Title: Need For Speed: Heat
Developer: Ghost Games
Release Date: November 8, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
There’s nothing like driving on the open road with the wind in your hair. In my struggle with finding racing games that I enjoy, I often fall back to arcade classics. One look at EA’s Need for Speed: Heat and I felt that excitement of returning to the wheel. Right from the starting line, things looked good with its open-world design and color palette. And while this was a fun experience, there are these little issues under the hood that make the first lap tough to get through.
You’re taken to Palm City, a resort-like town, which is curiously devoid of pedestrians: But I understand this isn’t Grand Theft Auto or Carmaggedon. Players assume the role of an up-and-comer driver who is caught between the local police and the street racers of the fair metropolis. The rules are simple: racing during the day is perfectly legal, whereas speeding at night will get the cops on your tail. However, you’ll need to make a name for yourself by racing your butt off.
While the story has its moments, it’s far out there. The biggest issue is how unlikable each cast member is. They all borrow the vocabulary and style of online streamers, but it comes off as so forced. You’re also required to choose from a bunch of pre-made characters that somehow are a mix of neutral and douchey at the same time. Luckily, your chosen avatar will be in a car for most of the game, so you won’t have to look at them long.
Racing in the Need for Speed: Heat feels tight and responsive. While story mode doesn’t give much of a challenge as you’re going through the early campaign races, the online mode makes up for it with unique events. Each track has a recommend level that your car should be at before a race. You have the option to take a break from progressing the story and focus on gaining funds. Replaying earlier sections is easy enough, but makes things way too easy as you end up lapping the other racers in some campaign missions.
As hinted at about before, the gameplay is split between day and night cycles: while the Sun’s up to players race for money, and while its down, they race for reputation. These two dynamics work well together as I found myself balancing each and thinking about my current level and car loadout.
While racing during the daylight is easy to get around, nighttime brings the heat, literally. Cops will be hunting you down if you’re speeding around before dawn. Winning gets you reputation points, but the more races you complete, the more the fuzz will be up your tailpipe. If they catch you, you’ll lose anything you’ve gained that evening. The unstructured randomness of the night races made them more interesting to me, but with straightforward day races provided a nice break to the franticness brought on by those late cruises.
Races are scattered around the map, but there are also story missions that need to be completed. These quests typically have you meet with another racer and then follow them to the track. They go slow, and you don’t know where the race is, so you are forced to follow and indulge in their mindless conversations about racing and their opinions about other characters. This feels unnecessary and slows down the pace of the game, which runs contrary to a title with the word ‘Speed’ in it.
The open-world design of Need for Speed: Heat lets the developer turn every street into a potential race. Throughout the game, players can explore the sprawling city around them and take on smaller events like drift competitions and speed trap rewards. These challenges make getting from point A to point B a more manageable because the map is vast. Most of the time, though, I just took things off-road because that was the quickest way to a mission marker.
Where Need for Speed: Heat shines is in its customizable elements. It’s possible to modify every part of your ride down to the smallest detail. The fine-tuning options in this game are unlike any in the series. As silly as the story can be at times, the developers took the customization, sound, and presentation of their vehicles seriously, and the entire game is made better because of it. Any dream car can be created in this mode, and those who have an allegiance to a particular brand can express that love through their designs.
These parts and features are unlocked throughout the game. Using the cash earned through the day races combined with the reputation earned at night will benefit your vehicle’s performance overall. It creates this nice gameplay loop of continually unlocking new elements to improve your stats and get the build you want. While there’s the fun metagame of swapping on skill out for another (like acceleration vs. high speed), I was mostly interested in having a pimped-out ride that stood out in online sessions.
One of the better elements of Need of Speed: Heat is how it retains an arcade feel but within a straight-faced presentation. The developers spent a lot of time making this game sound and feel like an actual racing game. However, they also remembered to include fun elements like being able to do large jumps or bust through billboards. Because of this, I always found something entertaining to do. And once everything is completed, the online mode offers a load of various events as you drive around with friends or strangers.
Need for Speed: Heat on its own is a great time. Sadly, the cast of characters and the forced drama in the story don’t do anything for its appeal. There are elements within the game that could be tweaked, but as a package, this is an excellent entry in the series.
Palm City is a playground for car lovers as you can modify your car down to the tiniest detail. Sure, you’ll probably never like your in-game avatar, but that doesn’t matter when you’re going flying down a hill at 140 MPH while being chased by five patrol cars. It’s almost as good as that feeling of wind blowing through your hair.
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