Palm City might be hosting a glorious ode to street racing with the Speedhunters Showdown, but as you’d expect, there’s a seedy underbelly to the competition. Once the sun goes down, all bets are off… or is it on? And the Jekyll & Mr. Hyde duality of Need for Speed Heat really reveals itself.
With the game due out in less than a month on 8th November, we got to spend some extended hands on time with the game’s opening, before jumping later into the game and some of the faster cars.
It’s starts off simply enough, as your freshly minted character – you have a choice of twelve to play dress up with – wanders into Lucas’ garage, looking to buy a car to do some racing with. Apparently it’s hot business right now, but you won’t get far in the well-maintained old bangers you can initially choose from. They don’t even have nitrous!
It’s no real surprise that I settle for a position in the mid-pack for my first race, and my second. Your car and how it stacks up to the competition is a major factor in how well you’re going to do, even if you can punch above your weight against the AI. Then again, I can also blame my own driving for some of this as well.
As we delved into it at Gamescom, the world design philosophy has shifted away from creating a world and then racing in it, to creating races and building a world to bind them all together. With that, there’s more sweeping curves to drift through, wider roads to weave down, and a focus on destructible environments that slow you down, but don’t bring you to a dead stop. Off roading also makes a meaningful return, which can be fairly important at times.
An altered facet of the car handling is that, instead of tapping brake too drift, you now release and pull the accelerator to do so instead. It takes a little while to get used to, not least figuring out how to find nuance instead of all-or-nothing drifts that careen you into the road barriers and scenery, but this is still an arcade racer that’s easy to pick up and play.
You can really customise the driving to suit you, though. As you work through the career, you’ll naturally fill your garage with a wide variety of cars, but they’re no longer pigeonholed into a single style of driving. If you prefer drift cars, you can take any vehicle and, while it might not originally be a drift happy car, bend it to your will through the extensive upgrades system.
Where things get really interesting is in the risk/reward of racing at night. Now you’re not racing in sanctioned events with well defined routes, but more slapdash races outside the law. The circuits are noticeably more meandering, they can throw in little offroading moments or more ostentatious routes that have you leaping over rivers, and you’ll notice a spot of traffic there as well.
Instead of racing for Bank, you’re now looking for Rep, hoping to make a name for yourself and earn the right to unlock new vehicles and car parts, not just the money for them. Of course, the more you race at night, the more the cops will take notice and start to come after you. Compared to the Gamescom demo, it’s actually surprisingly subdued to start with. You might see a cop car on the mini-map, you might get tagged if they spot you, but it’s like trying to catch Usain Bolt when he’s got a head start on you. It just ain’t happening.
That’s by design, though. When you start out at night, your Heat level is low and you can quite easily race without seeing a cop car, but after three or four events, the cops will appear in greater numbers, their patrols more likely to catch your racing and they’ll be more difficult to shake off your tail. It can be quite the ordeal when amped up, and you can’t simply try to outpace them, but have to break their line of sight more creatively.
Switching between the night and day is simple and fast, opening the map and clicking an analogue stick to trigger a neat little animation… well, it’s simple during the day. At night you need to get back to a safe house to secure your reputation, and that can throw a spanner in the works when trying to join up with another player online.
Ghost Games would really like for you to play with other players, one way or another. You can play in single player offline if you want, but this is meant to be an online game with other players racing round the same world as you. Additionally, there’s the new Crews system, where up to 16 players can join up, pool their progress and unlock some additional rewards. Ghost Games are so intent on getting players to engage with this that they’re actually going to drop players into Starter Crews with each other – and no, this isn’t a GDPR violation. From there they hope you see the benefits, maybe setting out to start your own crew with your friends.
And so you’ll start to see your friends and your crewmates’ progress out in the world with the Crew Time Trials, a rebranding and repurposing of the classic Autolog system that first appeared in Need for Speed Hot Pursuit almost a decade ago. Through the clan menu, you can take on events that your buddies have already set times on – bouncing over a route through a golf course, or riding the monorails in a car – but you can also simply find them out in the open world.
That side of things is all asynchronous, but you can also buddy up in real time and race all but the main story missions with other players. That’s where things could potentially start to get a tad confusing, as you might find yourselves in different time frames and unable to join each other. It’s just a click for a day racer to switch to night, but remember that it isn’t in the opposite direction. It took a while for me and my fellow racers to twig quite what was going on at the preview event.
Need for Speed Heat checks a lot of boxes to a lot of prospective fans. There’s a gorgeous world to race in and through, it’s easy to pick up and play, and there’s a little something for you whether you want pure racing at day, cop chases at night, drifting, off-roading, solo play, online play… It maybe runs the risk of being a jack of all trades, but you should be able to find something for everyone.