Need For Speed Unbound flopped. I say this not with joy, and certainly not because the game deserved to. Unbound, much like Heat before it, was a pressure-packed open-world arcade street racer the likes of which nobody makes anymore. The kind that doesn’t throw entire cars at you for frivolous “achievements;” the kind that forces you to risk everything over and over again. The kind that enrages you on occasion.
None of that has anything to do with the fact that the game sold poorly in its first week, even in the racing-game haven that is the United Kingdom. There, NFS Unbound debuted No. 17 on the boxed charts in late November, selling 64 percent worse than its predecessor during its launch three years prior, according to GamesIndustry.biz. By February, it was entirely outside the Top 20 in the U.S.
Did Unbound fail because Electronic Arts barely promoted it and didn’t even start until two months before release? Is its current player count — which is just slightly higher than Heat’s at present, at least among Steam users on PC — dwindling because the post-launch support arrived too little, too late? I think these are reasonable conclusions, but who knows. EA isn’t exactly shouting about Unbound’s market performance from the rooftops, because it has little incentive to. The story doesn’t appear to be an encouraging one. The real question is how much longer the company intends to go through this cycle with Need For Speed expecting different results.
NFS doesn’t need a “clear vision,” nor a “return to form.” It’s had that multiple times over the last decade. I’d personally argue that Unbound’s differences from Heat were all pretty much surface level, so a little more distance with whatever’s due next might help. Either way, the franchise is not getting people excited anymore. Maybe it needs a break; a reset. I know what developer Criterion can do in the interim and chances are you do, too.
It’s continually astonishing to me how EA has allowed Burnout, a racing franchise with a proven history of leading charts, to lie dormant all this time. Hell, when EA floated Burnout Paradise Remastered in 2018 — 10 years since Paradise’s original release — it was no less the bell cow, beating out every other new release in the U.K. as if Hoobastank was still on the radio.
Everyone wants a new Burnout. Gamers have been so ready for it for so long. The announcement of a Paradise successor wouldn’t be met with those clouds of cynicism that roll in for every Need For Speed launch, because Burnout never once gave anyone a reason to be skeptical. It was good from the beginning and only got better as the years went on.
That’s not to say we don’t have our favorites. For me, it’s Burnout 3: Takedown. This was the racing game my friends who hated racing games loved, because how could anyone not? It was addictive, unbridled adrenaline. Revenge and Paradise improved in some ways and regressed in others, but Burnout was a paragon of quality until its final days. If certain players felt one entry or the next was a misstep, it was arguably by design; Criterion in its heyday was never satisfied with rearranging Takedown’s deck chairs. Even though it very well could’ve, and we all probably would’ve been totally content with that.
I know mine is a desperate plea. There’s no data or market research to tell us how a legitimately new, modern Burnout would sell, nor how much money EA would have to spend to make it good. I do reckon there are some things Criterion could try with Burnout that it never could with Need For Speed, because NFS is about racing precious licensed cars, and Burnout is a rights-free festival of carnage beholden to no one. You’d figure it’d suit some kind of battle royale element well, though — and I hear the kids love their battle royales.
But if I leave any EA executive reading this with a single question, let it be this: What do you have to lose? If the answer’s yet another NFS with a solid-at-best critical reception and middling sales, I’m not sure you can afford not to give Burnout a shot. It never let you down before.