The last few Need for Speed games, in my opinion, have not been very good. Under Ghost Games’ direction, the series has languished, lacked proper direction, and been reduced to a customer-funded testing ground for both good and bad ideas. Now that Criterion Software has taken over, they’re not reinventing the wheel (pun intended) with Need for Speed Unbound, but they’re breathing enough new life into the series to make it feel relevant again.

In Need for Speed Unbound, life as a cool street racer is all about earning money (a lot of money) which is then invested in better cars, better equipment, better garages and expensive branded slippers (NFS Underground style). You can also use your hard-earned pennies to enter competitions according to the model “The more expensive the competition, the more money in the pot”. Each day is divided into two phases, day and night. All the money you earn from the various events, missions and activities must be “banked” in your safehouse, after which the round ends and the game moves on to the next part of the day.

The game takes place across four in-game weeks. At the end of each week, there’s a series of qualifying races that eventually lead to a grand finale. But aside from racking up stacks of cash, each of these events also catches the attention of the local police force. If you’re busted by the cops before making it back to a safe house, you lose all of your winnings and must move on to the next day, adding tension to each run-in with the law. So once you’ve earned some money, you can get rid of it just as quickly which is of course incredibly disturbing and becomes a bit of a problem at the beginning of the game when you have too bad a car to be able to outrun the cops.

Other than that there’s a rather uninteresting storyline about getting an old childhood friend back in Unbound, but I’m not even going to go into detail about it, as it’s so bland. And in all honestly, you don’t buy a Need for Speed game for the glorious story anyway, do you?


Unbound is a really neat looking game that showcases the power of the Frostbite Engine very well. It’s a polished arcade racing that delivers a good sense of speed and runs at stable 60 fps on my test computer. The Vivid graffiti-style flourishes also pop up when you activate nitrous or fly off a ramp, and drifting kicks up colorful tire smoke that looks hand-drawn, with all of these effects punctuating the action with a unique sense of style.

Unboundlooks good and it showcases the power of the Frostbite Engine very well.

That said, as a side note I’m also working on a Steam Deck video, but have been having trouble getting it to work. However, there are others who have gotten it working fine on their Steam Decks and it looks to be absolutely fantastic fun to play in handheld form.

Gameplay & difficulty

Unbound’s driving model is flexible enough to allow for a couple of different racing styles. Each car’s handling falls into one of three categories: drift, grip, and neutral (which sits in the middle of the other two.)

If you love careening around corners sideways, a car that emphasizes drifting will make life easier. On the other hand, if you prefer slowing down and hitting the apex of each corner, a grippy car is advantageous. Whichever style you choose rewards you with a chunk of nitrous for pulling these cornering techniques off successfully, which makes both viable.

In terms of difficulty, Unbound is challenging and requires more than just throttle, brake and drift. Once I get the hang of some of the game mechanics, for example “perfect launch”, the reworked boost system and grip tuning, it’s generally easier. But for a casual player with limited time and interest, it will definitely feel like a pretty steep uphill climb. When it comes to the online mode, the biggest problem is (again) the amount of money earned. It’s a tiring journey and I really hope this is fixed in a patch or similar, because as it stands now I don’t feel like spending any more game time there.


If you can look past all the flaws (as well as A$AP Krocky and other clichés from various American subcultures), Need for Speed Unbound is a game that wants to be more than just NFS: Heat 2.0.

A perfectly fine arcade racer that never pretends to be anything other than what it actually is. A pop racing game that pushes the boundaries with its animé effects, and at the same time offers entertaining and challenging hours of adrenaline-pumping street racing and a wide palette of possibilities.

And once you succeed in building the car of your dreams, the hours spent will have been worth it.

Score: 7/10

Session: Need for Speed Unbound is available on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation®5, PlayStation®4 and PC. I reviewed the game on PC with a code provided by the publisher.