Need for Speed: Unbound review: Lots of potential but fizzles out in the end | Digit


It has been quite a while since a Need for Speed game generated so much hype. From the trailers and promotional videos we saw before the launch of the game, Unbound seemed to be a nice and creative departure from previous Need for Speed games or any other racing game on the market today. At least visually, that is. 

When we got out hands on the game though, it was a weird mix of emotions as some aspects of the game had us swooning while others simply left us scratching our heads. 


So, let’s talk a bit about what can be called the most character-defining aspect of Need for Speed Unbound. The visuals were one of the things that really had us swooning about the game. It is absolutely unique in the way it looks with no other game on the market looking quite like this, It’s creative, it’s new and needless to say that it provided quite the breath of fresh air that has been missing from the Need for Speed franchise and the racing genre as a whole. for Speed

The developer, Criterion Games has gone with a weird mix of photo-realism and an anime-esque art style. On paper should not work at all, but somehow Unbound makes that style its own and we can’t get enough of it.  Most of the game has the usual photo-realistic look that we see in most racing games and looks great as well. The cars and the environment follow this art style. for Speed

The character models though are anything but photo-realistic. Think 3D CGI anime meets the real world. And as much as you might think that highly stylised art styles would not interact well with the world they have been put into, oh boy are you in for a pleasant surprise.

While on the subject of character models, for some reason, all of the characters you interact with seem to always be dressed as if they are about to attend an EDM or hip-hop concert…Which… is a bit weird. But then again it matches the overall vibe of the game along with the in-game music which always seems to be playing EDM or hip-hop or Rap.

There are other comic and anime-inspired touches thrown in as well like the smoke effects that appear out of the tyres while drifting and other graffiti that shows up while doing tricks like jumps. for Speed


Soooooo….there is a story. But, it’s quite forgettable. So here’s the gist of it. Two friends build an exotic car together. One of the friends betrays the other and steals the car along with all the other cars in their repair shop. A couple of years later the thief resurfaces and with all the money made with the stolen cars, restarts illegal racing with high stakes in the city. But, keeps the car they worked on together. So the mission now is to participate in the illegal races, earn a ton of money, buy new cars and then win back the car they worked on together. for Speed

It’s a pretty basic story. And you are even motivated to get out there and race right after the prologue. But after that things start to fall apart a bit. The racing is quite difficult at first because you don’t really have a great car and the AI is super competitive even in the easiest setting. Basically, you are not expected to win every (if any) race. That would be fine on its own if you earned enough from the races to tune up your car or buy new cars in order to participate in different classes of races. But that’s not the case. Parts and cars are so exorbitantly expensive that the meagre amounts you earn (or sometimes even make a loss) in races means you have hours of grinding before you can even upgrade your car enough to have any kind of noticeable advantage. And that’s a bit of a problem. Having such a gruelling grinding phase so early in a game seems very off-putting. Think about it. You have spent nearly 4K buying this game. You are all excited to participate and win in races. You are excited about all the cool cars you’ll get to drive in the game. And just a few minutes into the game you are thrust into a whole world of grinding. It’s also a bit disheartening when you are not competitive at all in the races, fighting the backmarkers of a race. And it takes a long time before you can fight your way up. for Speed

Along with struggling with races, you also have a Heat system where every race you participate in increases your heat level which means you are catching the eyes of the local police. And it only takes a couple of races, for you to have well and truly caught the attention of the cops who will hound you not only in the race, hindering your chances of scoring well in it, but they will not give up once you are done with your race. And with the underpowered car, you have early in the game, it is even more difficult to evade them. The cops in the game are not particularly smart though. All you need to do to evade them and escape is drive around a bit, and make turns that don’t have more cops on them (you can see some of them on the mini-map). While it may not be too much effort to evade them, it gets annoying really quickly.

But even that is tolerable when compared to the motivations of the characters you interact with. For example, your little friend who stole everything you had, hosts unsanctioned illegal street races that cause a whole lot of destruction of property oh and promotion of dangerous driving. These races are conducted under the guise of giving it to the man and sticking it to big brother while calling it an expression of freedom. AND, the character you are playing does not seem to have any problem with any of that, and will blatantly continue to break the law just to get vengeance and get back a car. Now that would be fine if the character you are playing had a history with crime and being an overall douche, but if that is the case, it is never truly explored in the story. So from a storytelling perspective, it does not make sense for our character to be doing what he/she is doing, all to get a bit of revenge. Let’s just say that it’s hard to relate to the characters if you put any semblance of logic to the story. But then again, it’s a Need for Speed game so better turn your brain off. 


Need for Speed Unbound follows the tried and tested template of most racing games that are not track-focused. It’s the usual open-world racing game experience with a few things here and there that make it a quintessential Need for Speed game. We already spoke about the cop-chasing dynamic of the game and that can be a bit of a problem while exploring the open world in case you have a couple of bars of heat on you. Apart from that, the world seems pretty generic with the map having a city area with lots of interconnecting roads and people along with a whole lot of open spaces outside the city area with a decent number of mountain roads and countryside to explore. for Speed

In terms of car handling and control, it seems a bit off. It’s difficult to explain what exactly is off about it. The easiest way we can think of to explain it is that every car you decide to drive has a horrible case of understeer to it. Meaning, that turning the car seems more difficult than it needs to be or expect from these kinds of cars. In a sense, it feels like the car is super heavy and does not want to turn in as sharply as you would expect it to and wants to just keep going forward. For handling, cars can be tuned for either grip or drift but even in the drift tune, the cars don’t seem to let go of their understeer-y nature which is absolutely weird because technically drifting is a byproduct of oversteer and not understeer. Let’s just say that the handling dynamics in Need For Speed Unbound are not consistent and a lot of the time you don’t know how the vehicle will react to your input. For an arcade racing game, that is not great as players expect consistency (even if unrealistic) to perform the combos and tricks mid-race.

While in races, the AI can be quite vicious as well. If you are someone who enjoys a challenge, this may be frustrating for you as well. It would be for anyone actually, when you crashed an opponent early in the race, leaving them far behind only to have them catch back up with you by the middle of the race. And to add salt to the wound, they might even keep up and pass you while you are deploying nitrous and they are not! for Speed


Unbound takes the arcade racing genre of games and repackages it with a cool look. Don’t get us wrong, the visuals are definitely something that differentiates Unbound from similar games. They give Unbound a unique identity making it instantly recognizable among the scores of racing games out there. for Speed

The problem is that Need for Speed has not taken the same approach as the rest of the game. It’s more of the same old same old with the rest of the game as far as we can see. It is set in an open world, just like older Need for Speed Games and other racing games, the visuals of the environment and cars are again nothing we have not seen before, the story is forgettable and unrelatable, early game grinding is quite tedious and the handling is all over the place. As nice as the visuals are, it is not enough to save Unbound from the chasm of generic-ness. 

A more thought-out storyline, with less annoying (read: cringe-inducing) character interactions, would have been one of the places Criterion could have really improved the playability of the game and made the grind worth it. But alas, the sheer potential of the game has gone down the drain. It sort of feels like the developers simply added the fancy new visuals to hide pretty much everything recycled from every other racing game out there, and not too well might I add.



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