Need for Speed Unbound has already made a mark on the racing genre

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When rumours of an anime art style for this year's Need for Speed players were worried.

Would it be a weird Japanese aesthetic that left some fans behind? Well those worried NFS fans were finally given some visuals to take in when the gameplay trailer dropped last week.

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And frankly, all those worries were misplaced. Not only misplaced, but it turns out Criterion Games & EA has taken a step that racing games have been dying for. We just didn't realise it until we were shown it.

A fresh coat of paint

As graphics engines have improved, the push for photorealism in racing games has been all out.

While each franchise retains its own style, from F1 to Gran Turismo and Assetto Corsa, every racing game kind of looks the same. That's usually down to the fact that every game uses mostly the same cars on the same tracks. But it isn't only for that reason.

Even titles like Forza Horizon 5 that push realism to its limit with the gameplay still stick to a realistic style.

That's why the leaks about Need for Speed Unbound were so surprising because while NFS has always gone for bright, vibrant cars and larger-than-life action the art style has usually been within the bounds of racing.

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But now that we've seen it, it all makes sense. The new style of NFS Unbound is not just eye-catching but engrossing too.

The flair and style of Need for Speed Unbound has immediately captured the imagination of players everywhere thanks to its uniqueness.

Will it last?

The huge visual shake-up to the racing scene NFS Unbound provided with its reveal has resonated in the imaginations of players everywhere.

It sparked conversation across social media and ideas about what other developers could do to make their games stand out.

Need for Speed is the last standing arcade racing franchise of any serious note, meaning it can take some risks when it comes to presentation. But with such a strong reception maybe it will be a trendsetter once again.

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While the genre of racing has taken off in the last few years every game sort of feels the same, be it AMS2, rFactor 2, or ACC. But Need for Speed is taking a stand against that bland and realistic aesthetic.

NFS Unbound takes artistic licence in a way we haven't seen from a racing game in a long time, and while almost all of the artsy style can be turned off by players, its existence and prevalence within the customisation settings seems to show Criterion's desire to really give players a feast for the senses.

The question now is can the art style stand up when the shock and novelty wears off? We think it can. 2019's NFS Heat showed off a bright Miami world that while stylised could have been from any other developer under any other title.

Unbound looks like nothing else, and in a totally unexpected way that is also totally in keeping with the style NFS has always pushed to the fore.

An inspiration for others

Now of course, NFS Unbound will live and die by much more than its art style, but the reception could hardly have been better.

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The handling, story, customisation, and multiplayer will all determine if Need for Speed Unbound is a success, but the hype generated by an unexpected visual style should be a huge inspiration for others.

Players can get photorealism from a number of high-quality sims, even on console, and while we don't expect Forza Motorsport to suddenly shift to a cartoon style, titles like Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown and Wrecknation could learn from NFS's lead. They don't need to go for hyper-realism in their games, there is another way now. It just took a brave step from EA of all places to make everyone realise it.