As the sales dropped off, so the series played around with various concepts to try and re-invent itself, with deeper stories piling on the cutscenes, a swerve into a more competitive multiplayer arena and more than a few gimmicks that didn’t quite hit the mark. Thankfully, Need for Speed Heat drops most of the nonsense and instead focuses on the basics that made racers love those earlier titles. Oh, and there’s no loot boxes either, so that’s progress.
There is a story to justify the whole thing, but no-one really cares. You know the drill; you start off as a rookie racer and build yourself up one cool and fully upgradeable car at a time. Depending on your preference, the cops can either be a fun distraction or more annoying than a swarm of angry bees, but ultimately you get to race some beautiful cars, really, really quickly, around a large and interesting world.
One new addition to Heat is that your character is now also fully customisable. You don’t get a name (the game calls you ‘Player’) but you can dress yourself up in some nicely branded clothing or get a slick haircut. Not that too many people will be playing Heat just to change their own looks – and once again the amount of things you can customise on any of your cars is pretty insane; the wheels have four pieces alone!
You start with a choice of three cars. We opted for a ’65 Ford Mustang which would knew would handle like a dog but you’ve got to love that power. Of the 125+ cars in the game, each can be geared towards street racing, off-road or drifting, so it pays to have a good selection. Trying to pass a drift event with a road car that grips the track is pretty pointless – it tainted the joy of our newly-bought Porsche 718 Cayman GTS for a few laps but once we unlocked the likes of the Chevrolet Camaro Z28, we were sliding around like an oily banana skin on ice.
In a somewhat different way to our recent FIFA 20 review, Need for Speed Heat is almost literally a game of two halves. Rather than an organic day/night cycle as we saw in last year’s Payback, Heat splits them into two separate, and quite different, entities. Day time is for the organised Speedhunters Showdown events – it’s all legal and so the streets are cleared of traffic and the cops aren’t going to be an issue.
This means that races are relatively clean and in your downtime you’re free to cruise around mostly untroubled to check out the vast and varied game world at your disposal. During the day you’ll earn money with which you can buy a new car or some of the numerous performance upgrades on offer (which, thankfully, are back to a structured set-up) and it’s generally a nice and relaxed experience when compared to the alternative…
The City Never Sleeps
The hook is that getting into police chases and increasing your heat level (hence the game’s title) will raise your multiplier for the night. Complete a few races, get into an epic chase or two and then make it to one of the game’s safehouses and you’ll get some fat rewards. Get caught and you lose it all, so there’s a definite risk-reward factor to keep you on the edge of your driving seat.
The background story features a rogue squad of cops doing bad things in order to clamp down on the racing community, and their in-game actions won’t make you like them any more. Once you’re on their radar the police can often be an incessant and very persistent threat to shake off. Cars can appear almost from nowhere (we lost the same race twice after being taken out by a stray police car at 99% race distance) and have a knack of recovering from crashes or your late changes of direction incredibly quickly.
Sometimes pace alone will do the trick and the freedom to go off-road just about everywhere provides you with a few neat tricks to escape. However, once you get a few cars on your tail you can spend ages trying to shake them off, which can be made even more demanding if your car is badly damaged (the cops can dish out a lot themselves) and you’re trying to find a garage to repair it and keep your night alive and Rep intact.
You can choose day or night at pretty much any point so, depending on your Bank or Rep needs, you can choose what setting suits you the best at that moment. However, if you want to explore, track down collectables or toy with the many challenges that Palm City has to offer, then you’re most certainly better off doing it by day!
There are no designated lobbies or MP modes, but when you find a race, you can invite friends or anyone currently in your world to join in – or you can choose to race it solo. The only real downside to racing with others is that you might find yourself trailing behind someone in a much better car than yours!
The purpose of heading online is to earn bonus Rep for your crew which brings further unlocks and rewards. You start with a default crew but once you’ve earned a few points you can set up your own and start to develop your brand.
It’s not something we found ourselves really putting much stock into, although we can see how the more dedicated racers and custom fanatics can immerse themselves into the online world to show off their style to the wider community.
To an extent, that’s a flaw. There’s nothing really that’s new but in some ways that also makes Heat feel comfortably familiar and takes us back to those older titles. Besides the core racing, drift events and time trials, you’ve also got the usual billboard stunt jumps, speed traps, long jumps and drift zones to toy with, plus neon flamingos to trash and street art to discover. So while it’s nothing we haven’t done before, there’s definitely plenty of it packed into Palm City and you’re never far from some fresh distraction or challenge.
The game world as a whole is impressive. It’s sparse in places but realistic enough to be believable, while it also has plenty of fun features without becoming an exaggerated theme park. Visually it’s solid throughout; the developers nailed the rain effects a few years back and they’re prevalent again here, contrasting nicely with the Florida sunshine to showcase some neat HDR effects and adding some conveniently damp tracks for those epic drifts.
Drifting can a little hit and miss, with the new ‘gas-steer-gas’ system requiring almost a timed double-tap of the trigger. You can always just stick with the handbrake but we did find ourselves inadvertently drifting after our finger flinched in a high-speed corner. It’s not a big problem once you get used it and more often than not you’ll want to be drifting around those corners anyway.
As always, there can be a bit of a grind to leveling up and driving around to events, but with plenty of distractions and some conveniently placed safehouses and garages providing fast travel hotspots, it’s a largely enjoyable experience. Plus, being able to choose events based on the performance rating of your car does mean that you can aim low and smash some easy money if you want to tone down the challenge.
There are quite a few minor issues that niggled at us. As much as we loved the largely destructive environment, the lack of persistent damage made circuit races seem strange as we crashed through the same gate on every lap. The mini-map isn’t the easiest to follow either, with a thick yellow line on a zoomed-out map making it hard to pick the right turn – although in races the on-screen prompts are rather more obvious to follow.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a lot of repeated dialogue while you’re in free-roam and the weirdest thing that really bugged us was that all of the traffic lights are fixed on red. It’s hardly game-breaking, although there was an awkward pause the first time we stopped because a cop car was parked on the corner, it’s just one of those little touches that you might expect to see in any game with triple-A aspirations.
- Classic NFS set-up
- Cool setting
- Plenty to do
- Nothing really new
- Short on MP options
- Cops can be annoying
Need for Speed Heat Review (Xbox One)
The lack of hype and promotion that would usually surround an NFS launch perhaps suggests that there are still some uncertainties around where its future lies, but Need for Speed Heat feels like a step in the right direction.
There’s nothing new here but, with an impressive setting and some classic arcade action to enjoy, Heat feels more like a throwback to the glory days of the franchise. It lacks the flair, freshness and spectacle of when the series was really at the top of its game, but it’s probably the best we’ve had for a few years.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.