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Need for Speed: Heat Review – Cops can’t use bridges

Need for Speed: Heat is a brilliant racing game that combines the joy of driving cars way too fast through populated city streets, with the high-risk high-reward feeling of games like Dark Souls, giving players an opportunity to earn more if they push themselves to the limit. See what we thought in this Need for Speed Heat review.

The Need for Speed series has been more miss than hit in recent years, though the last game, Payback, did go some way to redeeming it. Need for Speed: Heat takes what Payback did and runs with it, building on certain areas, but also doing away with certain aspects in a way that feels entirely unnecessary.

A New Beginning

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In Need for Speed: Heat players are racing around Palm City; a location inspired by Miami. The area is truly stunning, and the roads fun to drive along as they wind their way throughout every district. The smaller location for this entry is deceiving, because there’s actually more road in this game than there was in Payback, they’re just closely packed together. After a few hours, you get used to where locations are, and races begin to run over familiar territory, giving players a sense of satisfaction that they’re getting to grips with the new city.

Palm City has hundreds of collectibles for players to gather in their time with Need for Speed: Heat. These range from billboards to smash and jumps to make, to artwork to locate and admire. Each district has its own counter for each collectible, making the process of gathering everything feel way less laborious. There are also some decent rewards for collecting every item in each category, including customisation options for cars, and of course, cars themselves.

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There is a story to Need for Speed: Heat, but I thought it was secondary to the incredible driving experience you can get just from competing in the standard races around the map. There’s nothing wrong with the story, in fact some of the races found in these missions are the best in the game, it just doesn’t detract from the core driving experience enough to be of particular note.

The game’s online mode allows players to challenge others in a single version of Palm City, but it’s far from essential. More than anything this simply adds more variety to your opponents in races, but it felt surplus to everything else on offer already.

Fast and Furious

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The gameplay of Need for Speed: Heat is obviously racing to be first across a number of events, but those races are split into a number of different activities. From drifting competitions and circuit races, to sprints that see players drive as fast as they can from A to B, each race feels fast and furious. However, certain races require cars to be specced out in a particular way, for example, specialised for drifting as far and for as long as possible, or for racing at top speed.

The cars in Need for Speed: Heat may not include the more luxurious makes and models we’ve come to expect from games like Gran Turismo, but there’s enough on offer here to please most motorheads. My favourite car has to be the Nissan 350Z, and thanks to the wide range of tuning options available, I was able to spec it out for almost every race, slowly upgrading its performance as I earned more money and progressed through the REP ranks.

The customisation options for cars in Need for Speed: Heat are some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Most important of all, a car’s appearance can be changed without the need to spend loads of in-game cash, meaning a player can spend hours creating their perfect ride without needing to race for hours in order to earn enough money. It’s also possible to share the customised version of your car for anyone to download, which was great for me because I suck at making good-looking cars.

Earning cars in the game takes cash, which is easier to earn if you race during the day. Need for Speed: Heat presents players with the option to leave their garage in the day, or wait until night, both of which have their benefits. Racing during the day allows players to take on story missions and complete every single race available to them, without much danger of being hunted down by the local cops. Driving at night is very different.

Bring the Heat

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At night, Need for Speed: Heat gives players the opportunity to race for REP, which increases their rank, opening up more cars to purchase, new races, and more customisation parts. The catch is that the cops patrol the game’s world at this time. With each race you complete comes more Heat, which means the cops are going to hunt you down even more relentlessly.

The cops will chase players around Palm City, and they don’t give up as easily as those in Grand Theft Auto 5. Cops will smash into your car to try to take you down, which can happen pretty quickly if you don’t drive past a garage. If the cops catch up players then they’ll arrest them, take a cut of whatever money they have, and hugely reduce the REP gain they’d built up until that point. The trick of racing at night is to earn lots of REP and not get caught, pushing your rank as fast as possible without losing money in-between. That REP is banked by getting to a safe house, buildings you can fast travel to during the day, but at night they’re places you must reach by yourself, and can only enter without cops tailing you.

The Best Bit

It’s here that Need for Speed: Heat is at its best. The game never feels more exhilarating than when you’ve just finished a race in first place, continued to drive away as the cops chase you down, only to escape them in some spectacular feat of avoidance, darting down a dark alley at the last minute or smashing the cops into a wall one too many times. I had a great moment where I was being pursued by two cop cars as I drove down by the docks. I shifted in front of one cop at the last minute, causing them to drive off into a wall, damaging them too much to continue. The second cop maintained their pursuit, but as I leapt over a ramp that saw us both fly across the water, the cop landed awkwardly and rolled bonnet over boot. Needless to say, that cop was done for, and I’d successfully escaped capture, meaning I could bank all that sweet REP gain.

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Racing in Need for Speed: Heat is fun, but the game really excels when there are a couple of cops chasing everyone competing in a race as well. The only thing more satisfying than winning, is beating the rest of the pack by a huge margin because they’re all being pulled over for speeding.

The Worst Bit

Unfortunately not everything in Need for Speed: Heat is as fun as the awesome night races. Turning corners is a laborious affair, made all the more infuriating by an obtuse drift system. It’s not the drifting itself that’s the problem, though it does feel pointless in some of the side missions when an NPC drives faster than you regardless of whether you’re drifting or turning slowly. Instead, it’s activating the drift that’s the problem, forcing players to let go of the acceleration and hold it down again afterwards, making for some moments in races where you can get overtaken, but feel like it could have been avoided if there was a dedicated drift button.

The only other frustrating aspect of Need for Seed: Heat is getting busted. When the cops close in, they’ll try to pin players, whether it’s between two cop cars or up against a wall. If a maneuver goes wrong it could lead to you needing to reverse away from the cops, or slowly escaping in some other fashion. While moving this slowly a busted metre will pop up, and if it ticks down to zero you’ll be caught.

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This busted metre feels cheap, especially when you’ve been driving around at 100 miles per hour successfully avoiding the cops otherwise. In this way, a single mistake can cost you an entire night’s work, and it’s infuriating. To caveat the frustration there are some auxiliary mods that will help players avoid the cops later in the game, but that doesn’t change how frustrating being busted can be.

The mechanic for gaining REP at night is similar to the way players earn experience points towards new skills in Dark Souls, but even Dark Souls gives players one chance to recover what they’ve earned. Need for Speed: Heat presents an incredibly punishing result for what can be a trivial matter, and it lets the game down when it feels like it could enhance it if changed just a little.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Need for Speed: Heat is a really great racing game that provides a palate cleanse between the plethora of open world games in 2019, each requiring hundreds of hours. You can jump into the game for a number of races, pushing your rank and buying new cars, or you can just complete one race if you just want a quick session.

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Need for Speed: Heat is well worth buying if you’re looking for some pursuit racing action against a smart police force. The game rewards you for taking risks, and while that can come back to bite you in the ass, the temptation to head out and take on the cops again is always too strong to stay frustrated for long.

Release Date: November 8, 2019
No. of Players: 1 Player solo – 16 Player Multiplayer
Category: Racing
Publisher: EA
Developer: Ghost Games

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Need for Speed: Heat

7

What's great
  • Great range of customisation options for cars
  • Being chased by the police makes the game come alive, and forces you to think on your feet
  • Skill-based driving that rewards you as you get better
  • Condensed city streets make it easy to learn routes from point to point
Not so great
  • Lack of a dedicated drift button can make for some frustrating losses due to awkward controls
  • Getting busted by the cops could just be because you took to long to reverse out of an alley

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