Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Genre: Legal street racing by day, illegal street racing by night.

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The last time I played a Need For Speed game was more than a decade ago. Even then, I didn’t really finish it. Hell, I only played about 2 hours of ProStreet and then I put the disc away permanently. After ProStreet, it seemed that the series progressively got worse and so began my abandonment of the street racing game series I used to love so much.

When I was assigned to review Need For Speed: Heat, I actually sighed out loud, feeling as if a forgotten ghost had come back to haunt me. Needless to say, I approached the game with very low expectations.

I remember watching the trailers and even downloaded the phone app that allowed me to customise cars and import them into the game once it was in my hands so I wasn’t completely in the dark about the direction that developer Ghost Games was going for in this entry.

I’ll tell you right now that I actually enjoyed playing NFS Heat. I can’t tell you how much it has improved over the last few entries in the series, but it definitely reminded me of the fun I had in the original Most Wanted.

Race To The Top

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The biggest mechanic to take note of in NFS Heat is switching between day and night. During the daytime, you’ll be spending time making money in legal street races which consist of the usual circuit, sprint, and drift events. At night, you engage in not-so-legal street racing which features the same events but instead of money, you race for reputation, stylised as REP in the game.

Before I continue, I would like to clarify that the drifting in this game is awesome. It’s easy enough to pull off but will take some time to master when you finally unlock the cars that can drift at 200km/h.

Coupled together with the challenging drift events that you can do throughout the game, it’s definitely one of the highlights of the game.

The setting this time is Palm City which is supposed to resemble the city of Miami. I wouldn’t know that because I’ve never been to Miami nor have I watched enough TV shows to give me a good idea of what Miami looks like. What matters is that it’s a pretty fun place to race in.

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From the tight corners of the downtown area to the wide slopes of the mountains, the first 15 hours of the game kept on giving me new tracks to race on and almost all of them were memorable in a good way.

There are also off-road races that take place in dirt tracks; those were a lot of fun as well.

After making money during the day and spending it on your car, you better be prepared for night mode because that’s when the police become aggressive. Cop chases are back and this time, I wouldn’t say that they’re as exhilarating as the ones in the original Most Wanted but the police are smart and fast enough that they did make me sweat a few times. I even got busted once or twice!

Feeling The Heat

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It wouldn’t be all that satisfying to get into cop chases if there weren’t any benefits from successfully escaping. That’s where the HEAT system comes in.

During night mode, you’ll have the ability to raise your HEAT level which dictates how mad the cops are at you. The higher your HEAT level, the higher your REP multiplier. You end the night by driving to any one of the fast-travel garages placed throughout the city. Get back in one piece and you can earn double, triple, or higher REP you got from races if you conclude the night on a specific HEAT level.

Keep in mind that high HEAT levels mean more aggressive cops with faster and stronger vehicles. Cop cars have a health bar but so do you. Once you reach HEAT level 3 and above, you should expect special units driving Corvettes and reinforced trucks to run you down.

The risk-and-reward balance of having high HEAT is really well done in this game and despite wanting to avoid cop chases, I always found myself nudging the HEAT meter up so that I could get more REP.

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Progress in the game is directly tied to your REP level. The higher your REP level, the more story missions you can do and also the more cars and parts you unlock for purchase.

There were times I felt like I had to grind some familiar but profitable day races so that I could buy faster cars because upgrade parts weren’t unlocking as quickly as I thought they would. It’s weird how sometimes the game would introduce new races which would require faster cars but offer lower cash or REP rewards.

Fortunately, this was only apparent in the early-to-middle stages of the game. After reaching REP level 20 or so, the game returned to a very good pace of unlocking new stuff.

Spoiler Alert (It’s A Pun, Not A Spoiler Warning)

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I don’t know who wrote the stories of the recent Fast & Furious movies but those who weren’t good enough to even make it to that level of artistry have found themselves in the business of writing stories of racing games instead. That’s how mediocre and clichéd the story of NFS Heat felt to me.

The story has all the similar themes to those Fast & Furious movies: family, illegal street racing, and bad cops who sometimes turn good. They’re all just done in a way that’s a lot more cheesy and forgettable. To call the script and storyline decent would already be overgenerous on my part.

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On the bright side, they’ve taken the Dark Souls route of storytelling. You don’t have to care about the story to enjoy the game. It’s just there to give you a reason -albeit a very weak one- to buy fast cars, trick them out, and piss off cops. The only thing that truly frustrates me is that the main campaign ends on a huge cliffhanger that’s obviously a set up for a sequel or future DLC.

It took me about 20 hours to beat the main campaign plus I spent a lot of time customising my cars. Truth to be told, I felt that the campaign was far too short. I might have not liked it but I wish there was more for me to discover.

Customisation Sensation

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A Need For Speed game isn’t complete without a robust customisation feature that allows you to make your car look as good as it drives. I’m happy to report that the customisation options are not only great but they are also well-integrated into the core gameplay.

Let me touch on performance customisation first. The main car that I used for circuit and sprint races couldn’t rack up a lot of points in drift events and it was abysmal in off-road races. So I had to have two other cars that I would switch to for specific events. I had to fine-tune different cars for different events.

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I really liked that the game wanted me to never be comfortable with only using one car at any given time and it forced me to experiment with other cars that I could buy and customise. The game even allows you to switch cars at the start of any daytime race.

Still, it is entirely possible to play the entire game while always only having one main car. Some parts will allow you to tune your car towards any of the four profiles: on-road, off-road, race, and drift. Just fast-travel to your garage, change some parts, and you would have a car fit for drifting on dirt instead of one made for downtown circuit races. All without changing the car itself.

When it comes to visual customisation, it’s really easy to lose an hour or two just playing around with all the options you have. Every type of paint, body parts, and most of the decals are unlocked from the get-go.

Unfortunately, auto-sculpting is not featured in NFS Heat, which is a shame because it’s one of the best features ever introduced in the series.

My favourite part of the external customisation is that you can type in custom text decals and also number plates. I had a lot of fun with that.

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Catching The Drift

If there was anything I’d like to highlight as a criticism, it would be that the game feels as if it’s not tapping into its fullest potential.

The cop chases could be a lot more fun if I didn’t have to hold myself back due to my car being easily damaged after being bumped a few times. The story only took a short time to finish. Last but not least, some new races unlocked in higher REP levels are just races you’ve already won but now with faster opponents.

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I honestly don’t know if Need For Speed: Heat is the return to form that many of the series’ fans are hoping for. For me, it’s a really good racing game that successfully nails what it sets out to do: putting players behind the wheel of a fast car and getting them into fun races and cop chases.

The cars look good, the races are fun, and pimping your ride is easy and satisfying. That’s more than enough to keep the series’ fire ablaze.

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PROS

  • Races are fun and most tracks are memorable.
  • Cops are aggressive and smart in high HEAT levels.
  • In-depth performance and visual customisation.
  • Lots of cars and parts to unlock.
  • Visuals are great for cars and the environment.

CONS

  • Not much strategy involved in escaping cops.
  • Damage system spoils the fun of ramming into cops.
  • Soundtrack gets repetitive really quickly.

FINAL SCORE: 80/100


Our Need For Speed: Heat review was done on the PS4 version with a review code provided by the game’s publisher.

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