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BrawlMan

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Edit: I have to say Nicole Carpenter, I'm impressed. This is one of the few times where your site sounds like an actual professional journalism we need more articles like this, not the other distracting/trivial bull crap most people don't care about. Don't let it get to your heads, my feelings towards the slightest still the same. Keep being better and then we'll talk.
 
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Chimpzy

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Y'all wanna see something that makes a 4090 run sub-30fps fps unless you use dlss3?

Fully path traced global illumination, baby. It fucks. This releases as free dlc in a couple days btw.
 
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XsjadoBlaydette

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A (very late) review that concurs with my experience of the game so far.



Eurogamer.net - Recommended badge


Criterion takes the reins once more for an arcade racer that’s capable of going toe-to-toe with the all-conquering Forza Horizon.
Here’s a familiar tale. A new Need for Speed comes out to zero fanfare and turns out to be pretty decent; decent enough, even, to feel like a return to form for EA’s long-running series after it had experienced a fallow spell.
Need for Speed: Unbound review
  • Developer: Criterion
  • Publisher: EA
  • Platform: Played on Xbox Series X
  • Availability: Out now on PS5, Xbox and PC
The thing is, I’d understand if you weren’t aware: when it came out back in 2019 Need for Speed Heat received such a muted reception it barely registered beyond the series’ faithful. It’s a pleasant surprise, then, that it’s got a sequel in Need for Speed: Unbound, an open world racer that builds upon the foundations of Heat, and that heralds the return of the legendary Criterion as a lead studio. And it’s frustrating that EA seems to have doubled down on doing nothing to promote its latest Need for Speed, because Unbound is more than a return to form. It’s the best Need for Speed in a generation, and certainly the finest since Criterion began its first stint on the series with the sublime Hot Pursuit. It’s so good, in fact, that I don’t think it’s too far off giving the all-conquering Forza Horizon a run for its money.

They’re two very different series, of course, but it’s in the differences between Need for Speed Unbound and something like Forza Horizon 5 that you’ll find what makes this game so special. In Horizon it can feel like you only need to drive 100 yards down the road to be showered with trinkets and new toys; in Need for Speed: Unbound after a dozen hours I still only had a single ride, and could lose an entire evening running events in order to afford a new air filter. It’s miserly, but it also might be Need for Speed: Unbound’s masterstroke.

Unbound leans heavily into its underground racing fiction, to the point that it defines the single-player campaign that runs, if you see it through to the grand final, for well over 30 hours. There’s some light framing (after a lengthy prologue) with a tale of betrayal, double-crossing and ultimate redemption, but that’s besides the point. What’s really important is how Unbound doubles down on the journey of you and your car as you force more horses under the bonnet and strap on a turbo or two.


Multiplayer sits separately to the campaign, with the ability to load into an online Lakeshore with 16 other players and with 8 player races supported. It's slim but satisfying enough.

There’s a fascinating knot of systems that support all this. The campaign takes place over four weeks, each of them climaxing in a special event that builds all the way up to the grand final. By day you can run events that gradually escalate the level of police attention you receive, which then carries over into the night when patrols are denser and fiercer - and you can’t bank your earnings until you make it to a safehouse without any police on your tail. It’s a rhythm that pushes you more towards exploring the open world, triggering speed traps for a small prize or tracking down billboards to smash through.

Unbound’s open world proves to be pretty compelling, too. The visuals help - unlike its predecessors this is a 60fps racer, with the decision to cut last-gen versions clearly paying off - as does the styling, with colourful anime swoops and lines accompanying your action, while your avatar (which can be completely customised in a surprisingly broad range of fits) has a cel-shaded look. Upon first reveal I thought it might all be off putting, but come the final product not only does it look awesome I also found myself wishing it wasn’t quite so restrained.


Car combat's never quite as crunchy as the likes of Burnout - how I miss that glorious takedown cam - but there some surprisingly meaty systems powering the police pursuits.

Lakeshore itself is a playful riff on Chicago, and another Need for Speed backdrop where the roads always seem to be rain-slicked, and in which the cars always appear to be sweating. There’s a bustling downtown with busy streets criss-crossing under elevated train tracks which host urban sprints that could have been lifted from Project Gotham Racing; out in the suburbs and beyond there are long winding roads that stretch up the hills and provide carefree blasts reminiscent of Criterion’s wonderful Hot Pursuit.

