Need for Speed Unbound Review thumbnail

Need for Speed Unbound Review

A slight return to form

Mary Billington

Reviewed by playing a PS5 on 🚨

Need for Speed Unbound is also available for Xbox Series X

Need for Speed Unbound is rated Teen by the ESRB

Dive into the lives of underground street racers and pimp your ride in Need for Speed Unbound; the latest entry of an iconic racing series.

│ One of Video Chums' core principles is "it's better to be late and thorough than it is to be early and misinformed". 🧐

Need for Speed Unbound screenshot 1
But I don't want to get a speeding ticket!


In the opening sequences of Need for Speed Unbound, a good friend of yours makes off with your expensive car without word as to where they're going. Months later, you find out that they've reinvigorated the street racing scene and it's up to you to pull together a ride good enough to compete in the hopes of getting some payback and finding out what they've been up to. v1d30chumz 35-172-230-154

There's also a bigger underlying story that you'll hear on the radio and in side-chatter between characters that follows a corrupt political system that has it out for the street racers. If street racers had taken over my city, I'd be happy that the mayor was trying to stop them because who wants that noise and ridiculous amount of property damage every night? Honestly, both of these storylines did not get my attention at all and even annoyed me so it's a good thing that I didn't play Need for Speed Unbound for its story.

Need for Speed Unbound screenshot 2
This fellow doesn't even know what game he's in


You get to create your own character at the start of the game and then dive into the deep vehicle customization portion once you've sorted out your cool duds. Customizing and buying vehicles is a key part of Need for Speed Unbound; so much so that if you don't pay attention, you might have trouble continuing the story. That's because you're on a weekly schedule to create a car with good enough specs that it will allow you to compete in the qualifier at the end of the week. Many different parts of your car can be customized with each upgrade rewarding a particular amount of points to bring you closer to the next tier.


Amassing enough cash to upgrade your car can be difficult if you don't pay attention to your weekly goal. It's quite easy to just blow it on silly upgrades that don't help as much with raising the car's rank but if you're just a little bit smart about it and pick the upgrades with the most points, you'll find it to be a breeze. I believe this system was called out in the early hours of the game although I didn't catch on and initially thought that I had to save a ton of money to buy completely new vehicles of the correct tier. Others might be under that impression, too, if they don't pay attention. After I realised that I just needed to upgrade, I was happier although it didn't stop me from getting mad at myself when I lost all of my cash for a day after I was busted by the cops and they took it all from me. 💸

Need for Speed Unbound screenshot 3
Let's make sparks fly


As you race the streets from one event to another and even within the events themselves, you'll deal with cops that just won't let up. The day is broken into day and night and your notoriety will increase through both of these sessions only to reset the next day and the more notoriety, the harder the cops work to take you down. If you're not careful, you'll have many heavy-duty cop cars chasing you and angrily slamming into you as you try to make a getaway. If you get caught, you lose all of the money that you earned that day.

When things really heat up, it's a fun challenge to try and escape before you get totalled. However, the fact that a cop will start chasing you as soon as you finish a race more often than not is downright annoying. Sometimes, I just want to complete a few events and go around smashing billboards but when I have to lose a cop every time I finish an event, it gets annoying and not fun. 👮

Need for Speed Unbound screenshot 4
Driving this car makes me feel like James Bond


2 event types are new in Need for Speed Unbound: deliveries where you chauffeur someone to a safe place or unload a fancy car with the cops on your heels and there are also takeovers where you must break smashable items, jump, and drift your way to the top of the leaderboard by earning the most points. Both of these are enjoyable but I still wish there was gameplay that involved smashing up other cars or something along the lines of what Hot Pursuit offered with its police mode.


On top of events, there are also collectibles to smash, street art to collect, and gas stations and safehouses to find. Some smashable items require a bit of thought on how to reach them but it's pretty standard stuff overall for a racing game. Other activities include sections of the city where you're challenged to make a long jump, get points in a drift zone, or hit a high speed. Again, this has all been done before and is pretty well expected for a racing game with an overworld these days but it's still fun nonetheless.

Need for Speed Unbound screenshot 5
I'm slowing down so I can admire the view


The fictional city of Lakeshore is inspired by Chicago complete with skyscrapers, city and rural roads, and construction zones. There's also a good amount of tunnels that can be very hazardous to enter because for a few seconds, there's a brief moment when you're blinded by darkness or light which made me crash into other vehicles many times. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not but it definitely made me think twice about taking an underpass. Overall, the city is attractive and Need for Speed Unbound does a nice job of changing things up by adding cartoon-style visual flairs to the vehicles such as colourful smoke, speed lines, and wings around the cars when they jump long distances. However, when I compare it to something like the last couple of Forza games, it doesn't come anywhere near being as visually striking. Also, the graphics are attractive but given the limited variety of scenery, it doesn't come across as all that impressive.


Yet again, there is no local multiplayer in a major racing game which is kind of a letdown but there is online multiplayer. The online mode is separate from the story mode complete with an entirely different bank but overall, it plays quite similarly if you ignore the day-based gameplay loop. The cars that you get in single player are available in multiplayer but not vice versa which keeps things true to the story. The only reason to play online is if you don't want to be stuck with just AI racers as otherwise, it feels the same as playing story mode. It even has the limitation of only having a handful of events to play at any one time which I don't enjoy in either story or online mode as I want more freedom to pick and choose and not be forced into playing one of a few randomly-decided races.

Need for Speed Unbound screenshot 6
7 cops is indeed too many cops

Need for Speed Unbound is a fun racer with some new event types and an unusual yet undeniably attractive visual style. However, it doesn't do a ton to set itself apart from other racers that are currently out there and its story mode can be quite limiting.

  • + Delivery and takeover events present something a little different
  • + Fun visual effects when driving
  • + Escaping a level-5 cop chase is a blast
  • - Lakeshore city lacks a variety of locations
  • - Limited event choice at any given time
  • - Story is hard to relate to
7.5 out of 10
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Watch Mary play Need for Speed Unbound
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