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Need For Speed Heat – Review

The best Need For Speed game in years

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For some, the very short lead-up from announcement to release for Need For Speed Heat sounds worrying. But each info drop after the gamescom reveal has been done in an air of confidence. Something rare to see.

Developers Ghost Games are the de facto caretaker of the longest racing game franchise ever. But it’s hard to say they have ever put out a game that captured the magic from the glory days.

Until now.

Ghost Games have finally made a Need For Speed that can stand tall against the best games from the franchise. Need For Speed Heat is great.

Presentation

Need For Speed Heat takes you to Palm City, a fictional city inspired by Miami, Florida with a little creative license thrown in by mixing in the hillsides of neighbouring state Georgia. It definitely feels like Miami, albeit a lot wetter. The gorgeous rain and puddle effects from the 2015 reboot returns and the world, and cars when there are soaking wet, looks impressively beautiful.

Also, Need For Speed Heat does not suffer from noticeable texture pop-ins. Of course, it’s running smoother on PC but the PS4 version maintains that 30fps like a rock. Maybe the textures on decals can sometimes be low-res at times but the rest of the car and the environment look as good as ever.

The standout feature in Heat’s presentation is the soundtrack. It’s bold to have a very Latino-inspired selection of tracks, but the songs have grown on me over time. Despite the blue and purple hues featuring prominently in promo art and during night races, there’s no night wave here, but the hip-hop, and drum and bass tracks work well better than I expected.

No arguments about the songs for the garage- it’s the right mix of songs I can hear for hours end while tweaking settings and make liveries.

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Gameplay

In Need For Speed Heat, you are an up-and-coming driver new to Palm City and wants to make a name for themselves. In the day, there are legally sanctioned races called the Speedhunters Shodown where you win bank (money). But at night, there are street races where you go and make a reputation, hence earning rep (experience) points.

It’s an interesting system. Sure, you don’t get dynamic time now, but the two contrasting gameplay loops balance out nicely. You need money to buy cars and get better parts. But you need higher rep to unlock those first. But to survive the night you need to get your car to the best of its ability.

Palm City is the biggest open-world map for Need For Speed- but forget about that. The important part is this time the roads flow so well. It’s just fun driving around, and each road leads to something interesting- either a dead mall in the middle of nowhere, the observatory high up in the hills or an abandoned prison.

Hustle By Day, Risk It All At Night

Races also got a huge improvement because of that. The earlier tracks are short but over time, longer, more complicated ones get introduced. For the most part of the game there are no hard barriers for the tracks- so no wall-riding, but also corner cuts are possible.

I like how in the day, we have destructible barriers that won’t stop the car to a halt but definitely slow you down. While at night, neon lights of blue and purple glow to show you the right way. It’s great to see where you should be headed, but sometimes the checkpoint placements are placed way too close to a sharp corner where you easily overshoot past it. Especially in that sloped junction near the edge of Frontera Hills. That’s no good.

Racing in the night brings back the risk-versus-reward gameplay seen in Need For Speed Rivals. You collect rep from races, but you can also build heat multipliers that multiply your base rep based on how much attention you made to the cops. Make your way back to a safehouse without cops on your tail and you bank them all.

Get busted, and, at least you get to keep your base rep and just be slap with a nasty fine. This isn’t Rivals, thankfully.

Can’t Catch Devils With Angels

There’s also an underlying story, centered around the Rivera siblings. Lucas and Ana are your guiding hands for the day and night events respectively. Their differing philosophies of racing is not just for gameplay, the two argue from time-to-time as the plot goes.

There’s also the police situation. Cops at night are ruthless in taking down racers, but not arresting them outright, and what you might think to be just a gameplay quirk actually ties back to story reasons.

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The writing has remarkably improved. If Payback was too predictable in its Fast And Furious homage with writing that’s borderline cringe, Heat actually makes the characters charming, or at the very least bearable. It also helps that you, the blank-slate player character, also have agency.

While mostly the quiet type, your character is compassionate, speaks only when needed and actually moves the plot with their own decision. The story is short, but well delivered from any Need For Speed in recent memory. Definitely better than The Run.

They’ve Fixed The Handling!

The biggest change in Need For Speed Heat is not the day-and-night gameplay,  but an overhaul to the handling model. Fans were longing for handling physics more reminiscent to Black Box’s Need For Speed games like Underground, and it finally happened. Thank god.

Cars are now not locked under archetypes with pre-determined handling models. Instead, each car can have a handling profile within a spectrum. Whether it’s built for drifting or race (read: grip handling), and whether it’s faster on the road or off-road. The flexible handling system lets you build a car to your handling tastes, which is nice but not new.

What’s new is that cars with high race handling actually can turn. And taking a corner like it’s Forza rather than drifting through is also a viable option. Nitrous has been retooled so that it doesn’t build up boost faster when drifting by default.

I played the game with a Porsche 718 Cayman tuned to maximum race and on-road setup, which made it glued to the road and outright refuses to drift. The live tuning settings are back and now you can even tune downforce settings, making cars easier to turn at the cost of top speed.

Also, no more micro-transactions from the Speed Card system. Adding performance parts is closer to Forza this time. Engine parts make the car go faster and improves the performance rating (kind of like a gear score for cars, which is actually normal). Chasis parts mostly help define your handling characteristics, with auxiliary items being bonuses that include nitrous boosts from doing drifts, drafting cars, jumps and near misses. Though most of it is items that help your chances of escaping the cops.

Hot Pursuit

Cops are back in action in Need For Speed Heat. While they took a less prominent role in the 2015 reboot and Payback, they are as relentless as they were in Rivals, and definitely lived up to the days when the original Most Wanted brought back the 911 to the series. They do appear in day time but are mostly docile.

