To date, there have been 23 NFS games and during that time the franchise has seen some major changes in core gameplay in releases like High Stakes, which introduced vehicle customization and Underground, which brought us an open world. These changes have helped keep the franchise alive, however recent releases have received a lukewarm reception from fans and have failed to really engage with their audience.
NFS Heat Review
This review will contain some plot spoilers, but I won’t give away the ending, promise.
You arrive in Palm City and it’s a racing fans wet dream. Determined to make a name for yourself you team up with Ana Rivera, who conveniently just lost her entire crew and is looking to rebuild.
Ana hooks you up with her brother Lucas, a reformed racer who now strictly sticks to working on cars rather than racing them, who sets you up with a new set of wheels and a place to crash.
It’s soon revealed that Palm City has some MAJOR problems, not only do street racers endanger the lives of everyone in the city with their reckless – no rules night races but the police task force charged with maintaining order are pretty open about their willingness to commit murder as a means of conflict resolution.
You proceed to race your way up the ranks gaining Rep at night and Bank during the day, all while attempting to outsmart the fuzz, some of whom can’t make up their minds which side they’re on.
Make no mistakes, NFS Heat is an unapologetic arcade racing experience, and that’s what I’ve come to know and love from the franchise. If you are looking for a realistic racing sim, this is not it.
The controls feel almost counter-intuitive, to begin with, and in the early stages, before you’ve had a chance to make any major upgrades to your ride, it almost feels as if you are punished for trying to drive like you would in the real world. Breaking for corners sees your opponents flash past you and peddling the throttle through a corner throws the car out sideways into barriers. It took me a good few minutes to realize this jarring sideways slide was the key to conquering the NFS Heat driving physics.
Once you have mastered the art of initiating a slide, by releasing and then slamming on the accelerator again mid-corner, it will be a good few hours and many car upgrades later before you need to consider even using the break.
This is truly where the game comes into its own; High-speed corners, roads that are always wide enough to squeeze a car between or around oncoming traffic, trees, fences and lampposts that, while still being a pain in the butt, do not completely destroy your momentum when crashing through them. Seriously, you can crash through almost everything in-game and providing your not taking out a whole neighborhood fence, it’s not going to ruin your race.
The game world features both Day and Night, however, these are not on a 24hr cycle or in-game timer but rather triggered by the player. When leaving one of the garages or safehouses littered across the map you are given the option to select day or night and I found my decision was generally influenced by what I required to progress through the next story mission.
During the day you are free to roam the city and participate in any of the city-sanctioned events complete with flags, barriers and spectators and finish line celebrations. Winning an event during the day awards you with Bank, the in-game currency. Day time also allows you to fast travel between certain locations and safehouses making it easy to save your progress at any time. While there are cops out during the day they are far more passive and no real threat. For me, the whole daytime environment feels a little sterile and a bit more like Forza Horizon rather than a Need For Speed title.
At any stage, during the day or upon leaving a garage you can switch to night mode which is where things start to get a bit more interesting.
Once started, night time can only end by pulling into a safehouse without the cops on your tail. There is no fast travel at night forcing you to lose the cops and find your way back to a safehouse to save your progress.
Races during the night are unsanctioned illegal events and it’s no surprise to anyone in the city and the cops hate them.
The cops are mad, real mad and are certainly play by a different set of rules once the sun is down. Cops get more aggressive with faster and more armored cars as your Heat increases.
Night is where you earn your Rep. Gain Rep to increase your player level, increase your player level to unlock new parts, new parts are purchased with your Bank that you earnt during the day, easy.
Once you’ve entered a night race, you are not immune from the cops who continue to roam the streets and will engage in a chase at the drop of a hat, or clutch… Upon crossing the finish line you are awarded your Rep, however, this is not secured until you enter a safehouse. If you get busted by the cops before making a safehouse, your Rep for the night is gone.
The nighttime environment feels a lot more like the glory days of Need for Speed, with a combination of the dark wet streets being lit by bright neon lights and plenty of traffic to navigate between.
The online aspect here adds a whole nother level as other players tear around the city with cops in pursuit presenting you the opportunity to hinder or assist depending on your mood.
The night time feels like the game I wanted to play with the daytime, for me, feeling like a bit of a chore.
Customizing your rides aesthetics and performance is a huge part of HEAT and has been a staple for the NFS series for a long time now. NFS Heat boasts “more customization options than ever to tweak and tune your dream car to match your style.”
While admittedly I tend not to get involved in the visual styling of my cars too much, outside of a nice pair of rims and a body kit, the game does have a well-featured wrap editor along with a plethora of options to let you pimp your ride out and make it your own: splitters, bumpers, sideskirts, lights, mirrors, fenders, diffusers, canards, hoods, roofs, spoilers, trunklids, rims, tires, brakes, grilles can all be visually tuned to your personal liking.
Me? I’m more of a performance guy, and get a kick out of making slow (relatively speaking) cars not just fast in a straight line, but a well-balanced track monster. Performance categories include Structures, Forced Induction, Nitrous, Handling, Engine Swaps, Handling, Engine Swaps, and Exhaust Tuning. While the tuning options are plentiful, I did find the interface a little clunky and didn’t feel inspired to delve deep into comparing every part just to squeeze out a little more performance, but rather just apply the next upgrade I could afford systematically one at a time.
Worth noting that there are three categories that affect the handling of a vehicle: Tires, Suspension, and Differential. They are divided into types depending on how they change the handling characteristics and can help you tune your car for race, drift, and on-road/off-road depending on what event style you want to use it for.
Bright lights and shiny cars always make for a visual feast, while the game doesn’t break any new ground in the graphics department it holds up as any AAA title should.
Some of my favorite moments were during the night up in the hills looking over the city as you fly through the neon glow of a checkpoint.
There were a few blips that included motorcycle wheels that shone like a wet metallic surface, even during the day, and steering wheels in cut scenes with more edges than U2.
NFS Heat is a solid entry for the Need for Speed franchise but felt more like a best-of, rather than a new release.
- GAMEPLAY DAY - 55%55%
- GAMEPLAY NIGHT - 79%79%
- GRAPHICS - 89%89%
- AUDIO - 74%74%
This was a difficult one for me as the game seems to hedge its bets a little. It felt like Ghost Games were trying to win over fans of Forza Horizon with the more structured day time racing events while trying to provide the core Need for Speed experience at night. While both the day and night time gameplay is good, I didn’t get a feeling of a completely unified experience, forcing myself to flick between the two only to further my career progression.
For more on NFS Heat, check out our previous coverage.