When Need for Speed Unbound launched at the end of November, it heralded a return to form for Electronic Arts’ long-running open-world driving series.
But, something felt a little off. There were no reviews before the $80 Palace Edition launched, which made it feel a little like a shot in the dark for players and hinted at a possible lack of confidence from the Californian HQ.
Then, since its launch, there’s been one, minuscule, stability-focused, game update. That’s it in nearly three months.
But, we needn’t have worried. Not only is Unbound good, really good, but throughout this year there will be a series of content additions and game improvements. It all starts here, with Volume 2 which includes must-requested features, new cars and fresh modes.
We’ve been hands-on ahead of release with the biggest change to Unbound so far. The fightback starts here…
Lakeshore Online is a large part of Unbound’s appeal, but it has been missing one key competent to date: cops.
Police chases are intrinsic to the appeal of this franchise, present since 1994’s The Need for Speed, the very first entry. They also feature heavily in the most recent release’s single-player campaign, patrolling the streets and adding to your heat level.
This was juxtaposed with the quiet streets of the cross-platform multiplayer world, where they were completely absent.
A glaring omission, and one that is now thankfully rectified with Volume 2.
The flashing-light-equipped Dodge Chargers and Ford Explorers roam the Chicago-aping streets as you would expect, just like offline, also appearing on your mini-map. Crash into them, and the pursuit begins.
Now, why might this be a good addition, you may be asking? It makes the two worlds of single-player and multiplayer seem more cohesive. It also adds variety to the gameplay experience.
But, clearly, the main bonus is the cash, or bank in Need for Speed terminology, earned by taking down an officer of the law.
Dollars are sometimes hard to come by in Unbound – although we think the grind is part of the appeal once it ‘clicks’ – but wiping out a cop nets $200, and that is handy for car modifications or cosmetic items. The cash soon starts adding up.
There’s also a collaborative element – if you’re being pursued and someone else on your server comes across the chase, they can join in and help you decimate your law enforcement adversaries.
Teaming up with some friends to take down cops between playlists is smile-inducing carnage. Next, we hope their presence can be added to some of the actual multiplayer races sooner rather than later. A feature that, unlike in single-player, remains absent.
Let’s get ready to rumble
Something else you can now participate in alongside friends is rumble races. Included in two online playlists, which place three events back to back to crown an overall champion, a rumble is typically a short track race, littered with hairpins and ludicrous jumps.
They are the sort of layout a racing driver might describe as ‘technical’, with tight and twisty formats.
It creates an action-packed race, the first lap frantically working out which way the track goes next. The second and third laps, deciding which corners to drift around and how to maximise your boost.
Wasting it just before a hairpin and hitting a parking lot wall head-first is all too easy. You cannot afford a mistake, as time is even more precious here.
Frenetic, it becomes the most riotous format in the game by a country mile and ideal for those looking for short, sharp, blasts of competitive racing. A welcome addition, ideal for those who want to get in, race door-to-door and have a blast.
It’s all about cheddar
If this sounds multiplayer-heavy in focus, then yes, you would be correct.
This continues with the redistribution of winnings, which have been tinkered with throughout the network-connected experience. During the reshuffling of playlists, pay-outs have generally increased across the board and the top-level earnings are now mostly similar across the differing car classes.
Hopefully, this means more people participate in races with lower-category cars more often. You can now also switch cars mid-playlist. This was already possible for multi-class events, but is now the case even if the class remains consistent throughout the three races, allowing you to mix it up should one of your cars suit a particular layout.
Alongside rumble races, there are also two new playlists and fresh endurance events.
All notable, but the higher bank rewards are the main bonus here. For example, the playlist Revv’d Up used to pay out a maximum of $21,000, but that’s now up to $38,000 for the winner, an 81 per cent boost.
Hot lapping the ‘Bach
Right, time for some single-player enhancements, we start with new cars. For those, and only those, who subscribe to EA Play, there’s the pre-modified and customised Nissan Fairlady ZG 1971 Epic Custom.
There’s also the fashion-tie-in Balmain Edition Lotus Emira. This is already in the game, driven by the character Eléonore, but now it can be yours. It’s unlocked when you win three online playlists driving a Lotus.
These are just sideshows to the main deal. An all-new car for the game teased as ‘The Ultimate Luxury’ and secret until now.
In the words of Drake in Dreams Money Can Buy: “I send the Maybach out in neighbourhoods, they never seen it.”
Yes, it’s the rather incongruous Mercedes-Maybach S 680 saloon. This luxo-barge drives as you would imagine it. Very powerful, stable down the highway, but due to its gigantic length, about as nimble as a cruise liner.
We must admit, however, that it looks particularly menacing with a body kit, even the usually tasteless Mansory design. Certainly, more refined than Jay Z and Kanye West’s attempts at ‘Bach modifying in the Otis music video. Maybe that monstrosity will be in Unbound’s Volume 3…?
How you unlock the Maybach is critical, as a new activity type has been added – Hot Laps.
These join the likes of Speed Traps, Drift Zones and Jumps as optional purple icons on Lakeshore’s map. Each is a diminutive looped circuit with a target time. The quicker you go, the more stars you can earn, up to three per Hot Lap.
It isn’t an easy ride to get a three-star result, taking practice, determination and learning the layouts to within a millimetre. Then you also need a car tuned for agile handling, but that’s also no slouch in a straight line.
We found ourselves chasing the top times on a regular basis, being drawn into the hunt for the elusive stars. You need to collect 30 exclusively from Hot Lap events, and the Maybach unlocks for purchase at $230,000.
A brighter future
A host of smaller quality-of-life changes are welcome too, alongside the new content and modes. You can now no longer downgrade Ferraris several tiers to pick up an unfair advantage, but you can now skip music tracks mid-race with the D-pad and crucially, there will be three new daily challenges to earn extra bank from.
A feature that reminds us of some prior Need for Speed titles, a welcome addition to the cash-earning possibilities and in our experience, most will be completed naturally. For example, in our testing, we had four and five seconds of air from one jump and completing a Tier A+ playlist.
Total bank received across the three was $60,000. Every 24 real-world hours, this will update.
Arguably more important that these changes, however, is that EA, Criterion Games and the subsumed Codemasters Cheshire team seem to be in this for the long haul.
Developers, working away in silence, waiting for the opportune moment to launch an update once it was ready and substantial, as opposed to a constant drip-feed of smaller changes. We admire the chutzpah.
Now we’ve tried Volume 2 and see significant changes, anticipation has built for what the rest of the year has in store for Need for Speed Unbound.
Unbound’s Volume 2 is available to download as a free update on 21st March for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. Will you be downloading it? Let us know in the comments below!