It’s at night where they are in full force to get these pesky racers. At heat level 1 it’s easy to shake them off, requiring you toy with them a lot to really get them interested and raise the heat level. By heat level 3, the classic Crown Vic pursuers are replaced by Dodge Chargers. By level 4, Corvettes come to play and spike strips will be deployed. And the max level 5 will see the cops throwing everything they got, including a helicopter and the occasional Rhino rammer.

Unlike the original Most Wanted, you don’t have Speedbreakers to shake the cops. It’s all about driving really fast and breaking line of sight. It can be overwhelming at first- I approached it like Most Wanted and I ended up in heat level 5 with a car clearly unable to outrun them. It requires a different approach to get away from them and also plays well with the risk-reward system during night time.

Need For Speed Heat is at its best when all of the elements come together, by way of the High Heat Races. These are where the tough AI and the aggressive cops get showcased the best. Try your best to stay in the top 5 in a long race, and possibly longer chase right after that.

Content

Need For Speed Heat carries over most of the cars you would expect to return from Payback and the 2015 reboot. Ferraris are back! And some of them do have a few customisation. Most of the new inclusion here are convertibles, which is odd considering how rainy Palm City is. But any variety is welcomed. It’s just not too exciting- oh it’s that car again but without the roof on. And it can easily be seen as easy padding.

Customisations are as strong as ever. But don’t expect new parts across the board. Though Heat has reduced the part restrictions so you can essentially kitbash certain body kits to a higher degree. And for the most part, it looks okay. The BMW Z4 has a rear fender that adds a spoiler element. But if you prefer to add a separate spoiler that’s okay too, it still looks nice.

The exhaust tuning is something I never wanted until now. The new paint options are nothing to scream about, but I do love the carbon fiber options available. Engine swaps are great, not only for the performance boost but also for the sound. Do you want a roaring V8 or a howling V12 in a Porsche? Now you can.

Multiplayer..?

Multiplayer is a bit of mixed bag. There’s no competitive Speedlist this time, as Ghost opted for the inclusion of online free-roam from the get-go (as well as an offline mode). With the open world being bigger than ever, 16 players in a session feel sparse. Most of any interaction I found with random strangers is seeing them leave the game.

But if you already have friends, there’s now a Crew (clan) and a party system. Crews members can now compete in special Crew Time Trials- there’s no more Autolog for normal races. If you want to roam around together with friends, you can have them all in a party, which also lets you join races together. I feel like there might be better ways to encourage players join someone else’s races. As of now, if you don’t have friends to play with, stick to offline, it’s nothing special and you can’t pause the game.

3 Ways To Play

There are three different race disciplines in Need For Speed Heat- the usual races, drifting and off-road racing. These three races have a separate side questline you can follow to completion that rewards iconic cars from the series past. Think of it like the missions in the 2015 reboot. But better writing and characters, which is fun to see all the way through the end.

The game ends kind of abruptly, more because the pace moves super fast. You should be done in around the 10-hour mark. By that time, you should have a car around performance rating 280 with more exotic cars still locked. There’s definitely a post-game, and the high heat races are a great test of skill and understanding of the game, with lucrative rewards.

But will have the staying power of, say, Forza Horizon 4? Other than daily challenges and Crew Time Trials to beat, there’s not much of games-as-a-service element to it. But if you prefer it that way, Need For Speed Heat uses its game time well, even if it may be feeling a bit short.

Personal Enjoyment

I am personally a long-time fan of Need For Speed. And that meant I saw the highs of its PS2 era, the wayward mid-life crisis period of the last generation, and what is mostly a disappointing range of games in the current generation. I kind of liked Payback but not enough to really recommend it last time.

With Heat, I don’t feel guilty of enjoying it.

The series at its current state really needed to fix its fundamentals and they have finally delivered. I spend hours adjusting how the car paint looks exactly. But this time I happily look forward to driving the car around town.  You can even feel that the designers have fun making these courses. There are two tracks that are just about following a railroad line and a tricky monorail line. It’s silly, I love it.

The car customisation is still best-in-class. I love the small quality-of-life change where you can see how much customisation a car offers before purchase. And there’s even a label for cars that have severely limited body customisation, which is fair.

I love messing around with the photo mode. I wish there’s an option to disable not only the photo mode UI, but all of game UI to take more action shots using the PS4 share button.

Even when the story abruptly end, I still want to keep building and buying cars and see how the peak performance of a 400+ car is like. At the time of writing, I reached around rep level 43, a few more to the level 50 cap. And I still want to play it a bit more after this review.

Verdict

Need For Speed Heat mixes the many ideas Ghost Games have tried in the past into a better-playing package. And the result is one of the best Need For Speed game in years. Those efforts to make the handling model more agreeable do this game wonders to how fun driving around is. And so is the well-thought-out open-world map design.

If you may have been a casual fan who just wanted to see something revolutionary, Need For Speed Heat will not wow you. But if you have been following this franchise through its current state of affairs, Need For Speed Heat will blow you away at how great it is. This is the game we wanted for years, and Ghost Games have definitely taken notes from our many grievances.

Like the tyres of a current F1 car, all it needs to be at its best was the right amount of heat. The future of Need For Speed is bright again.


Played on a base PS4. Review copy provided by EA

9

Need For Speed Heat

Need For Speed Heat mixes the many ideas Ghost Games have tried in the past into a better-playing package. And the result is one of the best Need For Speed titles in years.

  • Presentation 9.5
  • Gameplay 9
  • Content 8
  • Personal Enjoyment 9.5