Considering it’s Need for Speed’s 25th Anniversary this year, there hasn’t really been much noise about Need for Speed Heat’s release. It’s a strange thing given the popularity of the series, and some would say it wouldn’t bode well for the game.
Rest assured though, this is the best the series has been in a long time. On the other hand, it’s not really doing anything new. Heat seems to take a lot of the good things from games in the series’ past and presents a kind of ‘best of’ in the series. Is that enough?
First and foremost, the driving is solid. I mean, it’s a racing game, so you’d hope it would be, right? Heat finds a nice balance between arcade racer and actually feeling like you can make a difference when you change parts or adjust your downshift. When tinkering with your car, a dot on a chart shows you where the car’s handling is leaning – either Race, Drift, Road or Offroad.
Racing is a fairly simple affair; buy the parts that give you the fastest top speed and acceleration and away you go. Drifting, however, requires some much finer tuning which I discovered the hard way. My Porche Cayman tried drifting round a U-Turn and ended up in the ditch, getting me busted in the process. Cheers.
Once you get it down, drifting is just cool. That’s when you really begin to feel like Han Lue from Fast and Furious. The decision to change the drifting to feathering the accelerator will leave fans of slamming on the brakes a bit befuddled, but you’ll quickly get used to it once you spend some time with it. Drifting is almost like a fun puzzle to work out and has a high skill ceiling which I’m a massive fan of. Oh, and if you still can’t get on with it? You can always change it to the old method.
The tried and tested story of the unnamed rookie making a name for themselves is trotted out for Heat’s narrative. You join Ana & Co. who are trying to rise from the ashes after the cops put their illegal night racing out of business. I soon tuned out of the story, with the only time you simply cannot ignore the NPCs being during races. They literally do not shut up. Every race where a rival or chum comes along, they feel it necessary to tell you how much ‘you’re going to get it’ or ‘do it for the crew’. It’s irritating nonsense and feels like dumb idle chatter ripped from Fast and Furious’ back catalogue of scripts. I’ve mentioned this before in our Review in Progress, but the story is tertiary and doesn’t last long. It’s all about the racing. Always has been.
The map of Palm City (basically a Miami-alike) is fairly sizeable and littered with plenty of things to do. Driving events will obviously be your main concern, but there’s a lot to keep you distracted in between. There are plenty of collectibles on offer and mini events to take part in, like the Speed Traps or Flamingos to find and smash. Doing these optional tasks will reward you with bonus car parts to customise your ride with. You can even earn decals by find Street Art painted on the side of buildings, which is a really nice touch. For me, it was a nice way to break up the hours of racing, which can get pretty intense, especially at night.
Yes, Heat’s big gimmick is its divided day and night racing. Racing in the day earns you Bank through sanctioned raced on tracks with barriers and spectators, but if you want to spend that cash on new parts and cars, you’ll have to earn Rep at night to unlock them. Racing at night also earns you Heat, though, and the higher the Heat, the more cops will be looking out and try to chase you down.
Man, the cops are brutal. They’re unfair, even. It’s one of my main grips with Heat. Unless you are in a top spec car, level three Heat engagements are a write off, where you’ll almost inevitably get caught. No matter how far ahead you are, the cops can almost magically catch you up, and getting busted is simply not fun. You lose all of your Heat levels for that evening, which serve as a multiplier for your earned Rep, as well as losing a portion of your cash. It’s a risk reward mechanic which is fine in theory, but when the game doesn’t feel fair, it sucks.
With early cars, the game definitely feels unfair. Or maybe I’m just bad, I don’t know. Basically, if you manage to maintain a high rep and heat level and can evade the cops, then get yourself to the nearest safe house as soon as possible. Once you are there, you bank your earnings and are safe. Think of it as your Souls Bonfire. I actually like the mechanic a lot, the cops are just a bit much.
Online is available throughout the game, but thankfully not required. You can race online with others, giving an increase in how much Bank you can earn, and actually making night time events easier as the cops will act like children in a sweet shop and not know who to go after. Working in the background is the Crew function. The game automatically places you in a starter crew at the beginning of the game, so it’s something you really don’t need to think about and can just reap the benefits. All you need to do is play the game and earn Rep. Your crew’s total Rep grants bonuses like increased Bank and Heat percentages for every level milestone. For the sake of doing nothing, it’s pretty cool. There is of course a reward for level 50 crews, in the form of a supercar, so the incentive is there to keep participating.
It wouldn’t be a NfS game without a pumping soundtrack to drive around to. What’s cool here is that there are two distinct sounds tracks for day and night. Night time seems grittier as you get a lot of hip-hop and bassy tracks, whereas the days treat you to upbeat summer fun and good vibes. I really like the soundtrack, I just wish there was more of it. It’s not long before you start looping through the same tracks and after the 100th time of hearing one, it might start to grate.
And as for the looks, Heat is certainly pretty. Day or night, and especially when it’s raining, Heat delivers. I’ve literally sat there like a gawking idiot, staring at my Ford Mustang that I’ve just tricked out, saying out loud “look how pretty it is!” as rain drops trickle down the sides.