For nearly 30 years, video-game enthusiasts have pursued street-racing glory in the Need for Speed games. The basic idea has remained the same: Players slip behind the wheel of a wide variety of customizable and tunable cars and illegally race in the streets. Some entries have raced coast to coast, some focus heavily on clashes with police, others on smashing, bashing destruction. But they have all attempted to give gamers a thrilling sense of virtual speed and a unique car-driving feel.
Need for Speed Unbound keeps its foot heavily on the gas in all of those areas.
Unbound starts players off with a choice among three cars pulled out of a local garage’s back lot. All three are a bit battered, dinged and in need of some new parts, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.
Gamers also get three choices for gameplay: Relaxed, Challenging and Intense. “Relaxed” mode promises little fear of failure. Each step up cuts back on health points and the like, and intensifies pursuits from the local police forces.
The game’s story centers in on the fictional city of Lakeshore, a burg dealing with political turmoil over an underground racing scene that’s terrorizing its citizens. And in the midst of rising heat from politicians and the local cops, your created character has to deal with a huge betrayal/theft that left a father-figure garage owner named Rydell all but penniless.
Your goal is to hit open-world races to win cash; improve your collection of vehicles; race to the heights of the underground scene; and restore Rydell’s garage back to its former hot-car-producing glory.
Besides the competitive meets, your character also steers into some side missions that usually involve delivering potentially stolen vehicles and driving sometimes unsavory individuals to safety while the cops are in pursuit. These side missions fill your wallet with a little more car-boosting cash or offer you safehouses that you can enter to escape the police.
Those mentioned police pursuits are a big part of the action. Races take place inside and outside the city and come toting different levels of “heat.” The more heat you acquire (ranging from one flame to five) the more intensely the cops will come at you. A single heat level calls out a local sheriff’s car or two that you can generally leave in your wake. But rising levels bring in high-pursuit vehicles, helicopter observers and even SWAT teams set on bashing you off the street with armored trucks. If you’re caught before getting back to your base or a safehouse, you lose any winnings you may have picked up that night.
The mainstay of gameplay, however, is the racing. Gamers have the option of saving up for (and in a few rare instances, winning) cars from an in-game collection of some 150 vehicles. That list includes hopped up Chevys, Hondas and Subarus and ranges up to more exotic Porches, McLarens and Lamborghinis and the like. And, of course, the key to this game’s joy is to tune your cars to grippy-or-drifting perfection while learning how to master its every bending and sharp-accelerating move.
It should also be noted that gamers can play the Story Mode, which offers scores and scores of single-player races—including lots of replay possibility because of the wide variety of vehicles. And there is also a Lakeshore Online mode which allows players to compete with other well-tuned gamers in online multiplayer races.
There’s a lot of driving fun to be had.
The game’s cars are brilliant and beautiful on the latest gen consoles, and they deliver a remarkable sense of speed and maneuverability. Each vehicle has its own specialized feel that you can tune to best fit your racing style.
With earned cash, players can fine-tune every possible aspect of a car by adding parts and adjusting a cars performance, grip and stance. In addition, the actions of drifting corners and drafting other vehicles fill a “boost gauge” which creates a satisfying rhythm in the moment-to-moment racing.
NFS Unbound has very distinctive visual effects in its mix as well. (Which some will love … and others might not like so much.) The vehicles and surrounding cityscapes all look photorealistic, but the characters are much more like cel-shaded cartoons.
The game also adds those same stylized effects to the cars as they drift, boost and jump off ramps—adding neo-colored smoke and street-art-inspired colored flourishes. Love them or hate them, those visual elements add a very interesting flair to the play.
This is a street-racing game and that brings with it a bunch of street-level language. It’s kept within T-rated boundaries, but players still have many s-words and uses of “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “b–tard” to contend with. There are one or two combinations of God’s name with “d–n.”
In addition, there are some lightly sexualized comments in the mix and situations where players drive someone who was caught in flagrante delicto.
It should also be noted that most of the races and activities players join in on are illegal. With added heat, police cars smash into vehicles in an effort to take players down. And players can in turn smash into cop cars and damage them.
Some races can be intense and frenetic as cars smash into one another and send some flying end over end. When players crash and flip, they simply rejoin the race from a resting place on the side of the road.
Need for Speed Unbound is addictively fun if you like racing, beautiful tricked-out cars and the thrill of always reaching for a perfectly tuned speedster. The game’s law-breaking premise and T-rated language, on the other hand, is definitely more of a brake than a boost—especially for younger players.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.