Need for Speed Unbound (Xbox Series X/S) Review

By Sandy Kirchner-Wilson 21.03.2024

Review for Need for Speed Unbound on Xbox Series X/S

EA has come up well with their recent game output with lots of bangers such as Dead Space and F1:23. Before they got to those however, they made another title, a well-received revival of their Need for Speed franchise: Need for Speed Unbound. Touting a deep customisability for the vehicles and player character alike, it promised a lot. Now it's Cubed3's turn on the track, but can the game keep pace?

NFS: Unbound's story is actually quite entertaining even though it doesn't do anything particularly unexpected. Following in the path of Underground and Most Wanted, it is mostly focussed on rising through the street race rankings while avoiding police suspicion and trying to do things right by the supporting cast. When the main character gets betrayed, leaving them and their boss stranded without any cars to their name, the player must step into their shoes and attempt to build up a killer reputation to uncover what happened that fateful day. It's not reinventing the wheel, but it is serviceable and easy to get into.

Screenshot for Need for Speed Unbound on Xbox Series X/S

Gameplay has plenty of breadth and depth to fill the open world the game is set in. The controller layout is typical of all driving games, but the game does have a somewhat unconventional feel, with drifting and turning taking a bit to get used to. Once players do adjust, there is a great feeling of speed at times. Players begin with amazing cars over the tutorial / prologue segment but once that finishes, they get to buy a more standard vehicle they can upgrade and edit however they wish.

Races are events that the player has to manage through the campaign. Some are only available at certain times, and many will vanish if the player rushes to the main race of the chapter to progress the story. It pays to choose the events carefully and do as many of them as possible for higher rewards. Night and day cycles are in operation but rely on the player changing between day and night by returning to their garage. Each day moves the game closer to the main event, so players need to work on earning reputation or potentially not be able to partake in the main event of that chapter. It's a fun system that feels like there are some stakes to what the player is doing. This all ties into the police systems too.

Screenshot for Need for Speed Unbound on Xbox Series X/S

Police in the game work on an alert system. The city is under the rule of a mayor who despises street racing and is busy enforcing their new anti-racing laws. Therefore, the player needs to avoid becoming notorious, however the game is programmed to raise this level based on player actions. Completing races or even just competing in races raises the police warning level. Sometimes they will be active in races trying to hunt down racers and the player must escape from them or lose out on earnings and potentially lose time from their schedule. It feels really great to be chased, especially from multiple angles. It brings to mind the chases from Most Wanted and that is not a bad thing!

Visually the game makes use of a lot of modern techniques but by far the most interesting part is the use of cell shading on the characters. The aesthetic of the game as a whole is excellent and really aids the game's feeling of character. Things are expressive and animated where in some NFS titles the characters would look odd or used bloom overlayed FMV.

This plays into the customisability as players create their character and can then dress them up however they like, though additional clothing needs to be unlocked. This is the same for the cars, though they have a realistic render. The cars have a livery system allowing plates to decorate them in great detail as well as replace parts of the cars to finetune their visuals and performance. It is so much fun to take these elements and make them unique. Cars also have some special effects that can be applied that add some visual flair to things like drifts and boosts. It can make the screen messy, but the pop and colour makes them quite addictive.

Screenshot for Need for Speed Unbound on Xbox Series X/S

The city uses a realistic rendering style but looks fantastic, with dense foliage and reflective skyscrapers lining the rural and central areas. It has a great layout that is pretty memorable a lot of the time. This aesthetic is amazing, but the music is not great. Unlike many previous entries the music this time is primarily hip-hop, which isn't an issue, but previous games had a much larger variety for the soundtracks. The sound effects though are decent with bass-y engines and clear, emotive dialogue; there is a lot to love.

One problem the game suffers from is the lack of offline racing. This is an epidemic in racing titles at the moment. Rarely is a big new racing title a fun couch co-op romp these days, but it removes part of the replayability and magic a lot of these series had in the past. It does however have good online modes and a nice variety of challenges.

Screenshot for Need for Speed Unbound on Xbox Series X/S

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The best Need for Speed title in a long time, Unbound has such a fun gameplay loop and funky style that it's hard to put down. It has a hard difficulty and slightly odd game feel, but most players of racing games will have a blast here and probably fall in love with the chaotic and frantic police chases. Pick this up!

Developer

Criterion

Publisher

EA

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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