Need for Speed Unbound lacks speed

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With the release fast approaching, we were starting to worry about the lack of pure Need for Speed Unbound gameplay. Since October's reveal, we've only seen heavily edited trailers.

Thankfully, EA responded to requests with a three-minute video showing (mostly) unedited gameplay just over a week before launch. This finally gave us a good look at Speed Races, side bets, and A$AP Rocky's custom Mercedes-Benz 190E in action.

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However, for a game called Need for Speed, there’s a noticeable lack of speed in the gameplay shown so far. 

Need more speed

The Need for Speed Unbound gameplay video showcases two Speed Races featuring rapper A$AP Rocky’s one-of-a-kind Mercedes-Benz 190 E. But where is the sense of speed?

Obviously, we don’t expect a Mercedes-Benz 190 E to be as fast as a Ferrari or Lamborghini. But when the speedometer says you’re hurtling at 130 mph, it shouldn’t feel like you're coasting at 30 mph on the way to the supermarket.  

As YouTuber and renowned Need for Speed fan Blackpanthaa demonstrated, this can easily be fixed with a few changes. All Criterion needs to do is add some subtle motion blur and camera shake effects. This would increase the sense of speed dramatically.

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Of course, these effects may be optional in the final game. If so, leaving them off wasn’t the best way to showcase Need for Speed Unbound's races. 

Compared to what we’ve seen in Unbound so far, the sense of speed was significantly better in NFS Underground - a game that’s nearly 20 years old.

When you activated nitrous in NFS Underground, the speed was intoxicating. An onslaught of visual effects inspired by The Fast and the Furious made every race feel exhilarating.

By comparison, the races shown in the Unbound gameplay video lack energy and intensity, even with the cartoony visual effects.

Lakeshore City has Burnout Paradise vibes

At least Lakeshore City looks like a fun and diverse map to explore. Races shown in the gameplay video take place in crowded city streets, suburbs, and a railyard.

Need for Speed Unbound Lakeshore City

With an emphasis on performing stunts and finding shortcuts, the open-world design reminds us of Criterion’s Burnout Paradise – particularly when the player car smashes through roadworks, jumps over a ramp, and lands on an overhead railway before narrowly missing an oncoming train. 

For the first time in a Need for Speed game, parked cars line the streets, crowds of pedestrians fill the pavements, and there are moving trains.

These may sound like minor details, but it helps make Lakeshore City feel alive. That said, the traffic density could be higher as some streets look empty in the gameplay video. We suspect the traffic density is lowered in races to help reduce frustration.

Need for Speed Unbound

The gameplay video also shows how side bets work. Before a race, you can bet money on a rival racer to earn extra cash. Higher-ranked drivers have larger bets, adding an element of risk versus reward.

The driving also appears to have a surprising amount of depth. Most Need for Speed games let you get away with speeding around corners without slowing down by tapping the brakes to drift.

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But in Unbound, drifting appears to slow the car down, meaning you need to think about your speed when approaching corners.

Need for Speed Unbound

We also get a better look at the cartoon driving effects, and they blend with the realistic visuals surprisingly well. For example, you can make wings appear from your car when catching air in a jump. These effects are going to be divisive, but at least you can turn them off.

Overall, though, Need for Speed Unbound’s gameplay showcase leaves us feeling a little underwhelmed. The unusual visual style is refreshing, but it’s redundant if the actual racing falls flat.

Let’s hope this isn’t a sign that Need for Speed Unbound is all style and no substance.