After a year break, Need for Speed is back with Need for Speed Heat -the latest release to hit the famed racing franchise. Not that many people would necessarily know mind, with the marketing and launch of the game surprisingly quiet for an EA release. It actually had me a little bit worried, especially after the issues that came with the last game in the series Need for Speed Payback. Thankfully, I’m glad to report that Need for Speed Heat is actually a return to form for the series, with the arcade-style racing proving mighty enjoyable throughout.
Every Need for Speed game has to have a bit of a naff narrative, right? Need for Speed Heat’s is as bland as they come, with the new racer in Palm City (that’s you) meeting up with a girl named Ana that wants to rule the night-racing scene with her crew – with a problematic and scheming Police Force constantly on your tail though, you’ve got to balance out your racing life with quick escapes from the law. So yeah, it’s a cheesy story that’s very predictable and full of cliché characters. HOWEVER, whilst I won’t deny that the narrative is a bit crappy, I did enjoy seeing the story missions through. It added an additional sense of progress to the game that was satisfying to see, even if I did have zero-investment in what was actually going on.
I will give a shout out to the character choices when you start the game though: they’re awful, cringey and made me wince as I scrolled through them. I know that the cars are the priority here, but come on EA…
Fortunately, the racing itself is a whole lot of fun, with Need for Speed Heat offering arcade style racing that maintains an element of simulation-like finesse by allowing players to tinker with their car’s setup. Speeding through the streets of Palm City is always satisfying, as is hitting your nitrous to speed way ahead of the pack on the straights. Naturally, there’s destruction to be caused when you collide with the likes of street signs and trees, but they never bring your race to a complete halt and instead just smash apart around you as you leave behind a small trail of destruction.
There’s also a neat drifting mechanic in place that feels different to other entries in the Need for Speed series – you’ll have to release the accelerator and then quickly hold it down again, all whilst sending your car in the direction you want to turn in. It sounds pretty simple on paper, but in-game it can take a while to get used to, especially since a lot of the vehicles in the game feel so different. When you do figure it out though it becomes mighty satisfying to drift across bends, all whilst pulling u-turns on the fly and zooming past your opposition. It’s good stuff.
The Palm City setting is perfect for racing thanks to its myriad of open roads, tight-turning streets, and hilly locales (which feel unusual given that the city is actually based on Miami). There are some neat sights to see across the city too, whilst the abundance of things to do means you’ll won’t be leaving the city anytime soon. There are plenty of races of different varieties and things like time-trials and challenges to tackle, whilst the billboards you have to smash through and the speed traps you have to zoom through add a collectible-like element to the game. You’ve got a big open-world at your disposal in Need for Speed Heat and thankfully it’s a pleasure to drive across.
The biggest feature of Need for Speed Heat comes with the variations between day and night racing. The day races are officially sanctioned so you don’t run the risk of having the cops chase you down halfway through, whilst each success in a race earns you some cash to spend on new upgrades for your car. You unlock new daytime races by earning rep (more on that in a bit) or by progressing through the game’s story. The daytime experience is probably the more ‘conventional’ way to play Need for Speed Heat, with its tracks more straightforward in design and less risky.
Night racing is a completely different ball game though, with the likes of traffic, hazards, and cops in your path as you tackle a myriad of illegal street races. These are a lot more open and typically see you racing from point A to B as opposed to on a course, but winning them helps you accumulate the rep you require to unlock new car parts and events. The police are constantly prowling though, so you have to make sure they’re not on your back and then return to a safe house if you want to bank all of the rep you’ve accumulated – if they catch you or take you out in the process, it’ll take a BIG hit.
So this could be pretty frustrating, mainly because the police in Need for Speed Heat are BRUTAL. They’ll come at you from all angles and are constantly prowling the streets, and they only have to see you to initiate a chase. You can try and wipe them out yourself, but in honesty they’re so efficient that this will normally cause more problems than anything. Thankfully, as you upgrade your car it does become easier to evade them, but those initial few hours where they’re seemingly always on your back can be painful – especially since the police chases are normally one of the more enjoyable aspects of the Need for Speed series.
Of course, whilst racing is at the forefront of Need for Speed Heat, you can also expect to spend a lot of time in the garage tuning up your cars. These improvements are purchased with the money you earn from the day races, though certain parts won’t become available until you’ve earned a specific amount of rep points – it’s why you’ve got to balance out both your day and night activities in the game. There are plenty of options in place when it comes to modding your car though, both performance-wise and aesthetically, so petrol heads will have plenty of fun tinkering with each and every element of their design. It’s satisfying and adds a rewarding sense of progress to the game, especially since your cars are given a spec-level that you’ll constantly see rising.
I’d be remiss not to mention micro transactions and loot boxes, especially since they were such a big problem in the last game. You won’t encounter either in Need for Speed Heat, which is brilliant – not only does it show that EA are listening to what fans what, but that they’re prioritising the core gameplay experience as opposed to lining their pockets with more cash. Bravo.
My experience with Need for Speed Heat has mostly been an enjoyable one, but there are a few things that hold it back from racing greatness. For one, the visuals aren’t as impressive as those seen in other titles in the genre, with the environments in particular feeling a little bland. Admittedly, Palm City can look pretty impressive at night, but during those day races I couldn’t help but to find that it felt a little a vacant.
I also suffered a few hard crashes, some of which caused me to lose some progress. I’ve put over fifteen-hours into the game and I’ve seen my PlayStation 4 crash at least five times – one of those times was when I was stringing together night races to earn rep too, so losing that bit of progress was really frustrating. Hopefully we’ll see a patch soon, if only to stop that sense of dread I felt when racing that I might suddenly lose all of my hard work.
The Need for Speed series is one that has had its fair share of ups-and-downs over the years, but Need for Speed Heat feels like a true return to form for EA’s racing franchise. It brings back some of the best features that we’ve seen across the last few iterations in the series, all whilst eliminating the need to grind and the horrifying loot-boxes and micro transactions that plagued the last entry.
I’ll admit that it’s not perfect and there are aspects of the game that could do with improving (such as the clearly road rage-induced cops). These are minor issues in the grand scheme of things though, and thanks to the slick arcade-style driving and satisfying progression elements, Need for Speed Heat offers an intense and rewarding racing experience that fans of the genre are sure to enjoy.
Developer: Ghost Games
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC