I really don’t get why Need For Speed had to take the turn that it did over the past few years. I mean, here’s a series that’s supposed to be built around racing, not the idea of racing culture. 2017’s Need For Speed Payback felt like such a mistake in the series. It took the most exciting moments of racing out of our hands and, instead, gave us a story that even the cast of Fast and Furious would roll their eyes at. Not to mention the release before that, Need For Speed (2015), requiring a consistent online connection and also losing a slight bit of focus on what made the series so special.
And I think that’s why it feels good to see a game like Need For Speed Heat emerge. It’s a good turnaround for Ghost Games after a couple of entries which have lost their way, a game that focuses more on the driving, though it does try to keep a little bit of storytelling in check. It’s still not quite where it needs to be when it comes to the older games in the series, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
The game takes place in the fictional city of Palm City, Florida, and continues to be enamored by a culture not unlike Fast and Furious. People really like to race in this town, despite the concern over the police noticing how wild things are getting. You’re a newcomer on the scene, determined to make a name for themselves. But you can’t get your foot in the door right away because, obviously, you need reputation. And this is where the game’s twin racing system takes place.
It’s literally night and day. During the day, you can take part in events, earn some cash and start building your garage with some special rides. But then, at night, you let reputation take over as you challenge other racers and quickly dominate the circuit. With reward, however, comes risk. A high-speed task force is looking to shut down racers with a vengeance, led by a cop who might be taking things a bit too personal. So their crew is on the lookout, leading to some of the game’s more exciting moments.
This is a matter of two systems — bank and rep. During the day, you’ll make bank, building up your cash supply where you need it the most. Rep, however, is a little more important, as you make a name for yourself while attempting to keep your Heat level from getting too out of control, lest you have every cop in the city chase after you. Get busted and you’ll wipe out a decent portion of both Bank and Rep. How much you can take really depends on how well you drive.
The only confusing thing with this system is when you’re online and find yourself in a hot pursuit, even though some players may have a higher heat system than you. Other than that little glitch, I was surprised how well Heat’s dual system worked. The day races are good fun, giving you a good look at Palm City’s terrain; but the night races are even more enjoyable, as the police force AI is surprisingly aggressive and, in most cases, pretty smart. You’d think more of them would take chances on ramps, though. Can’t their cars handle a bit of flight like yours?
Also, upgrades do make a difference with each race. You can put new parts on your vehicles as shops open up to lend a hand, mainly based on your Rep. Most of these are good, boosting your stats overall and making you more of a contender on the track. You’ll be busy for hours pushing your custom-designed ride to its limits, provided you’re all about the game’s vibe. And, fortunately, Heat has a way better vibe than whatever Payback had.
One huge factor here is that EA didn’t load up the game with microtransactions. This undid Payback as quickly as its story, but by letting the player earn their keep instead of buying their way out of trouble, it’s a smart move.
It focuses more on the driving, which in itself feels pretty good. The drifting system takes some slight getting used to, but once you master a few turns, you’ll find it to come across as pretty natural. And what’s more, Ghost Games doesn’t hamper exciting moments this time around. It gives you full control, which is fine by me.
As for visuals, the game looks pretty good. There are times the textures can look a little ugly, particularly at night; but the vehicle models are excellent, the cars look great, the humans actually look, well human (despite the obvious Fast and Furious fetish) and the use of Frostbite engine is noticeable with the roadside debris. This is definitely miles ahead of the previous, lackluster games in the series.
That said, the sound could use a little more oomph. The voice acting is good, but can only do so much for believability in a story. It’s still corny, despite Ghost Games’ attempts to take a “legit” route. And the music choices are definitely Fast and Furious inspired, rather than offering a bit of variety, like a hard rock channel. That said, fans should get a kick out of the engine noises, which are legitimate and true to the car models.
The game offers a lot to do with a single player campaign that lasts a few hours. It’s not entirely memorable, but at least it doesn’t grate on the nerves like Payback’s did. And the online stuff isn’t as overbearing as previous games, making competition against friends more fun than expected. If you’ve got a crew that’s wanting to take part in some evening races, this can be a, ahem, gas..
There is something that still keeps Heat from total greatness. It’s probably the story, which, in the end, just can’t keep up with what previous games have done. But, in hindsight, I still consider this a win for Ghost Games. After a couple of games that have tried to take a different direction and stalled, Heat feels like it gets back on the road. Its story has its moments of cheesiness; and the system isn’t quite perfect when it comes to online shenanigans. That said, though, it’s fun to play; and its world is set up nicely enough that you don’t mind racing day or night. Forward progress beats nothing at all, and this game is definitely back up to Speed.