Set in a virtual equivalent of Miami called Palm City, Need for Speed Heat has you quite literally racing day and night. As a newcomer to the city’s bustling racing culture, you’ll burn rubber during the day on race tracks to earn cash (or bank as the game calls it) and at night on the streets in illegal races to earn your “rep” (short for reputation) as well as unlock access to new gear to customise your ride.
Along the way, you’ll deal with some amusing allies, villainous cops who seek to wipe out street races, and campy story complete with eye-rolling dialogue (“There’s a lot of speed in this race,” says one character early on) that usually accompanies the Need for Speed games.
This time around however, it works. After initiating you with a glitzy late night street race that has you tearing down half of the city, Need for Speed Heat wastes no time in having you learn the ropes as a newbie racer. You’ll customise what your in-game avatar looks like, pick a car, and you’re on your way.
Before you know it, the tension between characters and the overall plot itself simply melt away as you proceed to accumulate what you need to make your car better. You’ll soon find yourself in an addictive loop of focusing on how much cash you have as well as your rep level to attain new gear like a better nitrous system or a new engine. This pattern of play isn’t entirely new. Destiny, Borderlands, Monster Hunter: World, and even past Need for Speed games had a similar approach.
The reason why this works here is that driving in Need for Speed Heat is fun. Even early on when you don’t have any equipment, you never quite feel that you don’t have a chance of winning. Later on once you’re able to earn decent parts, you’re never quite in an overpowering position that you don’t stop trying to acquire better bits of kit. Sure, the most dedicated would find a way to break this in no time, but for most part, remains enjoyable, competitive fare. Which is more than what recent Need for Speed games amounted to.
That said, it’s not perfect. The story ends up being a predictable mess and the music selection could be a bit better. If you were expecting a track list as solid as say, Need for Speed Underground or even Burnout Paradise, think again. It doesn’t help matters that even on the Xbox One X there’s noticeable slowdown in some cut-scenes while certain objects like trees teleport into view at the last moment.
Furthermore, the presentation in Need for Speed Heat is inconsistent. Instead of a day and night cycle, you can switch between night and day anytime you want. The nocturnal races are a treat with splashes of neon, strategically lit structures, and a slick almost arcade-like vibe to it, it’s when the game really comes into its own.
In stark contrast, driving during the day shows off how sparse Palm City is with its few cars and general emptiness. The race tracks themselves are fine but roaming around the city feels lacklustre in daylight due to how drab it looks.
The inconsistency extends to cop cars. Like past Need for Speed games, you’ll inevitably be chased by the police except they exhibit odd behaviour every now and then. For example we were able to evade three of them in hot pursuit by simply jumping over a canal or diving into a dirt road by a quarry and in one instance, we were able to simply turn around only to have them give up the chase.
Risk is completely eliminated as all the gear you earn before eliciting the police’s ire is still yours even if you do get caught by them. A perplexing design choice as it lowers the stakes of these encounters considerably because you don’t have much to lose.
And then there’s AllDrive, Need for Speed Heat’s online multiplayer mode. In this you and up to 15 friends can tear through the streets of Palm City. Pre-release it seemed to work fine with no noticeable lag or slowdown. Hopefully this should continue to be the case post-release. Before you ask, yes, you can ignore Need for Speed Heat’s online modes altogether. The entire game is playable offline. Ghost Games stated this back in August and our time with Need for Speed Heat confirms it.
All in all, Need for Speed Heat is a fun racing game albeit not without its flaws. The presentation is inconsistent and the AI is spotty while the story and music isn’t as good as it could be. Granted there are more polished, ambitious racing games out there, but Need for Speed’s core driving experience and customisation make it worth considering for fans of the genre.
Rating (out of 10): 7
Need for Speed Heat is a flawed but fun racing game.