Game Reviews Xbox

Need for Speed Unbound Xbox Series X Review – A Solid Racer

While reviewing Need for Speed Unbound, the first question I asked was simply What is Need for Speed Unbound? Unlike previous NFS releases, there was little fan fair or marketing build-up toward the release. NFS unbound was announced in OCT 2022 and released on Dec 2nd, 2022. This short window raised a lot of eyebrows and even more questions.

Is this a full NFS game or some sort of arcade-ish digital-only release? And the main concerning question being Why virtually “Stealth launch” a major NFS release? Well gamers, I hope my review answers some if not all of your questions but I’ll start by saying this is, in fact, a full NFS gaming experience and it’s definitely steering the franchise in the right direction while hitting a few speed bumps along the way.

Need for Speed Unbound (NFSU) is a large open world racing game similar to the 2019 NFS Heat However, unlike Heat this location called Lakeshore feels more flushed out with a good variety of different driving terrain. You have open fields, rural winding roads and a beautifully designed city landscape that actually feels alive. Criterion Games are once again at the helm and even though it’s not a much-wanted new Burnout release, NFSU Lakeshore feels like an upgraded Paradise City.

We now have a good number of pedestrians roaming around the locations which in turn makes it feel more like a real city. And if you’re wondering if pedestrians can be run over, the answer is no. They will quickly jump out of the way while screaming at you for driving recklessly. You can run over random objects on the sidewalks and knockdown poles, street signs, etc. I have no complaint with this since I like to take some rather sharp turns aka cut across sidewalk street corners and it would be a bummer to perform mass murder in the process.

NFSU is hands down the best looking NFS to date. On next gen consoles, its running 60 FPS in 4K. Every inch of Lakeshore looks crystal clear. This is instantly noticeable as you’re flying down the street at over 100 MPH and can see the environment flash by with no blur or object pop ins. The dynamic lighting and weather effects add to the beautiful world design. From the street lights reflecting off your car as you race around at night to the beautiful sun showers, its truly a delight to race around and explore.

Now NSFU has incorporated a more artsy or street art approach in various parts of the game. As I will discuss when talking bout the gameplay, NOS returns but now when you trigger the NOS a warp speed/ripple effect occurs. At times, particularly at night, it can look pretty cool however for the rest of the time it just feels out of place and unnecessary. The same goes for the exhaust animations. These effects can be changed in the customization options and can also be turned off in the settings.

This new art style carries over into the story via cut-scenes and character designs. To avoid spoilers, all you need to know is that you and your friend Yaz were both brought up in the foster care system and now find yourselves living and working for Rydell who owns a garage called Rydell’s Rides. You and Yaz have a falling out of sorts which sends each down different paths which eventually collide and in turn produces the main plot of the game.

The story does a decent job of trying to make the characters relatable and pull out some emotions from the player. In my opinion, this is the weakest part of NFSU. It starts off with a believable premise then goes flying off the cliff in under an hour of play. Honestly, when it comes to racing games my main focus and concern are with the gameplay. If the story is good then that’s a bonus. Hell, my all-time favorite racing game Burnout Paradise had no story and is just non-stop racing fun. With that said, let’s get into the gameplay.

If there’s one feature that NFS is guaranteed to deliver then it’s a solid racing mechanic thanks to developer Criterion Games. They mastered the ability to produce palm-sweating tension as you race down busy streets trying to avoid head-on collisions and producing some movie-quality drifts and jumps. You can get close and personal with some of the camera views with the exclusion of a cockpit view. The controls are responsive with a controller or racing wheel like a Thrustmaster or Logitech g920. There are over 140 cars of all model types to choose from and they can be acquired in different ways such as using in-game currency earned from events, completing particular events, and some obtained via story progression. As you progress, mods and other customization options become available.

NFSU is packed with car customization options far beyond your typical paint job or vinyl wrap. Every inch of the car can be customized in some way. The same goes for handling, braking, and drifting for a car. Each car has sliders that can be adjusted to an extent. This is great for making some much-needed adjustments instead of feeling like you need to purchase an entirely new car. While on the topic, your character can also be fully customized to sport real-world brands such as Puma, Vans, and Champion just to name a few. As you expect all these goodies need to be purchased. There are a good variety of event types including the following:

  •     Corner King and Drift Events
  •     Delivery
  •     Eliminator
  •     Endurance
  •     Half Pack
  •     Head-to-Head
  •     Speed Race
  •     Street Race
  •     Takeover

NFSU works on a day/night cycle on a 7 days a week schedule. This means some events can only be done during the day or on particular days. The overall goal is to obtain enough money to buy into bigger events. You can even place side bets with other NPC racers to try and earn a bit more cash. The added obstacle to this event structure is the addition of your Heat level. As you race around Lakeshore or partake in events, the local police will take notice and when you return to your safe house, a display will appear showing your current HEAT level.

Once you hit a full level 1, the cops will begin to chase you on-site. You can lose the cops and the level will decrease or increase depending on your play style. If the cops catch you all the money earned prior to returning to the safe house is lost. So if you came in first in a few events, I recommend you head straight to the safe house and don’t push your luck. I started to feel like Dom from Fast & Furious after winning two races. I had level 2 HEAT and thought I was unstoppable…until I failed to clear a jump, slammed into the side of the overpass I was attempting to clear and the cops rolled up behind me.

Besides the story, my 2nd least favorite part of NFSU is the multiplayer mode aka Lakeshore Online. This is a completely separate experience from the main game. You will need to create a new character. All money and cars earned stay in this mode. There are only a handful of event types currently which I’m sure will grow over time however I just wished it was all integrated.

In Burnout Paradise, you just pressed right on the D-pad and POOF your online and ready to race. I get it, we’ve seen these separations in other games like GTA Online, RDR2, etc. I’m just not a fan of it. On the upside, crossplay is back so you can party up with friends on PlayStation or PC.

NFS Unbound takes some of the best features from previous releases and meshes them together while also adding a new day/night cycle and a cool new way to tweak the performance of your car. Bringing back NOS was a great decision and thanks to the 4k 60 FPS its never looked better going 100+. The new art design is fine for the story element but feels out of place with the driving effect.

I do think if they ever decide to create an entire world around this new art style then it would be amazing. Overall the pros outweigh the cons and I’m glad there is plenty of racing fun to be had in NFS Unbound. It’s also worth mentioning that NFS Unbound is now available on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate via EA Play.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This review was written based on a digital review copy of Need for Speed Unbound for Xbox Series X provided by Electronic Arts.

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