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Need for Speed Unbound review: This racing game struggles to hit top gear

Electronic Arts' Need for Speed Unbound has a lot going for it in terms of customization and visually stimulating races. But the gameplay is a letdown

What sets NFS Unbound apart from the previous games in the series is the artwork-based characters and special effects.

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Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed Unbound is a refreshing addition to the racing genre while staying true to the series’ core philosophy of arcade-style underground racing with police cars in pursuit. The new game, which succeeds the 2019 release Need for Speed Heat, also known as NFS Heat, offers several upgrades in terms of graphics, racing modes, and stunning locations.

NFS Unbound is set in the fictional city of Lakeshore, which is inspired by Chicago. The single player story mode allows players to compete in racing challenges spread across several locations in the city. The Lakeshore map is as vast as NFS Heat’s Palm City. However, it feels a lot more vibrant. One of the reasons is that there are a lot more vehicles and pedestrians on the streets as compared to the previous game.

What sets NFS Unbound apart from the previous games in the series is the artwork-based characters and special effects. It makes races and interactions during cutscenes look more animated. During races, players can choose from a bunch of colorful special effects for smoke while drifting, accelerating, or jumping. Though this makes races look more fun and eye-catching, it may not appeal to everyone. Many racing game aficionados may find it a bit over the top. However, that is not the audience EA seems to be targeting. The game's colorful elements and the rap music filled background, which includes tracks by American rapper A$AP Rocky, will appeal a lot more to Gen-Z gamers and video game streamers.

The gameplay hasn’t changed much in terms of handling cars. The arcade-style driving mechanics makes it ideal even for first-time players. Races are not very tough and losing police cars during chases is a lot easier even after hitting the highest heat level as compared to previous games in the series.

There is a lot to do in the garage as the game offers plenty of deep customization options, allowing users to overhaul car designs like never seen before in the series. EA claims the game has over 10,000 customization options.

The plot has never been a highlight in NFS games as everything boils down to winning races and progressing to the next one. NFS Unbound is no different in that regard. However, the game has a multiplayer online mode where players can compete with friends and other online gamers. It also supports cross-play, a new feature that allows players from across platforms such as Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, or Windows PC to connect and compete with each other. The online mode has a few limitations and lacks many of the features available in single-player mode. For instance, it doesn’t have the option of police car chases even if one breaks the law and drives rash.

Overall, Need for Speed Unbound doesn’t seem like a huge upgrade over NFS Heat in terms of gameplay. However, it has a lot going for it in terms of customization, visually stimulating races, and the option to play across gaming platforms. All that makes it a great addition to the racing games genre.

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