As soon as we caught wind that British developer Criterion was back behind the wheel of the latest Need for Speed title, you could say we were pretty excited to see the final result. A number of the series' recent entries have underwhelmed us, so a mix up in the dev department felt like a good choice with 2022's game. While the results of that mix up aren't wholly revolutionary, what we've played so far has really impressed us, with Unbound shaping up to be one of the best Need for Speed titles in the last decade or so.
Over the last couple of days we've been getting stuck into NFS Unbound on Xbox Series X, where a slick 4K / 60 FPS presentation is instantly welcome. The move to 60 frames per-second alone makes Unbound feel like a nice jump up from 2019's Need for Speed Heat, enabling a smooth and slick racing experience on current-gen consoles.
However, it's Criterion's deft touch in the handling department that enhances this feeling even further. Again, Unbound isn't a revolution for the franchise (you can tell it's broadly using the same tech), but something here just feels a little more satisfying overall. Vehicles are more planted, drifting doesn't feel quite as artificial as say, Need for Speed 2015 or Heat, and the racing itself is incredibly fast-paced and thrilling - it's safe to say we've been enjoying our time racing around the streets of Lakeshore so far.
We've taken to Criterion's new visual style as well, with the animated effects adding a nice sense of personality to this racer - a racer that doesn't and shouldn't take itself too seriously. In fact, we'd have welcomed even more of this from the team to be honest. While the current implementation of these flashy effects makes the vehicles themselves really pop on screen, the game's backdrop feels comparatively dull. Lakeshore is a little too grey for our liking; give us even more colour please!
That rolls into another slight issue we've had with Unbound so far, and that's general game variety. Right now, we're only a few hours into Unbound so we can't speak for the full game, but both Lakeshore's gameplay loop and its visual variety are already starting to wear a little thin. We feel like we've been spoiled a bit by the sheer variety that Forza Horizon offers here - both in its events and in the graphical gamut showcased in the past couple of Horizon games especially. Need for Speed Unbound gets the fundamentals of fast arcade racing spot on, but the bar has been raised in recent years and we're not quite sure the new NFS matches up to the likes of Forza Horizon across the board.
Even with that in mind, we've been really enjoying this game so far, and that says a lot since we've not really taken to the series since Criterion was last behind the wheel with Need for Speed: Most Wanted in 2012. We're looking forward to continuing our adventure with Unbound, and we're starting to feel like this developer could be a pretty good fit for the future of Need for Speed. Burnout this isn't, but based on the first few hours of Unbound, Criterion has delivered a rather good Need for Speed game this year.
What do you think to NFS Unbound so far? Enjoying Criterion's take on things? Let us know!