimately lead to a grand finale where your goal is to get revenge by winning everything. There’s one entry for each qualifier, so you’ll spend the days leading up to each one taking part in various races and events to earn enough money to enter and upgrade your car along the way. In addition to racking up loads of cash, each of these events also draws the attention of the local police. If the police arrest you before you get back to a safe house, you’ll lose all your winnings and have to move on the next day, adding tension to every run-in with the law.

Need for Speed ​​Heat adopted a similar structure, but whereas that game featured legal street racing throughout the day and illegal street racing at night, Unbound takes the illicit 24/7 route. This means there’s no respite from police attention, and any money you earn during daylight hours must be deposited in a safe house before you can transition to late-night racing. Your heat level carries over as well and only resets once the night is over, so it’s up to you how much police presence you want to build up during the day before the sun disappears over the horizon. Evening events tend to feature significantly higher payouts, but often require a particular level of heat or a hefty input if you want to participate. You can still win money by participating in smaller events, but the biggest risk of the bigger events comes with big cash prizes. You are forced to weigh your options when deciding what to do on a day-to-day basis.

These decisions have more of an impact during the early game when the car you’re driving isn’t going fast enough. Unbound is surprisingly challenging for the first few hours. Evaluate how hard you have to work to achieve victory. Face off against drivers who are faster than you, and drive a car so powered up that the original Junker can’t match it. You’ll start by bumping into someone at the back of the field, but you can bet on finishing above a specific driver at the start of each race, giving you the chance to win some extra cash while going into the set. You don’t have to compete for first place to reach your goals. Eventually, as the money starts pouring in and you can afford more vehicle upgrades, you’ll see the gap shrink as you start placing higher and winning more. They are designed to work your way, and the end result is a tangible and satisfying sense of progress.

Driving experience – lot of racing styles

Unbound’s driving model is also flexible enough to accommodate several different racing styles. Each car’s handling falls into one of his three categories: drift, grip, and neutral (in between the other two). On the other hand, if you prefer to slow down and reach the top of each corner, a car with more grip is an advantage. Whichever style you choose, successful execution of these cornering techniques will give you a slug of nitrous oxide, making both viable. Any car you choose suffers from severe understeer. It feels like you’re driving a bus around town, but I’ve found that setting the steering sensitivity slider to “high” in each vehicle’s handling settings alleviates the problem somewhat. It’s not an ideal solution, but the handling feels more responsive and precise.

Like other arcade racers of its kind, Unbound is built around collecting NOS by performing various actions such as: While they consume a standardized Nitrous meter at once to provide longer speed boosts, Unbound also introduces another type called Burst Nitrous. You can activate short bursts that work with the charging system. Drift, for example, fills that other meter and explodes speed out of corners. This is a fun new addition that offers more ways to reap the benefits of nitrous oxide while encouraging dangerous driving.

Occasionally frustrating AI

The only downside is that the AI ​​doesn’t always play fair. Other riders tend to match your pace when you’re on Nitrous, whether you’re accelerating or not, diluting the joy that activating NOS brings. The leading AI car is also out front, and he can finish the race more than 30 seconds faster than anyone else. This happens seemingly randomly and feels like a reverse rubber band, with no chance of catching up.

Other frustrations revolve around the police, especially early on. If your car isn’t the fastest, the police chase can last quite a while, as you have few options to defend yourself. The sensations aren’t negative, but it’s disappointing when you finally evade capture by simply entering another protracted chase when a police car pulls up… in front of you. Undercover cops also feel very cheap because they don’t show up on your radar. Then, when escape becomes much easier, Unbound floods the streets with extra cops, making traveling from race to race a hassle.

Conclusion – comparison to predecessors

Some of these issues are also present in Need for Speed ​​Heat, reinforcing the idea that Unbound is more of a fling than something that moves the series forward. No better or worse than its predecessor, it’s an exciting arcade racing game, but it still suffers from a few annoyances. That’s another positive result of Need for Speed ​​Payback hitting rock bottom, but Unbound is unlikely to step out of the shadows of the genre’s most popular games.

Need for Speed Unbound - Rating

  • Story 6.5
  • Gameplay 7.5
  • Graphics 7.5
  • Sound 8
  • Variety 7
  • User Ratings (0 Votes) 0
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