Need for Speed Unbound: not the worst (Xbox Game Pass)

There’s nothing better than a racer that nails physics, presentation, and that itch to push further. I’ve mainly gotten that out of the Forza Horizon series in recent years, but have played a ton of Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo in the past. Of course you’ve also got your older series like Test Drive, Burnout, and one off titles that died way too soon like Driveclub. And that’s the kicker – it’s damn sad to see the genre flatten out as time goes on.

So when Need for Speed Unbound recently hit Xbox Game Pass I had to at least try it out. It kind of approaches the aspects I look for in a racing game but never really gets there (at least in the first few hours). But it’s scarce for new arcade racers and you can’t exactly be choosy.

It’s infinitely unfair the way this game will automatically be held to the quality of Forza Horizon. Yes, it’s the best arcade racer since it’s basically the only arcade racer. But the Forza Horizon series is genuinely incredible despite the ways it’s gone long in the tooth.

Need for Speed Unbound almost reminds me of Burnout Paradise. So right off the bat it’s a losing game for me as far as the physics and overall game feel. I know plenty of people love the “snap” arcade physics but I just feel it takes away from the connection I have to the game. Forza Horizon is still arcadey, but I always feel like I’m in control whether I’m driving like an idiot or pushing for a spot on the leaderboards. That isn’t what every racer should try to be but making the Need for Speed series feel a little less on rails would do it some good.

And ultimately I can give Need for Speed Unbound a pass for its physics. It’s definitely going for that juiced up thrill of racing and it mostly gets it right. Racing can be pretty damn fun. Most main activities do hit that amped vibe they’re going for. I think Criterion Games did an awesome job with the blown out animated aesthetic and hip hop vibe. It’s cheesy as hell at times (how about that dialogue?) but it also gives the game character. Unbound doesn’t feel like just another modern Need for Speed game that I’ll write off as hopelessly bland.

It’s still relatively bland. Not a lot has stuck out about its open world. The setting and world is a bit dull. Activities in the open world aren’t very inspired. But for as cheesy as it can be it still has an overall edge that reminds me of how much fun I had with Need for Speed Underground or Need for Speed Most Wanted as a kid. Unbound’s graphics do a pretty good job of creating the world they’re going for but it’s still quite behind what Playground Games has whipped up in recent years.

Overall, I’m satisfied by what Unbound is despite what it isn’t. The arcade racer market just doesn’t feel like what it used to be. Hell, driving games in general only have a fraction of the appeal they once had. Need for Speed Unbound is a game I see myself continuing and chipping away at. I don’t expect to play for 100 hours as I would with Forza Horizon but then it feels amazing to be into an arcade racer that isn’t Forza Horizon.

Need for Speed Unbound screenshots

Unbound isn’t a technical marvel and comes through a bit dull sometimes, but it can still shine through at points. I’d say it even looks great at times. It’s also got a photo mode for those that are into virtual photography. It’s basic but it gets the job done.

Be sure to click through the screenshots below for full quality.

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