Need for Speed: Heat on PlayStation 4
With Need for Speed (2015) and Payback, EA seemed to lose grasp of what fans looked for from the series. Awkward Fast & Furious style stories, slot machine upgrades, and live-action segments were not what was needed to make Need for Speed the biggest name in racing again.
Thankfully, Need for Speed Heat takes the series back to basics in a lot of ways. The story takes a back seat, cops are part of the action again, and it’s all about racing to upgrade your cars.
Playing as an up and coming member of the street racing community, we’re back in a smaller city setting called Palm City, and our job is to get noticed by the big gangs and avoid the cops.
However, the cops are more than just faceless pursuers. Focusing on a few particularly horrible characters who get embroiled in the street racing world, they’re actually part of the story.
It’s nothing standout, being little more than a story of a small gang overcoming the odds, but it’s far better than the cringe-fest that was Payback’s. It’s interesting enough to keep your attention when it needs to, yet it doesn’t step on the toes of the actual racing.
The streets are devoid of people, but the more contained and semi-realistic story also makes Palm City feel more like a complete, living city. The issue with that is that Palm City is a bit boring.
You’ve got the downtown and marina area or the hills where you’ll find things like empty factories, and that’s pretty much it. There are no other big changes in terms of landscape, with it being difficult to distinguish any part of Palm City’s sparse central areas.
It’s strange that Palm City is a let down because one of the best features in Need for Speed Payback and Rivals were their maps. They both had downtown areas for street races, obstacle-filled forests, and open deserts, all within a few miles of each other. It wasn’t realistic, but it made for varied events and made exploration more appealing.
Heat’s Palm City is still beautiful (particularly at night) and has fewer bugs than Payback’s world, but the trade off is that it doesn’t have much personality.
Where Heat is truly an improvement, though, is in how it sets up the events. The split between Night and Day is important to everything.
Daytime events offer money as a reward, which allows you to upgrade your rides and buy new ones, while Nightime events are about earning REP to level up and get access to the next campaign event.
Daytime events are exactly what you’d expect from an open-world racing game. Circuit races to earn some cash for upgrades is about all there is to them.
At Night, Need for Speed Heat really comes to life. Not only is Palm City more beautiful, with neon purples, flashing red and white lights, and a Gotham City-esque murky green sky coming together to make for a more intense atmosphere, but there’s more to the racing than there is during daylight hours.
That’s because Heat incorporated a new risk and reward system to racing at night. As you race and escape cops, you’ll earn REP and your heat level will increase up to a maximum of five.
The higher your heat, the more aggressive the chasing cops will be and the higher your REP multiplier will be. Therefore, as you win races with a high heat level, you’ll earn more REP.
However, you can only bank that huge amount of REP if you make it back to a safe house without being chased. If you’re busted, you’ll only get the REP amount at level one heat, losing everything you earned from the multiplier.
It’s a great system that adds a lot to the fun of playing at Night. Do you play one more race at level three heat to get an extra 20,000 REP to hit the next level, but risk being caught by the cops along the way? Or do you head to a safe house now and bank what you have?
Staying out and racing to maximize your REP can make progression go by a lot faster, but getting busted with lots of REP on the board can mean a lot of wasted time. It’s a fun dilemma to have, especially when REP is the aim of the game between campaign missions.
At times though, particularly towards the back end of the game, grinding REP events at night can get very repetitive if you’re not able to escape heat five cops and bank six figures of REP at once.
The reward amount changes for each event, so sometimes it makes more sense to repeat a single event to rack up the REP when you need more to hit the level required to progress the story, but that can be so tedious.
On top of that, the cops are inconsistent. At heat level one, they can be hilariously dumb, losing you within a second or two of starting the pursuit, while it’s nigh-on impossible to escape them between heat levels three and five if you’re in the downtown areas.
The only way to do so is to head up into the hills and jump off the off-road streets, hoping that the cops are too dumb to work out where you’ve gone.
That difficulty only adds to the unnecessary grind as it doesn’t make sense to risk staying out when you’re able to bank enough REP to reach the next level.
The general idea of focusing on Night racing, bringing cops back to the forefront of the experience, and adding a risk and reward system is a great one and a big step forward for the NFS series. That being said, it’s a few tweaks away from matching the action of the series’ standout entries.
As for actually playing the events themselves, Heat is once again a lot more fun that it has been recently. The driving mechanics are nothing to write home about and none of the cars really handle differently. Not that previous games would suggest they would be, but they’re not unresponsive or floaty to a degree that it’s not fun.
The new drift system, which sees you double pump the accelerator to initiate a power slide also keeps the action fast and fluid. The drift-focused events are too easy to cheese for them to be any kind of challenge though.
If realism and involved driving were features you were really looking for though, Need for Speed shouldn’t be the series you first go to.
After two of the worst games in Need for Speed’s storied history, it’s not much of a compliment to say that Heat is the best the series has been in years.
That being said, while it’s got a long way to go to hit the heights of the Forza Horizon competition, the improved story telling, inventive Night vs. Day structure, and fun driving make Heat worth picking up even if Payback and 2015’s reboot put you off the series.
Score: 3.5/5 – Fair
- Palm City is beautiful, especially at night.
- The ridiculous microtransactions are gone.
- The Day/Night structure is great, adding a compelling risk and reward loop to racing at night.
- The driving mechanics make for fun gameplay, even if they’re not complex in the slightest.
- The story takes a back seat but is still a big improvement on Payback and the 2015 reboot’s.
- Cops can be a bit dumb at low heat levels and impossible to escape at high ones.
- Palm City lacks the scale and variety of other recent Need for Speed settings.
- The REP requirements for story missions and inconsistent rewards means there’s some frustrating grinding at times.
Yes, if you enjoy open world racing games or are a lapsed Need for Speed fun. It’s the series’ best since Rivals.
Need for Speed Heat is out now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
It is developed by Ghost Games.
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