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Need For Speed Unbound Review – Speedy and Stylish (PS5)

Nfs Unbound

The main reason that I wanted to check out Need for Speed Unbound, was for the stylish, distinctive art style featured in this entry. Need For Speed has felt like somewhat of a tired franchise for a while now, but seeing the incorporation of a cel-shaded art style in the trailers for Need for Speed Unbound had me intrigued.

Need for Speed Unbound is out now and is available on PC, PlayStation and, Xbox consoles.

Thankfully, the visuals are not the sole reason to check out Need for Speed Unbound, as its gameplay systems are also pretty strong. This is in large part due to fan-favourite NFS studio Criterion taking over developing duties from Ghost Games, who were responsible for developing the three previous entries. Whilst I did quite enjoy the NFS reboot from 2015, as well as 2019’s NFS Heat, Criterion have done a great job of building on the systems established in those past games for Need for Speed Unbound.

As was the case with Need for Speed Heat, Unbound uses a day and night system to differentiate certain aspects of the game world, and therefore does not include a 24-hour day-night cycle. Instead, time advances whenever players return to one of their garages; either once all available races have been completed, or if their police heat level is too high.

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During the day, heat from police rises slower, however races yield lower rewards. Whereas, winning races at night results in a higher financial payout, but the heat felt from police presence is also intensified. This system creates a unique risk-versus-reward sub-game which will have players picking their battles carefully and spending more time strategising over which races to partake in, rather than just doing every race available to them.

The gameplay in Need for Speed Unbound is solid, if somewhat repetitive.
The gameplay in Need for Speed Unbound is solid, if somewhat repetitive.

Whilst Need for Speed Unbound is far from the most difficult racing game I have ever played, it has a steeper learning curve than one may expect. That grind is particularly felt in the first few hours of the game when you are forced to race with a car that is significantly slower than your competitor’s vehicles. However, that grind eventually leads to a more rewarding sense of progression in the long run, allowing players to feel as though they have properly earned the higher tier cars.

With all of that said; as entertaining as the gameplay is, it is not flawless. Need for Speed Unbound is trying to be two things at once. It is trying to be a fun stylish arcade racer, whilst concurrently trying to encourage player to use finesse and precision to win races. This mesh sometimes yields messy results and in combination with the repetitive nature of Unbound’s gameplay, can lead to some frustration.

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One would be remiss to talk about Need for Speed Unbound without discussing the game’s striking visuals. The bold art direction utilised in Unbound is impressive in its own right, but the truly impressive feat that Criterion have pulled off is the fashion in which they have merged the cel-shaded cartoon characters with the hyper-realistic style of the game’s environment.

The game's fantastic visuals ALMOST make up for how poor the story is.
The game’s fantastic visuals ALMOST make up for how poor the story is.

Never before have I seen things aspects like the ray-traced reflections of the game world merged so well with the hyper-stylised comic book-like character design. The contrast makes every frame of Need for Speed Unbound a joy to behold, and whilst the gameplay may begin to feel stale after a while, the visuals never do.

In summary; Unbound marks the first time in a long time that a Need for Speed game has possessed a unique visual identity and feel. The game’s dynamic art direction combined with the day and night cycle from NFS Heat results in a solid experience that only falls slightly short of the glory days of the Need for Speed franchise.

Need for Speed Unbound – 8/10

8 Out of 10

Need for Speed Unbound was played on PS5 with a code supplied by 160over90.

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Written by Daniel Boyd

Daniel is a 27-year-old writer from Glasgow. He graduated from university with an honours degree in 3D Animation, before pivoting to pursue his love for critical writing. He has also written freelance pieces for other sites such as KeenGamer.com and The Big Glasgow Comic Page. He loves movies, video games and comic books.