Need For Speed Unbound Review – Cardinal Sins

Need For Speed Unbound Review

Despite the two latest racing game releases published by EA – Need For Speed Heat and Need for Speed Unbound – being developed by different teams, it’s astonishing how similar the latter feels to the former. Undoubtedly, race heads feeling at home in Heat will have a leg up on this year’s competition. I lost track of the number of times I remarked that if it weren’t for Unbound’s new art style, I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them. For better and for worse, Need For Speed Unbound has finally crossed its proverbial finish line. And I’m not sure it was worth the gas money to get here.

What may end up dividing the player base more than anything is Unbound’s drastic visual overhaul. Character models now come completely cel-shaded, and cartoony effects are peppered over you while behind the wheel. Take flight, and you’ll gain a set of hand-drawn wings, for example. On the flip side, the environments and vehicles are mostly gorgeous. And the fictional city of Lakeshore – an homage to Chicago – benefits from having enough aesthetic diversity to make exploring fun.

One Quarter-Mile at a Time

When it’s time to stop driving and start tinkering, however, Need For Speed Unbound struggles to keep up with the likes of its closest competition – Forza Horizon 5. Players that don’t necessarily care about tuning a vehicle should find plenty to keep them entertained. Many upgrades can be made to any vehicle’s body, ranging from hoods and spoilers to underglow and decals. But auto enthusiasts used to having an overwhelming list of sliders to fine-tune their rides will be utterly disappointed. I’ll guarantee the tuning options are more robust if you play any other racing game, which doesn’t bode well for Unbound’s future.

You’ll need cash if you’re deadset on that new turbo tank or set of rims. To get that, naturally, you have to drive. Unbound’s story takes place from week to week, as players are tasked with different goals. At the end of each week is a qualifier tournament. Leading up to those days, you’ll mainly be partaking in one of a few events. Races are straightforward. Drift events set a specific score for the player to beat. Takedown events demand you to smash, drift and speed through a few laps. A cornucopia of Unbound’s challenges, if you will.

When not in a specific event, you’ll most likely be trying to outrun the cops. Frustratingly, though, the police tend to be everywhere. And I mean, EVERYWHERE. Having officers on patrol is fine, but not when they appear on nearly every other block. Once you build a bit of heat, going from race to race becomes a tedious, monotonous test of patience that too often forces players to stop in their tracks, cut the engine, and wait for the police to pass.

A Feeling of Familiarity

The real issue here is that everything feels too damn similar to Need For Speed Heat. And not in a good way. Like its predecessor, Unbound’s driving mechanics aren’t that good. I know it’s meant to be arcade racing, but so is Forza Horizon 5, and that game handles a million miles better than Unbound. I find the tap/brake-to-drift system incredibly inconsistent. Regardless of whether I have my vehicle tuned for drifting, it seems like a total crapshoot if I’ll actually manage to get into a drift.

This leads me to Need For Speed Unbound’s most significant misstep. In my quest to find the most comfortable way to play, I discovered EA and Criterion had committed the cardinal sin of racing games. Unbound’s wheel support is essentially non-existent. Blasphemy, I know. But it’s the truth. Unbound is arguably the worst experience I’ve ever had with a wheel. Digging through the menus in hopes of finding support options proved fruitless, and it wasn’t long before I gave up on my T300 completely. Force feedback equates to barely that of a cellphone’s vibration, and the turning radius is horrific. For the sake of your sanity, avoid playing Need For Speed Unbound with a wheel at all costs.

I can live with many of Need For Speed Unbound’s faults. Admittedly, there were fleeting moments when I enjoyed the routine of earning cash, upgrading, outrunning police, and climbing Lakeshore’s underground racing ranks. But, when a Need For Speed game spits in the face of people that use wheel and pedal setups, it’s tough to feel a need for anything other than a need to play a better game. There’s a foundation here to build upon, but EA and Criterion have their work cut out for them if they ever hope to compete with the giants of the racing game scene.

***PS5 code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Vehicles and environments look good
  • Aesthetic customization
  • Decent soundtrack




The Bad

  • Abysmal wheel support
  • Too many cops
  • Too similar to NFS Heat
  • Drifting still feels off
  • Lack of tuning