Game Review: Need for Speed Unbound

Release date: 2022
Version played: Xbox Series X in 2022/2023

The twenty-fifth instalment in the long running Need for Speed franchise, Need for Speed Unbound (aka NFS Unbound) was released in 2022 and developed by Criterion Games, their first as main developer since 2012’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Of course a racing game, and once again set in an open world, players take control of a racer new to the underground street racing scene, and must contend with friends, rivals, an out of touch Mayor and a notorious anti-street racing police force. Players can buy, sell and customise hundreds of cars and compete in events ranging from simple races to drifting and destruction derbies.

+ the voice acting is generally a big positive, but absolutely not the dialogue itself. The main character can have one of two voices (not labelled as such, but essentially male or female) and can be pitch corrected to various degrees. All of the other racers provide some fun flavour speech in the races, and it’s repetitive but entirely inoffensive. Real world rapper, A$AP Rocky has a fantastic cameo in a story mission, and then sticks around as a top level AI opponent. He also provides a monologue of sorts over the closing credits that I was absolutely hooked on from his very first words. This may be one of the best celebrity involvements in video games that I can recall
+ from the beginning to the end, I always appreciated the graphics style. The graffiti style indicators for a good drift, grip turn or near miss are distinct but don’t get in the way of the racing, and the very cartoony smoke effects from drifts and burnouts always looked good. Though as I said in My Early Thoughts, I would have preferred the game go 100% in one direction or the other, cartoony or realistic
+ perhaps most importantly, all of the racing and driving is smooth and responsive. You can get cars in one of five grades (“B, A, A+, S, S+” – though why it wasn’t just “D, C, B, A, S” I have no idea) and they all have their benefits and drawbacks. You’ll rarely crash in a B Cass car because you won’t really get fast enough, but they are easy to drift. When you can control the ~350 km/hr S+ cars around tight corner, you achieve that zen that only racing games can give you

– the story was absolute garbage. The entire hook (getting a stolen car back) is made entirely redundant when you’ll have a multi-million dollar hypercar by the final race anyway. The underlying “cops versus racers” thing falls apart immediately because yes, the racers are objectively breaking the law and endangering the public, especially the way I drive. There is a secondary story going about the current Mayor, and how anti-street racing she is, and this all fizzles out with a throwaway joke that made me angry more than anything
– at one point, the ‘old and out of touch’ character starts trying to use the hip new street-kid lingo — and is promptly mocked for it. The fact I was only starting to make sense of what these racers were saying at that same made made me think the game was making fun of me. That seems to be part of a trend in remakes, reboots and sequels these days of making fun of part of the audience: “Remember that thing from the original? Well I hope not, because if you do, and if you look back on it fondly, you are a LOSER.”
– the music did eventually start to grow on me, but that only meant there were two or three songs I didn’t immediately mute. Even still, by about week three of the four week single player, I had turned all music off entirely just to listen to the car noises
– I appreciate it can be difficult to have a realistic police presence in a racing game, but this game misses that mark by a wide birth. Police will too often spawn in front of you, as you speed away from a last known location at 300 kilometres an hour, and then immediately re-lock all police onto your exact position. It’s never difficult to get away from them, it just takes so much longer than it needs to. In my entire game I was busted once and it was partially due to some wony collisions int he environment
– when racing, the game does that annoying thing that Mario Kart does, where it chooses one random racer to be absolutely unbeatable unless you personally knock them off course. It’s frustrating as heel to drive the perfect race, but to have one AI opponent still 500 metres in front of you taking every corner perfectly. The rubber banding catch-up is also horrendous, especially with the police, as they will go past you like a bolt of lightning before immediately ‘snapping’ to match your speed
Need for Speed: Underground II was one of my favourites in the series, and I admire that they have attempted to recapture that ‘neon lights and body kits’ style. But the options available and even the clunky and archaic menus just make it far too difficult to make any headway. I don’t have an answer to this problem myself, but someone needs to think of something because at the moment it’s all so sterile

> disappointingly, there is no cockpit view with visible steering wheel/interior of the car. It’s not a big deal, but Forza has spoiled me
> there are collectibles and side activities like those found in Burnout or Forza Horizon, but they feel tacked on more than anything. If you are into that stuff then have at it

Should you play this game: I gave this game a big, long chance to stand out and it just never did. The racing is fun, but the tracks quickly become repetitive and dull. I muted the music, and never cared for the story. The side activities felt like a knock off version of what’s in the Forza Horizon series. Overall, this just doesn’t measure up to other racing games, or even other Need for Speed games.


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