Need For Speed has been fairly quiet since Heat launched three years ago. It was a much-needed return to the basics that made the Underground era so popular: illegal street racing, extensive customisation options, and high-octane cop chases. The trailer for Unbound just dropped early - or accidentally. With the amount of leaks this game has seen rising to obscene levels - I am now all aboard the hype Mitsubishi. This is the exact direction the series needs to go in.

Heat brought the series back in line with what fans wanted without regressing too far into the past. We got the nighttime underbelly of Underground in the form of a seamless day and night cycle. It allowed for both cash-driven tournament circuits and reputation-building illegal street races, while vast car and player customisation ensured it was the most expressive NFS game ever made. The only things letting it down were a soundtrack with surprisingly few songs and a story that ended abruptly.

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Unbound clearly cares about cranking Heat’s visual flair up to 11. It was leaked a while ago that this upcoming installment would include anime elements. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but now that I’ve seen them in action, I couldn’t be more excited. Street racing is about arrogance and flair, and the stylishly drawn tire smoke, nitrous bursts, and wings that erupt from cars as they soar through the air after a jump encapsulate the mood perfectly. Unbound is properly breaking its chains and skipping last-gen completely, launching only on Xbox Series, PS5, and PC, so I have faith these visuals will be applied liberally throughout the game thanks to the powerful hardware behind them.

Obviously, we won’t know if the story is any good until we play it, but narrative has hardly ever been the selling point of a racing game. What does excite me is A$AP Rocky not only appearing on the game’s soundtrack with a fresh new banger that played over the trailer, but also being a character in-game. In the trailer, Anime A$AP goads us into a race by offering his own car as the prize. Started from the bottom now we here in your whip, A$AP - that car is mine.

A collaboration like this is uncharted territory for Need For Speed. It flirted with actors before back in Most Wanted, and with Need For Speed 2015, but this is a big-name celebrity in the world of both fashion and music, and his influence can be felt across the game already. Characters with braids and in streetwear can be seen at car meets where graffiti is sprayed over the walls. They cockily lean against their cars and smirk as A$AP Rocky’s new song blasts over the trailer. Unbound looks to be both embracing and capitalising on the imagery of Black culture and the street racing scene in a way that, so far, looks thought-out and respectful.

But a car is no good if there’s nothing beneath the paint and bodywork. Gameplay details have now been revealed, and we know Unbound isn’t all bark and no bite. It’s got an offline single-player story mode featuring illegal street races with buy-ins where you have to bet your cash. You can even place side-bets against specific rival racers. It’s not quite the nemesis system, but it keeps the stakes high and personal.

Racing builds heat, though, and eventually you’ll attract the cops. Each police car has different strengths and weaknesses that you need to be aware of to outsmart them. It probably won’t be enough to just outrun them, hopefully, we’ll be ramming them off the road and into scaffolding like we’re playing Most Wanted again.

With a solid visual identity, illegal street racing and gambling, personal rivalries, sick car customisation, and a banging soundtrack, Need For Speed Unbound has all the right ingredients. Bringing in the most beloved, tried and tested features from the series’ heyday and combining them with a collaboration with A$AP Rocky shows NFS is evolving in new and interesting ways that actually align with the identity of the once great series. This is the perfect direction to be heading in - the road ahead looks good.

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