It certainly has its limitations, but Need for Speed Heat amounts to being a refreshed take on the popular franchise and is overall a fun time.
Here’s a hot take: We have not had a good Need for Speed game since 2012. That year, we got the remake of Most Wanted and with it the last callback to an arcade street racing experience that had become a beacon of enjoyment throughout the 2000s. Since then, there has been a definite shift in how EA envisions the franchise with the likes of the last few games not meeting established standards. 2015’s Need for Speed covered some ground but then its follow-up, Payback, switched to reverse gear and was disliked by a majority of fans.
And so, the franchise has returned after two years with Need for Speed Heat. And…it’s honestly pretty decent.
While still following company and brand strategy to turn everything into an MMO, EA has made attempts to make the game a bit more streamlined and a lot more straightforward. At an overview, the gameplay is split into two definitive parts with the multiplayer modes layered on both. There are definite signs that they are trying to account for the single-player enthusiasts.
Palm City, a metropolis that is always soaked in neon (and water, thanks to an emphasis of such with the dynamic weather system) and spends way too much of its budget on traffic law enforcement. You have rolled into town looking to make a name for yourself in the face of a police crackdown on illegal racing. Setting up shop with the Rivera siblings, a family that shines when behind the wheel or working under the bonnet, you discover that there are some shady dealings happening that threatens the entire community. The race is very much on.
Players have a choice of two racing modes to choose from: Sanctioned races during the day to earn much-needed cash, or illegal races at night to earn much-desired credibility. It’s a clever progression structure which forces the player to participate in both modes. However, that does mean the game is grindy at times. What doesn’t help is that initially there are not many race types to take part in. Most of the daytime races are circuits and the nighttime races are sprints, with drift courses and focused cop chases becoming available later on. It can get repetitive. Also, do not underestimate the 5-0’s ability to bust you. They will come at you with aggression and acceleration and shaking them off while still trying to cross the finish line first can be challenging.
The driving in Need for Speed Heat is the most responsive and fun that the franchise has been in years. I’ve never been a fan of the Frostbite game engine to create these games because while it does yield very good visuals, the driving mechanics, specifically the sense of weight and gravity, are negatively affected. Lightweight cars can still feel very heavy and that impacts how they react when they catch air. There are definite improvements in that regard and the handling is sharper with noticeable differences between cars. Spending an hour tuning my BMW i8 Roadster to be more slippery than my Ferrari Testarossa was time well spent and it shows and feels.
In terms of customisation, EA has recycled the interface from the previous games. It works well, and long-time fans will be pleased with the levels. You can equip your wheels with novelties like a neon underglow and you can access a community library of decals. Bodywork is aplenty. The performance modifications are confusing though as they are intrinsically tied to your progression, coupled with the capabilities of individual vehicles. It does take a while for you to get a grip on it. You even get to modify your avatar with an assortment of clothing and accessories featuring big brands. Not really necessary but it’s a fun touch, especially since you can equip yourself with a Friday the 13th-style hockey mask.
Side note: Big points for the characters. They’re not original at all, but they are also not as annoying and “hip” as they used to be (looking at you, Spike from Need for Speed 2015). Even though it’s bare-boned, the story’s fine as well (as if you’re here for that).
Need for Speed Heat has its limitations. It is repetitive and the best parts are ones that were cherry-picked from previous instalments. But, likely owing to finally feeling the heat (hah) of irate fans, EA has taken a step back with the franchise. Deep breaths and walks were taken, and we have a decent racing game to show for it.
Need for Speed is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4.