I loved Hot Pursuit, partly because if you squinted you could pretend to be playing the OutRun successor we’ve been waiting all these years for. Unbound isn’t quite the better game - it lacks the simple elegance in design and its handling, while its car combat isn’t quite as satisfying - but it’s most definitely a superior Need for Speed game than Criterion’s prior efforts, going all in on the fantasy of tricking out a simple ride until it gobbles up tarmac and spits out flames. That the journey you take your starter car on is so protracted only makes it more meaningful.

Be warned, though, that Need for Speed: Unbound treats you mean. Wins aren’t guaranteed. Neither, for that matter, is winning back the money you have to cough up in order to enter each event - and often the margins are minimal. It can be frustrating, or it can make the relationship between you and your ride flourish. The Honda Civic I’ve doggedly carried through to the endgame is a virtual car I’ve now become deeply attached to; every time I drive it I can feel the hours I’ve poured into it under my thumbs, and can see the results of the late nights spent grinding events so I could afford a tasteful purple neon underglow. I’ve come to know its foibles just as well as any real-life car I’ve owned.


Need for Speed: Unbound's a mighty fine looking game in the right light - and Lakeshore tends to offer a moody, overcast kind of vibe by day.

Customisation in Need for Speed: Unbound runs deep. You can flare wheel arches, stiffen suspension and strap on some slick new boots (and like Heat, with which Unbound shares so much DNA, you can even customise the timbre and bark of your exhaust note to a satisfyingly ludicrous granularity). You can even drop a 300bhp flat six into a Civic, which of course I did because I want only the best for my humble Honda, and every tweak you make has an impact. You can feel the extra horses, sure, but also the tweaks you make that push your car between the axis of grip or drift handling make themselves known. The drifting, though, doesn’t quite satisfy as much as Criterion’s racers in their pomp - it took me a dozen hours to acclimatise to it all, which speaks to the depths but also to the fact it’s not quite as immediate a thrill as before.

Unbound is not quite perfect in other small ways too. Police AI is fine when you’re simply cruising around with no heat - and indeed there are some neat systems that help you avoid being spotted as you use the minimap in what amounts to an automotive game of Pac-Man - but when things get noisy cop cars often lose their heads. I’d love a bigger, broader car list, though maybe I’m just sore as a Toyota fanboy who’s been robbed of the chance of doing unspeakable things to an A70 Supra, as the world’s biggest marque is entirely absent. There are nips and tucks that could be made in a handful of places that could make this truly sing, and make it not just a great Need for Speed game but a great open world racer full stop.

As it stands Unbound falls just short of that, but given how it delivers a Need for Speed experience that’s miles ahead of anything the franchise has offered in over a decade I’m not complaining. Here’s hoping EA’s bizarre handling of this fantastic game doesn’t dent its chances, and that Criterion gets to build upon its brilliant work for a sequel. Because then we really could have a Forza Horizon beater on our hands.

Also worth mentioning this was released without the need for any patches, it worked like a normal game should on day 1, which is mad that this is now a thing that is so rare now it's a point of praise. Anyway, Digital Foundry time...


After spending most of the last decade as a Battlefront and Battlefield support studio, Criterion Games is back with a full-fledged arcade racing adventure. Need for Speed Unbound is a boldly stylised open-world racer, with graffiti-inspired particle effects and cel-shaded character models. Criterion Games' last full titles were the much-loved Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted, so is Unbound a worthy sequel - and are the new visual effects an impressive addition or unwelcome distraction? Plus, how does the game hold up on PS5, Series X and Series?

Let's get the basics out of the way first - resolution and performance. Series X and PS5 both target 4K while Series S opts for 1440p, but dynamic resolution scaling (DRS) attempts to keep a locked 60fps by dropping internal resolution in heavier moments. I counted as low as 1800p on PS5 and 2016p on Series X, but in general play PS5 is around 1944p and Series X is at full 4K (2160p). Meanwhile, Series S can be as low as 1080p, averaging 1296p, so you get a noticeably softer image than the 4K-like results on the premium consoles.

In terms of performance, the situation reverses. PS5 is more-or-less locked to 60fps, but Series X and Series S see one-off frame-rates drops fairly commonly and more occasional drops to 51-57fps during intense races. Given the higher average resolution on Series X, it's possible that the DRS could be tweaked to ease GPU load and iron out these heavier drops - and if there are other underlying issues they ought to be solved. Right now though, PS5 offers the best overall experience for NFS Unbound.



Here's our Need for Speed: Unbound analysis in video form.

No matter which console you're playing on though, you won't fail to spot the game's new stylistic flourishes. Car exhaust plumes and tyre smoke have been replaced with colourful, stark particle effects, and all sorts of actions - like hitting a boost or nailing a jump - spawn bright sketched highlights.

