Need for Speed Heat Review
It’s been some time since we could proudly put the pedal to the metal and enjoy a solid arcade racing experience, but Need for Speed Heat is here to deliver exactly what we have been missing out on. Developed by Ghost Games, NFS Heat may not redefine the wheel, but it is a great big step in the right direction. While the previous entry in the franchise branched out to try something new, Need for Speed Heat has proven to be a return to form of the classic NFS styling with some great modern updates. Upon beginning the campaign you’ll be greeted with an introductory cut scene which is far more brutal than you might expect. Palm City celebrates its love of racing by hosting tournaments during the day, but any street racing at night is seen as an affront to society. The cinematic opens with police chasing down a street racer and running him off the road. The driver bails out as his car careens off a bridge and into the water below where the police then beat him and suggest they murder him to “send a message” to the other street racers. The only reason they stop is because another officer arrives and reminds them they are on camera, to which one officer deactivates it. Ultimately they let the driver walk but it is an intense moment verging on uncomfortable given the political climate these days.
While this sets the tone for a much darker gaming experience in the franchise, everything jarringly shifts to a more fun-loving aesthetic very quickly. You’ll pick from one of a dozen possible drivers (who you’ll be able to dress as you see fit later on) and begin your adventure as a hot new racer in Palm City. The characters you meet are brimming with Latin charm and – while they acknowledge the problem with the police – they don’t seem overly concerned about consequences. These two clashing tones will swap back and forth as the story progresses and it doesn’t really mesh as well as it could have, but it definitely keeps you on your toes.
Hot Cars and Cool Vibes
But who comes to Need for Speed for the story? Palm City is gorgeous and a huge step up from NFS Payback. There are not one but three cities on the map to race in, with the rest of the area a small variety of beautiful, well-designed biomes with their own unique feels. As an arcade racer, Ghost Games knows what they are doing. Each car feels unique and installing even one upgrade lets you really feel the difference in performance. Gone are the days of randomly earned upgrades or grinding to play a minigame and hope for what you want. Parts are now locked behind your Rep level, so if you want to tune up your car you need to earn it. These parts have also been streamlined for those of us who don’t know much about cars, as you’ll be able to pick parts for the specific build you want to make. Building a drift car? Parts will list “Drift” in their name. Want to build a hybrid? Mix and match the parts to get the feel you want.
Speaking of drifting, while you still have access to the handbrake as in any other racing game, you can now precision control the drift by pumping the gas as you turn. How hard you pull the trigger and the direction you steer allows for very tight control over your drift. It can take some practice but it feels so good to get it down. Each race you go into will include a simple chart which highlights what kind of car you should use: drag, drift, off-road, or race. It will show you exactly where your car falls on the chart and you can swap cars before starting an event so you have every reason to build a variety of specialized vehicles.
Gameplay-wise, Need for Speed Heat brings a few fresh features to the experience to make it stand out among its predecessors. Most notably is the way the Day and Night cycles work. During the day you’ll participate in sanctioned races to earn cash. You can repeat them as many times as you like to keep earning money which is necessary to upgrade and customize your cars. Switching to night, however, is where you encounter the illegal street races to earn Rep. You’ll get Rep for winning events and outrunning the cops, but the more you do in one night you’ll also increase your Heat rating which does not drop until you end the night by going to a safe-house. Your Heat level is your points multiplier, but you’ll soon discover the police are brutal and relentless. They are out to take you down and will not simply back off like they did in Payback. They are also organically patrolling the roads so they can interfere in any race you are participating in, which greatly amps the difficulty. If they arrest you or your car is totaled, you’ll lose your heat multiplier, a substantial amount of Rep, and even some of that hard-earned cash. It’s an intense risk/reward system that pays off very well.
Need for Speed Heat also leans heavily into that Miami/San Francisco aesthetic it’s going for with some amazing neon lights and visual effects. The loading screen itself is beautiful as it showcases your car in an artistic, neon-infused scene. The soundtrack for the game even steers away from the high-intensity rock music the series is known for a more latin/club feel which not only matches the game perfectly but refreshes the experience. It feels like they want you to have a good time, you aren’t racing for honor or some vendetta. The roads can be a little barren at times, but otherwise it feels appropriately populated. Cities, of course, have more traffic than the country roads but not so bad as to be constantly weaving in and out of the way. It’s enough to keep you on your toes. For those of you excited to jump into some new cars it, unfortunately, looks like the majority of the vehicles are simply ported over from Payback. There is quite a large number of cars to choose from, but not a whole lot that are new. Even the Koenigsegg Regera returns.
Need for Speed Heat is a big step in the right direction for the iconic franchise. It ditches the microtransactions and offers up a classic, high-intensity experience with a new flair and new mechanics which are genuinely fun. The intertwining narratives are a bit jarring and sadly nothing about this entry screams “amazing,” but it’s a serious course correction for the series and really just a joy to play. The aesthetic is beautiful, the new drifting mechanic feels solid, and the game even offers daily challenges to earn a little extra bank. If you enjoy arcade racing this is definitely a title for you, and I am happy to see Need for Speed find some traction again and hopefully it will take off once more.
**PS4 code provided by the publisher**
- New Drifting Mechanics
- Day And Night Gameplay
- Aggressive Police
- Tons Of Customization\
- No Microtransactions
- Formulaic Narrative
- Same Cars As Payback
- No “Wow” Factor