Co-op is just what Need for Speed Unbound needed

Thomas Harrison-Lord
We’ve been hands on with the upcoming Vol.3 update for Criterion’s open-world racer, and we think Linkups are the best feature in the game so far…
Co-op is just what Need for Speed Unbound needed

Need for Speed Unbound is BACK… again.

Volume 3 is about to drop tomorrow, 20th June, and while it includes a new car, some fire customisation items and a new XP-based progression system we’re here to tell you that its online co-op mode is where it’s at. 

‘Linkups’ is the parlance for online co-op in Unbound, and they are a new addition for the free Vol.3 update arriving on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. 

Found within Lakeshore Online they appear at random, signified by a bright green icon on the map. There will also be a notification with an event-start countdown timer at the top left of your screen. 

So, in-between playlist events, grinding for cash or tricking out your ride, you can now enter these extra events by simply driving towards one of seven areas that are cordoned off like a crime scene – except instead of tape, there’s a giant transparent green wall. 

Here you will be subjected to a series of challenges. 

Wait, ‘subjected to’ sounds almost like a punishment. No, you will be set a series of over-the-top tasks which we found to be a frantic mess, in a good way. 

Need for Speed Unbound Linkup starting

Starting out with the opening of four rounds, each of which has multiple phases, it may be as simple as drifting until a meter fills up. Or grabbing enough airtime by flinging your car at jumps with more gusto than a Monster Energy-drinking kangaroo. 

These targets are collaborative. Anyone on the same server as you will also see the Linkup on their map, and should they fancy helping out, all they do is drive inside the giant green circle at any point. 

Things soon ramp up, as the cops arrive to try and spoil your fun. I mean, what’s their problem? I’m only smashing into barrels of pink paint on a gold course?! 

As the complexity of the challenges increase and your heat level rises, the whole thing becomes adrenalized. This is where playing with friends, or even people you’ve never met before becomes a big help. 

Need for Speed Unbound Linkups

There are times when you must leap through specific mid-air gates, or try to find hidden golden bears. Slipstream other cars or keep above 100mph. Nothing in of itself hugely original or genre-defining, but added together with Unbound’s environment and online system and it’s a riot. 

There was a moment when our companion in a modified Ford Focus jumped over the top of us while we were also in the air and with the police in tow. We both landed our respective jumps and completed the phase goal. 

And we didn’t even know who there were. Two people from other sides of the world, working together to achieve a common goal. Then sending a chat wheel emoticon afterwards in appreciation, before realising we needed to escape the cops in order to keep our bank. Banging. 

Not since one of developer Criterion Games’ older titles, Burnout Paradise, had I had this much enjoyment from an online, open-world driving game. Remember teaming up to visit the Wildcats’ Baseball Stadium? Yeh, like that, but with more A$AP Rocky and crashing. 

Need for Speed Unbound DMC DeLorean

It should be worth noting that during our preview period, we weren’t able to try a full-capacity 16-player Linkup. Surely that will be utter madness. It also begs the question, if only these had been included from day one, maybe more people would have been judging Unbound on its online merits. I suppose we’ll never know. 

Tying into this new game mechanic is the DMC DeLorean. Yes, before you ask, there’s an in-game challenge that pays out XP for hitting 88mph… 

A B-class vehicle stock, pleasingly not top tier allowing scope to tune up, you must complete 12 rounds of the linkups to unlock. Then, it’s available for $45,000 both online and offline. 

There’s not much to report about the driving experience, but it can do what Unbound does best – near-endless tuning and body kit options.  

Need for Speed Unbound Speed Pass

Elsewhere, there’s a new ‘battle pass’ style system. In terms of fellow racing games, think F1 23’s Podium Pass. Earn XP, progress through levels and unlock cosmetic items. 

Unbound’s Speed Pass only includes non-performance-enhancing trinkets – think under-floor neon and livery stickers – and there’s no paid tier. Not a fundamental change, but again, one that would have been welcome earlier as an incentive to keep playing. 

No matter, it’s here now, take it or leave it. In fact, you must take it, as it replaces the existing ranking system. 

Completing challenges from the lists – there are 57 fresh entries in this update – or placing well in online playlists will see you earn mad experience points and rise through the 75 ranks. There’s a Legendary Custom version of the existing Dodge Viper for hitting tier 50 too. 

Need for Speed Unbound - ROBOJETS Mazda RX-7

Alongside three new online drift playlists, which show your rivals on screen in ghosted form, rounding out this update is a new in-game store. Unlike Speed Pass, you can spend actual currency here on cars. However, they are heavily modified versions of existing models without a performance boost. It’s not pay-to-win, but rather pay-to-look sharp. 

The ROBOJETS Mazda RX-7, for example, is wild. Looking like a clay model shaped with a samurai sword, you’d be hard-pressed to tell what it was originally based upon. Special permission was granted by the Japanese manufacturer to include the garish looks. 

The new Legendary Custom Ford Mustang is brutish, although perhaps not as outlandish as the Mazda. Having said that, there is a rear LED strip that has animated wording. Purchasing this does help you skip 10 Speed Pass levels too – aha, there we go. 

Need for Speed Unbound Legendary Custom Ford Mustang

Still, Linkups. This is where it’s at, and despite the cramming in of a Speed Pass and a Store initially looking like a potential cash grab, we applaud the entirely visual-item-only nature of the paid content. Take it or leave it. The main additions here are free, and they are fantastic. 

It’s time to fire up Need for Speed Unbound Lakeshore Online once more…

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