It’s finally happened. Need for Speed is great again.
While we quite enjoyed 2015’s Need for Speed and 2017’s Need for Speed Payback, they were rather flawed. And don’t even get us started on the card-based car upgrade system. Ghost Games has seemingly learned from its mistakes though, and leveraging on the Need for Speed series’ extensive history, it has created a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts with Need for Speed Heat.
Need for Speed Heat has got a suitably silly storyline as usual, but it’s not shoved in your face too much. By day you can cruise around Palm City in your souped-up ride, competing in legal street races and other events in which you can earn plenty of money, called ‘Bank’. There are also speed traps to speed through, decals to find, jumps to… er, jump, and more. It’s all fairly scenic and relaxed despite the heavily urban environment. But you’re not going to get far in Need for Speed Heat if you only engage in daytime activities.
Police are cracking down hard on the illegal street races that occur in Palm City at night, and that’s the focus of Need for Speed Heat‘s story. With the police force’s methods not being above board, you and your crew have taken it upon yourselves to expose the corruptness of those trying to take them down. Though to be in with the chance of achieving such a task, you need to earn Rep, giving your crew some clout when it comes to putting your plans into action.
As you can probably figure out for yourself, then, story missions are gated behind Rep levels. And Rep is also required to unlock new cars and advanced upgrades for purchase. The only problem is, Rep can only really be earned in large quantities at night, when the police are out in full force.
Venture out at night and you can take part in a myriad of events, just like during the day, only they award you Rep rather than Bank. If you want to maximise your Rep-building antics, however, you’re going to want to get into police chases. There’s a risk-versus-reward element in play, just like in Need for Speed Rivals; catch the attention of the police and your Heat level rises, multiplying any Rep you’ve earned during that night’s activities. Escape the cops and make it back to a safe house and your rep will be banked. Get caught, and you not only get fined, but most of the Rep you accumulated that night is forfeit too. And we probably should mention that the cops appear to be rather ruthless at higher Heat levels.
This duality makes Need for Speed Heat feel like two games in one. In the daytime it’s Forza Horizon-esque, with events being full of fanfare and relatively stress-free due to the absence of police trying to bust your ass. At nighttime, however, Need for Speed Heat evokes fond memories of Need for Speed Underground and Need for Speed Rivals. The races are exciting and cop chases are tense. It all adds up to make for a varied and hugely entertaining experience.
Aside from the interesting day and night structure of Need for Speed Heat, what really sets it apart from other recent Need for Speed offerings is its car customisation and handling. Pretty much every one of its 120+ cars can be visually modified in some way, with some having a wealth of options available. You can create your own decals, too, to really make your car your own. And by increasing your Rep level and putting your Bank to good use, you can make nearly every car fly like the wind.
Whether you strive to make your cars stick to the road for clean racing or drift at the drop of a hat for some dirty fun is up to you. There’s no wrong way to play, though you do need to consider if you’re going to stick to roads or go off the track. You might have a car capable of going over 200mph, but if it has track tyres and race suspension, you’re not going to be winning any off-road races in it. Need for Speed Heat adopts a Ridge Racer-style drifting system, too, whereby releasing the accelerator while cornering then slamming on it again gets the back end out easily. Feather the steering carefully and you can perform some truly impressive drifts without breaking a sweat.
With such a large and diverse map on offer, you’ll be happy to hear that it’s densely packed with events, activities and collectables. You’re not going to blast through Need for Speed Heat and then be left twiddling your thumbs, that’s for sure. There are online features, too, of course, allowing you to team up and race with others, or simply share a world. The latter can sometimes come in handy during police chases. Like Need for Speed games of old though, Need for Speed Heat is very comfortable as a single-player game. There’s even an option to play solo on the main menu; a shared world isn’t forced upon you.
There are some minor issues that bring your time spent with Need for Speed Heat down a little, but they never amount to anything more than irritations. On the whole, this is a triumphant return to form for a series that has gone off the track in recent years. With its nail-biting police chases and electrifying sense of speed, Need for Speed Heat is the most exciting and tense arcade racing game we’ve had the pleasure of playing in years. It proves that there’s life in the old dog yet, even in a world in which Forza Horizon exists, and we’re very glad of that.
Need for Speed Heat is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.
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