In just five short weeks, it's time for the studio behind Burnout and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, among others, to churn out the next instalment in EA's beloved, long-running super-popular racing series, and given that we still don't know much about the game, at all, we at Gamereactor took the opportunity to simply call up the studio via Zoom to ask Criterion's creative director Kieran Crimmins a number of curious questions about Unbound.
Gamereactor: Tell us a little more about Need for Speed Unbound?
Crimmins: This is what we at Criterion consider to be as close to a full-fledged street racing fantasy as you can get in game form today, and we want you as a player to experience your innermost street racing fantasies with a game drenched in personality. Here you will be able to bet big, win big but lose everything you fought and scraped together. The stakes are just as big as you choose and for those who dare, everything can be at stake - all the time. We've chosen to focus on personality and emphasising your own character and style, which means there are tons of ways you as a player can create your own car with your own look and driveability.
A bit like Need for Speed: Underground?
Sure, absolutely. This is a new game that stands on its own two feet but I don't think we would have developed it the way we did if it wasn't for Need for Speed: Underground, which is one of my personal favourite games of all time. We've been inspired a lot by the Underground and even though street racing culture has changed over the last 20 years, I think we've framed the culture very well and the Underground's DNA is there, absolutely.
How did you arrive at the game's original mix between cartoon objects, cel-shading and photorealism?
It all started with us clearing a wall in the office, which we then filled with hundreds of pictures of built streetcars, graffiti, street art, murals and everything in between and as our first pitch grew we started mixing these objects more and more to create a visual experience that is fundamentally unlike any other game from the Need for Speed series. We were also inspired a lot by Need for Speed: Underground, which for its time had absolutely incredible aesthetics and managed to spot what was hot, and cool, in the world of street racing for its time. Today, as I said, things have changed and what was once Fast and the Furious in the early 2000s is now something completely different, haha, but I think we've found a style that partly suits our gameplay but also feels right once you drive. A fun aspect of the cartoon street art objects and vignettes that we mixed with the photorealistic cars and the city itself is that we started out implementing very little of this and the more we put in, the better everything looked and the better it felt to play. I think that surprised many of us in the team, and a lot of game development works exactly that way, that you are allowed to test and try your hand at it. Be sensitive to the process itself.
Given that the characters are "cartoons", did you ever think about making the town in the same style?
No, one thing that we were completely in agreement and super sure of from the very beginning was that Need for Speed had to contain that illusion of a real world and that all the wonderful cars we included had to look like real cars, for real. That's Need for Speed for us.
Unbound is "open world", if I understood correctly?
Absolutely! The game world is large and completely open, or initially parts of it are locked, but it only takes a measly hour and you as a player have access to the entire game world. We also have a completely new type of game structure in this title compared to all other Need for Speed games, new story with strong, memorable characters, daily cycle and your choices as a player will matter. Bet on yourself, take risks, win big or lose it all. There is a dynamic here in the setup that I believe the game series has lacked in recent times.
You work with Frostbite, of course, but are the car physics and driving feel new or adapted from Heat?
We have built Unbound with Frostbite with completely new car physics and thus a completely new driving experience. In fact, we started by creating the most realistically accurate and physically detailed car behaviour system EA has ever made, then added various assistive systems to find the right balance between weight, speed, and smooth, easy-to-manoeuvre feel in the cars. We want it to be easy to pick up but hard to really master, like any really good arcade racing game.
Thanks to Criterion and Crimmins for speaking with us. Need for Speed Unbound will debut on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series consoles on December 2, 2022. Be sure to check out the reveal trailer below.