key art for Need for Speed Unbound

Speed and style

Need for Speed Unbound trailer looks stylish enough to impress racing game haters

Looks aren’t everything, but maybe this time they’re enough.

EA

Need for Speed has been around since the PlayStation 1 days, but the long-running racing series has been on shaky ground lately. After riding the line between more realistic sims and outlandish arcade racers for years, recent installments like 2019’s Need for Speed Heat finally picked a lane — only to meet with middling reviews. Now up against tough competition like Forza Horizon 5 and Gran Turismo 7, the series is switching things up for Need for Speed Unbound, and its first trailer suggests even people who don’t typically play racing games might want to pay attention.

Because it’s a video game announcement, details about Need for Speed Unbound leaked the day before the official reveal on October 6, confirming multiple, even earlier leaks. Even somewhat spoiled, the trailer for Need for Speed Unbound is a pleasant surprise. The series has leaned hard into street racing and its signature police chases for 20 years. The next installment takes those same elements and manages to turn them into something that looks original and exciting.

Early reports and online reactions to Need for Speed Unbound called the game’s aesthetic “anime-inspired.” It’s easy to see why that is — and let’s be real, anime is a readily available reference for lots of gamers — but it’s clear from the trailer the look is meant to evoke street art more than anime. Its mix of photorealism with multiple distinct animation styles also calls to mind Into the Spider-Verse.

While we gets tons of style from the Need for Speed Unbound reveal trailer, we don’t get many concrete details. A press release from publisher EA fills in a few of the gaps. The game features a campaign mode centered around recovering your stolen car, A$AP Rocky is prominent on the soundtrack and in-game, and as usual, you’ll need to dodge cops while participating in street races. It’s not even entirely clear how much of the trailer’s arresting aesthetic will make its way into gameplay, though EA does promise “a brand-new toolkit of high-energy visual and sound effects,” so the extremely cool graffiti effect we see when a car hits the nitrous in the trailer at least seems to be intact.

Need for Speed Unbound chucks realism right out the window.EA

Even with details this thin, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about Need for Speed Unbound. Lots of arcade racers use street racing as a backdrop, but the aesthetic seems more fundamental to Need for Speed. But doing a better version of what you’ve always done wasn’t going to be enough this time.

Forza Horizon 4 was a smash hit, aided no doubt by it being a fixture on Xbox Game Pass. The open-world driving game immediately set itself apart from the competition with its massive explorable map and countless different events to take part in. Its recent sequel only doubled down on everything that made it great, and Gran Turismo 7 gave fans of more driving sims yet another racer to sink hundreds of hours into. All of those games feature far more realistic mechanics and more actual cars than we’re likely to see in a Need for Speed game. Developer Criterion Games could have tried to mimic their style, but made the more interesting decision to make Need for Speed Unbound something entirely different.

A great aesthetic alone won’t make a game good, but it might get me to play it.EA

I’ve never been a huge fan of racing games, on account of generally not liking things I’m terrible at. Forza Horizon 4 broke that barrier for me. I was still terrible at it, but I felt good about how bad I was. It’s hard to care about how much you’re losing a race when you’re doing it wearing a chicken suit and hauling ass across the English countryside, leaving the scattered remnants of roadside fences in your wake. The sheer level of variety in customization, event types, and terrain kept me coming back day after day.

I don’t think I could do it again. Facing down another racing game that massive, knowing I’d have to sink dozens of hours in to get the full effect, just doesn’t sound that appealing a second time. What does sound appealing is driving around Need for Speed Unbound’s fictional version of Chicago, outrunning cops while listening to a good soundtrack, where my car sprouts cartoon wings every time I hit the boost.

There’s obviously no way of knowing if the game will actually be any good yet, but this wild new aesthetic makes this the first Need for Speed game I’m genuinely excited for. If it ends up anywhere near as interesting as its reveal trailer, Need for Speed Unbound could end up giving folks who’ve avoided racing games a reason to explore a whole new genre.

Need for Speed Unbound launches on December 2, 2022 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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