It’s about time EA came up with a new Need For Speed. Developer Criterion opted for a rejuvenation treatment and a new style injection. But does the photorealism of the Frostbite engine suit such an anime-esque style? Perhaps we should have asked ourselves whether EA’s decaying street racer will ever be able to match the level of Most Wanted – or the best NFS ever -.
Can it be a little faster, Rocky?
The short answer: no. But first, let’s switch back for a moment. Unbound received a lot of criticism before its release for its added anime effects. The key question was therefore whether they would undermine the experience. Rest assured, the cell-shaded style in which the characters are introduced and the drawn anime effects while racing work.
Pressing the nitro button almost literally gives your car a speed injection and when you go airborne two cartoony wings appear next to your car. Subtle enough not to disturb, but to add some extra power to the racing experience. And if drawn skid marks and wings are not your thing, you can also turn it off.
Unbound’s new style is colorful, but unfortunately we can’t say that about the story. The various races are held together with a lean zero-to-hero story that we’ve seen in every Need for Speed game. Criterion lightly sprinkles it with starpower. A$ap Rocky, for example, is one of the main characters, but he can’t save this mess either. The plot is very cringy and dialogues so bad that we actually wanted to concentrate mainly on the racing.
And that’s where Unbound does its thing: just race to unlock cash and cars. Simple right? Traditionally you start with a rust bucket and with the cash you have won you can customize and tune your petrol monster step by step. But do know that unlocking cars is not as easy as in Forza Horizon, for example. Here you first have to bank your hard-earned money in your hub before you can tour around in the glitziest pimp boxes. And the arm of the law likes to stick a baton for that.
Can the arm of the law arrest you before you reach your safehouse, your earned cash will be confiscated. Bye bye racing money. The chases are spicy at times, making it all the more satisfying to drive into your abandoned factory building after a chase. Just like its predecessor Need for Speed Heat, this Unbound has a day and night cycle that differ little in terms of gameplay. At night the police are more on the lookout and you take your heat level from the day with you into the night. Those who work too recklessly during the day will regret it at night.
The computer-controlled agents make it a lot more difficult for you during pursuits, although a lot of work needs to be done in terms of AI and experience. You can do the craziest stunts or even hit other cars without any worries, as long as you don’t do it right in front of the LCPD. A more sophisticated Wanted system like GTA (or any open world game since GTA) would have made this story somewhat more believable. Criterion has eaten little soup from world building, because how beautiful Lakeshore City is at times, it often feels so empty and sterile. In 2022 we simply expect more from a game world.
Buy ins and opt outs
Do you want to climb the street racing ladder? Then you have to race, sprint or drift, although this time there is a catch: street racing means gambling, so every race involves a buy-in. If your car is not strong enough, the chance of winning will be minimal. You always have to consider whether the profit is worth the risk. The choice stress doesn’t help either: you can only restart an event four times a day and we think the number of races in Unbound is quite limited.
Fortunately, the gameplay of this arcade racer is tight: your cars tear and drift the way you want and dangerous behavior provides a full nitro boost. We’ve seen it all before, and the streets of Lakeshore City are very similar to those of Palm City in NFS Heat, but we still had fun.
If you crash, the camera will swing away for a moment and you can continue racing after a minimal interruption. This Unbound just screams Burnout and we applaud that. The guys from Criterion have already announced that they would like to make a new Burnout game and with Unbound they leave their calling card in terms of spectacular glass and metal damage. Although that is not nearly enough to mask the fact that Unbound is just a colorful lick of paint on top of its predecessor Heat.