Need for Speed Unbound raced onto consoles and PC late last year with little fanfare. Its unique art style set it apart, but the gameplay is an otherwise familiar formula if you’ve played Need for Speed Heat.
Since then, a lack of content updates led to player numbers shrinking at an alarming rate. After a stalled start, Criterion hopes to breathe new life into Need for Speed Unbound with the Vol 2 update.
Launching on 21 March, NFS Unbound’s first content update brings new online game modes, multiplayer cop chases, and new cars. But is it enough to revive Need for Speed Unbound and bring players back for another lap around Lakeshore City?
Better late than never
With only a handful of game modes and no cop chases, Need for Speed Unbound’s online multiplayer was barebones at launch. Thankfully, the Vol 2 update addresses this with a plethora of additions that give the online multiplayer a much-needed overhaul.
Better late than never, the Vol 2 update finally lets you evade the cops in online multiplayer - a conspiciously absent feature at launch. As you explore Lakeshore City with friends, police patrol the streets and chase you down if they spot you street racing.
This is a welcome addition as Lakeshore feels more alive with police populating the world. There’s an emphasis on teamwork in online cop chases too, as taking out cops chasing other players and helping them escape gives you assist points.
Cops are also less aggressive in multiplayer compared to the single-player where their constant presence became a nuisance, although you can still get busted. Escaping the police is also an effective way of earning Bank.
Thankfully, events now give higher payouts, making it easier to save up and buy new cars – especially as single-player progress and garage cars still don’t transfer to multiplayer.
For now, cops are limited to free roam only and don’t appear in races. It’s also a shame you can’t play as cops and take down other players in high-speed Hot Pursuit-style chases.
Never say never, though: Criterion says Vol 2 is “the first step for cops” in multiplayer, implying that cops will get further updates in the future.
Ready to rumble
Need for Speed Unbound launched with a noticeable lack of online game modes, with multiplayer events limited to Street Races, Speed Races, and Corner King Races. The Vol 2 update introduces two new event types: Endurance and Rumble.
As the name implies, Endurance events are longer than standard races, giving you a chance to catch up if you mess up the first corner. Rumble is the highlight, however. These events repurpose the single-player Takeover stunt tracks, making for some enjoyably tight and chaotic races.
Also adding to the variety are 40 new daily challenges. These reset every day and increase in difficulty. Again, this is another lucrative method of earning money fast – it’s possible to earn around $60,000 a day by completing daily challenges.
Prioritising the multiplayer for Unbound’s first DLC update was the right call. After all, this is what will keep players returning after completing the single-player campaign.
Vol 2 also introduces some much-needed quality-of-life improvements that were missing in January's underwhelming patch. Most notably, a notorious glitch where the Ferrari 488 Pista could be downgraded to a B-Class car giving players an unfair advantage has been patched out.
Another issue with Need for Speed Unbound is the car roster. While Unbound launched with the largest car collection in the series to date, most were recycled from Heat. Unfortunately, Vol 2’s "new" cars leave a lot to be desired.
Vol 2 adds three new rides to the roster: the 2021 Mercedes Maybach S Class, 2021 Lotus Emira Balmain Epic Custom Build, and 1971 Nissan Fairlady ZG Epic Custom Build.
The Emira’s eye-catching wrap was inspired by a custom design Lotus created for a publicity event. After it went viral, Criterion created it for the game.
Out of these, only the Maybach is new to Need for Speed Unbound, unlocked as an “Ultimate Luxury” Hot Laps Challenge Reward - a new activity introduced in Vol 2. Once unlocked, you can buy the opulent saloon for around 230,000 Bank.
The remaining two cars are modified versions of existing models in the base game with custom body kits. After waiting months for new content, this feels anti-climactic.
Worse still, the Nissan Fairlady ZG Epic Custom Build is an exclusive reward for EA Play subscribers, so it’s inaccessible for most players. New banner stickers, Driving Effects, and character emotes are also included in the Vol 2 update, but these are negligible additions.
Need for Speed Unbound’s Vol 2 update is a step in the right direction, but it ultimately feels too little too late. The new online multiplayer events are fun and engaging, higher cash payouts improve progression, and cops bring the online free roaming to life.
But these are core features that should have been in the game at launch - not added four months later.
Need for Speed games don’t have a brilliant reputation when it comes to post-launch support. Need for Speed Heat was swiftly abandoned after Ghost Games was shut down. Sadly, Unbound continues this trend. Compared to The Crew 2's Seasons, its post-launch support has been lacklustre so far.
Vol 2 won’t bring players rushing back, but Need for Speed Unbound isn’t a write-off yet. EA’s Battlefield 2042 and Battlefront 2 prove that abandoned live service games can be salvaged with consistent updates that respond to community feedback.
In a blog post, EA promises “there’s a lot more coming to Need for Speed Unbound in the upcoming months” after Vol 2, hinting at long-term support for Unbound. There's hope, then, that future updates could add more interesting new cars, single-player story chapters, playable cops in online multiplayer, and map expansions.
But time will tell if this will be enough to save Need for Speed Unbound from the scrapyard.
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