After the sour taste that Need for Speed Payback left in our mouths, we can all be very grateful to Ghost Games for absolutely nailing it with Need for Speed Heat. The game really feels like a modernization of the early 2000 era of Need for Speed. Arguably also the best era the franchise had. We’re talking Need for Speed Underground or even, dare I say it, the esteemed Most Wanted game. I’m happy to say that they really outdid themselves here in more ways than just racing.
What makes Need for Speed Heat so likeable is the fact that it takes pieces of good gameplay features from nearly every title that’s had a place in a gamer’s heart. We’ve got the street racing vibe of Underground. We’ve got the intense cop chases from Most Wanted and we’ve got the speed demon physics of the Rivals game.
This, combined with the free roam of the Neon paradise, Palm City, just blends into an amazing racing experience. One where you really feel like a free bird racing nutjob that’s got, dare I say it, a Need for Speed.
Palm City is your playground. While the location is fiction, it’s based off Miami Florida. That means it’s a combination of a Neon lit urban city along with a pretty open beachfront. Interestingly enough, the geography is pretty diverse, since you’ve also got open fields as well as mountainous regions so I’m not sure if it’s completely based off Miami.
Either way, the environment offers a lot to drive through and really take in the sights. In the day it’s a bit hard to notice details when you’re driving as fast as you should be driving. It’s relatively plain looking though, the game really shines through when it comes to night, in fact.
Unlike Need for Speed Payback which had an ongoing 24 hour cycle, Need for Speed Heat lets you seamlessly switch between day and night at your own leisurely pace. This spontaneous option is definitely a step in the better direction for the game since the two different playstyles should allow control over switching between. All the greats like Ultimate Spider-Man as well as Dying Light had the same system.
What’s the difference in night and day gameplay though? Day time is the more officiated part of Need for Speed Heat racing. This is when you drive around in broad daylight and take part in sanctioned races. Sanction being a fancy word for legal basically, operating within official parameters essentially.
You won’t have to worry about cop chases here, it’s just all out racing. You also earn a lot of money for parts that you can then use to work on your car.
At night time, the game takes a whole new spin and it almost feels like a time capsule to either Most Wanted or Hot Pursuit. This is when the racing becomes illegal and the game goes full blown fast and furious. Expect high octane cop chases and very risky races where there are tonnes of variables to look out for.
Dodging traffic is insanely clutch at the right moments, however, and the difference between first place and last can change in a flash. Instead of money, the main currency you earn in night mode is called reputation. Got to get that street cred basically.
The physics of the cars themselves, as I said before, reminds me of Rivals. So far Ghost Games and EA have found utilization of this engine as they did in the previous titles. I’ll be honest, I’m not too big a fan of it. Specifically with how trivially easy they’ve made the art of drifting.
In most standard racing games, including older Need for Speeds, drifting really was something reserved for the pros of the game. Since Rivals, it’s become a basic mechanic. It even feels like the game does most of the work for you while you just hold a button. Reminds me of auto mode in the Guilty Gear games. I wish it was an option instead, to turn easy drifting off.
One thing I’m surprised to commend EA for is how the game actually lacks a pay to win style of play. Everything you can get in Need for Speed Heat, from new engines to custom paintjobs, can be earned within the game itself. How? By earning money and rep in races during the day or at night.
The amount you can customize your cars is also pretty neat and extensive, you’ll rarely see the same exact car customization twice. Ferarri also came back after a Hiatus from Payback due to licensing rights. Good on you Ghost Games.
Regarding cop chases, Need for Speed Heat follows the traditional formula. You can either get your car completely totalled or you can get busted. The car’s health is represented by a damage meter which represents how much punishment is left for you to take. You can upgrade that threshold but in all honesty you will get wrecked if you take even a few head-on collisions. Busted refers to the cops immobilizing you long enough to conduct an arrest.
I’m going to be honest, I didn’t like the functionality of the timer in the busted mechanic. Sometimes I could even see myself peeling out of how they pinned me but then the timer would run out and I’d get arrested anyways. It’s really frustrating, especially when you lose a lot of reputation. While you don’t have the self defensive measures they offered in Rivals, you do have pit stops to insta-heal your cars and Garages as safehouses to evade the police in.
The story of Need for Speed Heat is essentially a discount Fast and Furious. It hasn’t necessarily been their strongsuit if I’m being honest. I actually miss the cheesy live action cutscenes of Most Wanted over this. I will admit that they got better writers than the ones on Need for Speed Payback, however.
Overall, I’d definitely put Need for Speed Heat as a step in the right direction for Ghost Games and EA in one of their most arguably beloved franchises. I hope to see even more improvement in the future.