Need For Speed ​​Unbound’s biggest hit is making you care about your car

Over the past week, Need for Speed ​​Unbound has managed to drag me (racing) back into the racing genre, one I generally tend to avoid unless it involves go-karts and platforming mascots. What caught my interest early on was its gorgeous Spider-Verse-esque art style, which manages to almost seamlessly blend real-world elements with a cartoonish style.

While Unbound’s style is great, that’s not what made me stick around. Need for Speed ​​Unbound’s real biggest strength is how it manages to make you care about your car and make a real connection to it, something I haven’t seen done in a racing game in a long time.

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After the Need for Speed ​​Unbound prologue, your character is left with nothing, having an entire garage full of cars stolen from him. You quickly find yourself back on the underground racing scene and your manager gives you enough money to buy a starter car.

The selection isn’t great at this point, though, so no matter which car you end up choosing, it’s going to be a little tough. I ended up choosing a Subaru, a make of car my best friend idolizes, thinking Unbound would act like Forza and give me half a million after a few races so I could go for the Ferraris.

There is no such luck. My Subaru was a shit show for the first four hours of the game, barely allowing me to pick up enough speed to see who was in first place, let alone get there myself. Every other racer drives like they have a rocket up their ass, which is why I found myself in fifth place most of the time and couldn’t even get a star for the drift events and speed challenges I was involved in.

Doing so poorly for a good chunk of the game might sound like the antithesis of bonding with your car, but that’s where the magic comes in. All you can do at the start of Unbound is raise enough money to survive and pour absolutely everything into that starting car.

George with his Subaru in Need for Speed ​​Unbound.

It’s a slow burn too. Those beginner races and challenges don’t reward a lot of money, even if you manage to win them somehow, so you’ll have to keep buying whatever new parts you can and doing all the races available to you. Going into Unbound, I was pretty sure I’d have a huge garage full of cars in a few hours, but it’s just me and my Subaru taking on the world.

After taking enough losses, you’ll eventually turn a corner in Unbound and start slotting closer to the front of the pack and start making enough money for the big cars. Even with better cars available, I still found myself glued to my Subaru much of the time simply out of attachment. That Aventador might be the sexiest car known to man, but it didn’t see me rise from the ashes.

Part of the reason this feels so special is because of Unbound’s biggest competitor, Forza Horizon. Every Horizon game delivers supercars in the blink of an eye, which always seemed a bit desperate to me, like I’m terrified you’d stop paying attention if you didn’t get slapped with McLarens and racing against jumbo jets.

Need for Speed ​​Unbound gameplay screenshot.

Horizon is pure wish fulfillment and a great show, but as someone who doesn’t really care about cars and has a better chance of getting hit by a Mercedes than driving one, it doesn’t end up doing much for me. Unbound, on the other hand, is much more grounded, with cars that seem closer to the real thing.

I’ll probably never understand the great love some people have for cars, but my Subaru in Unbound, with its shrinking decals and bright neon lights, is the closest I’ve ever come to that feeling, and that’s worth more than anything. Lamborghini.

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