February 4, 2023

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Need for Speed ​​Unbound Review – Comic Racing

The first thing that catches your eye when Need for Speed ​​Unbound launches is its vibrant art style. At a time when most other racing games are striving for photorealism, EA’s latest game stands out from the rest of the grid by adopting a stylized mix of reality and comics. While its cars land on the side of realism, the characters behind the wheel are zel-shaded and its open world falls somewhere between the two aesthetics. Vivid graffiti-style flourishes also appear when you activate Nitrous or fly off a ramp, and drifting emits colorful tire smoke that looks hand-drawn, all of these effects punctuating the action with a unique sense of style.

There aren’t any modern racing games that look like it, but the rest of Unbound feels like a sequel to 2019’s Need for Speed ​​Heat. From the distinction between day and night racing to the cat-and-mouse Chase that occurs when you need to escape the cops and make it to a safe house to transfer your money. Unbound isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but what’s here maintains the current quality of the series, even if there are a few twists and turns along the way.

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Now Playing: Need for Speed ​​Unbound Video Review

As is common in Need for Speed ​​games today, Unbound features a rather forgotten story of how it haunts a former friend who stole your car. There’s little point in going into details because ultimately it’s irrelevant. Cutscenes are thrown in every now and then, but for the most part the story is just there, playing out in the background as you drive around town, so at least it’s unobtrusive. There is some funny dialogue every now and then, including a mission where you travel with a “weeb racer” who spends the entire journey telling you about the history of anime and that it’s definitely not a cartoon . Rapper A$AP Rocky also performs (why not?) and it feels like he’s been given a mic and a free hand to say whatever’s on his mind. It’s a moment that stands out in a game packed to the brim with accompanying dialogue. Other than that, the story is relatively easy to ignore, but manages to give impetus to the structure of the game.

Unbound takes place over four weeks in-game. At the end of each week there is a series of qualifying races that eventually lead to a grand finale where your goal is to retaliate by winning the whole thing. There is a buy-in for each qualifier, so you’ll spend the days leading up to each qualifier competing in various races and events to earn enough cash to compete and upgrade your car along the way. Aside from piling up stacks of money, each of these events also draws the attention of the local police. If you get arrested by the police before you make it back to a safe house, you’ll lose all your winnings and have to move on to the next day, making any battle with the law even more exciting.

Need for Speed ​​Heat took on a similar structure, but while that game featured legal street racing throughout the day and illegal street racing at night, Unbound takes the illegal route 24/7. That means there’s no respite from police attention, and any money you make during the hours of sunshine must be deposited in a safe house before you can move on to the evening races. Your heat level will also carry over and won’t reset until you’re done for the night. So it’s up to you how much police presence you want to gather throughout the day before the sun dips below the horizon. Night events tend to have significantly higher payouts, but often require a certain level of heat or a sizeable buy-in if you want to participate. You can still make money by participating in smaller events, but the increased risk of the larger events comes with big cash prizes. You’re forced to weigh your options when deciding what to do on a day-to-day basis.

These decisions are more impactful during the early game when the cars you’re driving aren’t quite up to scratch. Unbound is surprisingly challenging for the first few hours, and I appreciate how hard you have to work to achieve victory. You’ll face off against drivers who are simply faster than you and drive souped-up cars that your original Junker can’t match. You start off by bumping into those at the back of the field, but you can place a bet at the start of each race that you’ll finish above a certain driver, giving you a chance to earn some extra cash while you get in Set a goal, even if you’re not fighting for first place. Eventually, as the money starts to flow in and you can afford more vehicle upgrades, you can see the gap closing as you start placing higher and earning wins. They are made to work your way up, and the end result is a tangible and satisfying sense of progress.

Unbound’s driving model is also flexible enough to accommodate a few different racing styles. Each car’s handling falls into one of three categories: Drift, Grip, and Neutral (which falls in the middle of the other two). On the other hand, if you prefer to slow down and get to the apex of each corner, a grippy car is an advantage. Whichever style you choose, you’ll be rewarded with a slug of nitrous oxide if you successfully pull off these cornering techniques, making both workable. No matter which car you choose, they are all afflicted with severe understeer. This makes it feel like you’re trying to steer a bus around town, but I’ve found that you can alleviate the problem somewhat by going into each vehicle’s handling settings and setting the steering sensitivity slider to “high”. place. 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: They have a standardized Nitrous meter that can be consumed in one go for a long burst of speed, but Unbound also introduces another type called Burst Nitrous. As the name suggests, this allows you to activate a short burst that works with its own charging system. Drifting, for example, will fill that separate meter and have you explode out of a corner with a quick burst of speed. It’s a fun new addition that gives you more ways to reap the benefits of nitrous oxide, while also encouraging risky driving.

The only downside is that the AI ​​doesn’t always play fair. Other riders tend to match your pace when using Nitrous, whether they’re accelerating themselves or not, which dilutes the joy that activating NOS should bring. The leading AI car sometimes also goes ahead and finishes the race more than 30 seconds faster than everyone else. This happens seemingly randomly and feels like rubber banding in reverse, giving you no chance of catching up.


Other frustrations revolve around the police, especially early on. You have few options to defend yourself, so police chases can go on for quite a while if your car isn’t the fastest. This adds even more to the tension and the ever-present feeling that you’re badly outnumbered isn’t a negative, but it’s disheartening when you eventually evade capture, only to enter another drawn-out chase when a police car pulls up in front of you. Undercover cops also feel extra cheap as they don’t show up on your radar. Even later, when escaping becomes much easier, Unbound floods the streets with extra cops, making getting from race to race a tedious affair.

Some of these issues were also present in Need for Speed ​​Heat, reinforcing the notion that Unbound is more of a fling than one that pushes the series forward. It’s neither worse nor better than its predecessor, making it another exciting arcade racing game that’s still held back by a few annoyances. It’s another positive result from Need for Speed ​​Payback’s bottom, but Unbound is unlikely to emerge from the shadows of the genre’s most popular games.