Need For Speed Unbound review for Xbox Series X, PS5, PC

Platform: Xbox Series X
Also On: PS5, PC
Publisher: EA
Developer: Criterion Games
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

I want to be 100% transparent here, Need For Speed Unbound was not on my radar. I used to look forward to EA?s Need For Speed offerings at one point, but it?s been a while since I?ve actually played one. To my surprise, Need For Speed Unbound is one of the best offerings of the series and one of my favorite games of 2022. Even more shocking to me was seeing the developers of Burnout (one of my favorite racing franchises of all time), Criterion games, were the ones responsible for breathing new life into Need for Speed(with a little help from Codemasters, makers of Grid and Dirt.).

Need For Speed Unbound does its best to stick out with its vibrant colors and unique art style. In a genre that is trying its best to look photo realistic, Need for Speed Unbound distinguishes itself with its cell shaded anime inspired look. When the game boots up, you are thrown right into the action with police chasing you. It takes you back to Need For Speed games of the past.

Following the steps of 2019?s Need For Speed: Heat, your calendar is split into day & night races and events. As you progress through each event you?ll gain ?heat?, which will put you on the authority?s radar. As you accrue heat, it brings a whole new challenge and dynamic going from one event to another. Some events will start in the middle of a chase. Early in the game it can be a little difficult because your ride lacks horsepower. You can lose your day’s earnings if you?re busted or destroyed by the cops. It brings the day’s events to a screeching halt and you move on to the next day. The police chases are my favorite part of the game. There is satisfaction in taking down cops, getting around roadblocks and dumping cop cars into the river. Your heat level resets each morning and the money you bank from each event goes to your safehouse.

There are many different events that you can do on the daily. You can do a 8 driver races, 4 driver races, drifting events or a trick showcase event. The races give you a great challenge. You have to be near perfect to make sure you?re keeping up with the leader of the race. Boosting will keep you in contention and driving dangerously will ensure your boost meter is always at the ready. Cops also add an extra obstacle to each race. You will get the option to restart if you have a poor result or crash into a world. You are afforded a certain number of restarts per day depending on the difficulty you?re playing on.You?re also allowed to challenge a racer and make a side bet to raise more money for your weekend qualifier.

The narrative of the game is a bit cliche and dated. It felt like it was ripped from a 2000?s street racing film. I won?t really spend much time on the story. Just like those movies we?re not here for that. We want to race, customize our cars, which the game has a stunning array of licensed cars to customize. I was surprised to see the different clothing customization options. Some not seen in any other game. Popular streetwear company Palace and high end Versace are some of the options. These options are where the game looks the most gorgeous. The vibrant colors of the effects and designer clothes makes the title stand out when compared to its contemporaries. Running at dynamic 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, together with some absolutely gorgeous lighting, shadows and rain effects that really make both the cars and city of Lakeshore come alive.

My only complaint is that the open world feels a little too empty. Aside from downtown Lakeshore, there is a ton of empty space. You have collectibles you can collect to make money, but without a fast travel system in place, it can feel a bit grindy. You can find random street art pieces, find bear statues, or knockdown police signs. If you?re a completionist like me the offline map stays open after you beat the game to collect what you may have missed. Like in other games you can compete in different street events like speed zones, and danger jumps to earn cash as well.

The online version of the city is separate from the single player experience. You can earn more cash to transfer into a single player. Different challenges and racing playlist give you more options once the single player campaign is through. Missing are the cops patrolling. I would have loved to see a cops VS robbers mode added to make the online mode a bit more robust.

If there is one thing I would look forward to in older Need For Speed games, it would be the soundtrack and Need For Speed Unbound delivers here. The soundtrack is on par with the current racing genre standards when it comes to music. Headlined by ASAP Rocky (who is somewhat of a host of the game) the soundtrack features 72 songs from artists spanning over 25 countries giving us one of the most diverse in-game soundtracks of 2022. There is a missed opportunity to have some in-game radio stations though, think ?Crash FM? from the old Burnout series.

It is very hard to stand out in this much crowded racing genre, but Need For Speed Unbound pulls it off. The title is easily the best entry in years and sets a foundation that can easily be built upon. After many years of having an identity crisis, I can see the game evolving from here. With a consistent 4K resolution and 60fps framerate NFS Unbound showcases what could be the future of the series.

EA provided us with a Need For Speed Unbound Xbox code for review purposes.

Grade: A-