Need For Speed Unbound’s Greatest Success Is Making You Care About Your Car

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

As great as Unbound’s style is, that’s not what kept me sticking around, though. The real greatest strength of Need for Speed Unbound is how it manages to make you care about your car and form a real connection with it, something I haven’t seen a racing game do in a long time.

After Need for Speed Unbound’s prologue, your character is left with nothing, having had a whole garage full of cars stolen. You quickly find yourself back in the underground racing scene and get given enough money from your manager to buy a starting car.

The selection isn’t great at this point, though, so no matter what car you end up picking, it’s going to be a bit of a lemon. I ended up choosing a Subaru, a make of car my best friend idolises, thinking that Unbound would act like Forza and pass me out a cool half a million after a few races so I could go for the Ferraris.

No such luck. My Subaru was an absolute shit show for the first four hours of the game, barely letting me pick up enough speed to even see who was in first place, let alone getting there myself. Every other racer drives like they’ve got a rocket up their arse, so I found myself in fifth place more often than not and couldn’t even get one star for the drifting events and speed challenges I was taking place in.

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

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

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

Part of the reason this feels so special is because of Unbound’s greatest competitor, Forza Horizon. Every Horizon game passes out supercars at the drop of the hat, which always felt a little desperate to me, like it was terrified you’d stop paying attention if you weren’t slapped in the face with McLarens and races against jumbo jets.

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

I’ll probably never understand the great love that some people have for cars, but my Subaru in Unbound, with its cringe stickers and glowing neon lights, is the closest I’ve gotten to that feeling, and that’s worth more than any Lamborghini.

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