Need for Speed: Unbound review - bound for glory? | Top Gear
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Need for Speed: Unbound review - bound for glory?

New cartoonish visuals meet a refined street racing formula

Published: 02 Dec 2022
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Narrowly squeaking in before Christmas, the new Need for Speed has arrived on Xbox, PlayStation and PC complete with an utterly baffling subtitle. What exactly has been Unbound here? The rulebook, in the process of tearing it up? It doesn't seem so because, for the most part, this is the familiar Need For Speed formula from the last game.

The most immediately noticeable change is the new stylised visuals, hastily scribbled speed lines and tyre smoke which look not unlike the scrawled drawings in the back of our Year 9 maths exercise book. They may be divisive, but it's all quite light-touch and you can switch them off if you're mortally offended by your car sprouting hand drawn wings as it sails 100 feet through the air.

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Ironically, given the title of the series, Need for Speed Unbound is not a game for people in a hurry. Progress can feel painfully slow, particularly in the early part of the game, as you're forced to grind out the same races over and over again, reinvesting winnings on substantial buy-ins, only to earn modest sums of money. It'll be several hours before you scratch together enough cash to buy a second car and that's if you manage to avoid being busted by the police and forced to hand over an evening's takings. There's already a cost of living crisis in reality, we probably don't need one in our racing games as well.

But while repeated events are undeniably a bit of a chore, the fundamentals of the racing and police chases are powerfully compelling. The handling is accessible arcade fare and the opponents are pleasingly fallible, occasionally gifting you a win by ploughing into a concrete wall as you breeze past them cackling like a loon. The game will also occasionally tease you with an impromptu delivery job in a Lamborghini Aventador or a McLaren P1 to remind you exactly what you're working towards.

What the game's categorically not interested in is a gritty portrayal of a street racing scene. Every one of your stylised competitors is supremely and refreshingly wholesome, which is remarkable given that they are usually tearing around heavily populated city streets and slamming into police cars. It's less Fast and Furious and more Fast and Friendly, though we're not convinced that would have pulled quite the same numbers at the box office.

Need for Speed: Unbound builds on the solid foundation established by previous game Heat's return to form, and while your climb from obscurity to street racing champion can feel haltingly slow at times, it's rarely less than an absolute pleasure to throw these cars around while cartoon smoke billows from the rear tyres. We're still none the wiser about what that subtitle means, though...

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