Some effects are more static, 2D art sketched over your car, like angel wings appearing during a jump, while others are keyframed effects like tire smoke that have a smoother appearance and often mimic the look of cel-shading. I was worried these effects might be overwhelming, but they're used somewhat sparingly to highlight key gameplay elements like drifting or colliding with another vehicle - and they add a lot of impact or excitement to a game that might otherwise look quite similar to other racing franchises.

The other visual novelty is the use of cel-shading for character models, with a few different levels of shading silhouetted with a strong highlight, providing a 3D appearance relative to other cel-shaded games. I like the way these characters look, even if their appearance is sometimes awkward when juxtaposed against the more realistic environmental artwork. These characters take centre stage during the game's many cutscene sequences, which establish Unbound as more of a story-focused racing game than Hot Pursuit and Unwanted.


Need for Speed: Unbound plays best on PS5, where it's a near-lock to 60fps; on Series X and Series S, you'll see bigger and more frequent dips to the 50s.

Whether you like the visual identity and plot-heavy nature of the game is a matter of taste, but Criterion has at least ensured that the game's base visuals are produced to a high standard using DICE's Frostbite engine - despite lacking any truly next-gen features. The conventionally-shaded car models and environments are detailed, and lighting quality is strong across the open world with global illumination that works well even in challenging scenarios like tunnels and overpasses.

Compared with Need for Speed Heat, the improvements are profound. Heat struggled to produce convincing results in indirectly-lit conditions and often looked flat. Unbound produces a subtle, rich result by comparison, with good bounce and brightness levels. This was probably the weakest element of recent Need for Speed titles and it's great to see Criterion make big strides.

Additionally, there are other subtle lighting details that impress, like accurate-looking shading on foliage and car headlights that cast two shadows against the environment, which converge and diverge realistically. Environmental assets look good too, with high resolution models and convincing trees and natural ground detail - not quite Forza Horizon 5, but consistently of a high quality. The game looks great in motion too, thanks to well-tuned motion blur and unobtrusive pop-in.


Unbound's more realistic indirect lighting is a big upgrade over that of 2019's NFS Heat.

The only minor complaint I have comes down to how reflections are handled, which use a mixture of cubemaps and screen-space reflections (SSR). SSR is only used for the most glossy surfaces (eg standing water), leaving rainslick streets and car hoods with cube maps instead. This means disocculusion artefacting is rare, but reflections don't look quite as flattering as they could do with SSR.

Other quibbles include NOS boosts disabling motion blur in a slightly distracting way, the overuse of screenspace light shafts, and smaller objects that simply pop out of existence when hit, rather than deforming or being replaced by multiple broken pieces.

Overall though, Unbound looks impressive, especially in indirectly-lit conditions, and I like the stylistic flourishes during gameplay. However, they may not be everyone's cup of tea - and that extends to the handling model too, which diverges from Criterion's early work to a style more similar to recent NFS titles.


The artistic additions to the game are a matter of taste, but I dig them.

Cars drift effortlessly with a tap of the accelerator or brake while turning, but drifting often comes with a significant reduction in speed and potentially a loss of control too. My impression is that handling feels more satisfying as you progress into faster vehicles, where car upgrades unlock tools to adjust between drift and grip styles, but this progression can be quite slow.

After completing the prologue, you're left in a weak B-class vehicle, earning money for new cars and upgrades through street races as usual, but relatively low payouts (and high entry fees on more rewarding races) mean that even minor upgrades take a long time to achieve. The early game feels a bit grindy as a result, and the long straightaways featured in many race routes mean that there sometimes aren't the means to drive beyond your car's capabilities or make up for an early blunder.

Still, while some elements of the game's presentation may not appeal to everyone, I do think Unbound is an excellent arcade racer - Criterion has made a solid return to the genre that made them famous, with a NFS game that's well worth playing. Outside of the occasional performance issues on Xbox consoles, I'm pleased with Unbound's graphical turnout as well. This isn't a boundary-pushing game necessarily, but it presents a convincing, well-lit open world with some bold artistic touches.
 
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BrawlMan

Lover of beat'em ups.
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EDIT: Austin, most of the pre-God of War games have been called either DMC clones, or "Action-Adventure" games. I

 
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BrawlMan

Lover of beat'em ups.
Legacy
Mar 10, 2016
19,659
8,095
118
Detroit, Michigan
Country
United States of America
Gender
Male
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