Need for Speed Heat Review
Need for Speed is one of the most beloved franchises in racing, but recent additions have been struggling to find the right gear. Need for Speed Heat hopes to return the franchise to its former glory with an insane amount of character and vehicle customization, the return of epic encounters with the police, and enough cars to fill a parking garage. Is this a return to form for the series?
Need for Speed Heat Review
Your journey begins in Palm City, a city that has embraced the art of racing with open arms, featuring entirely legal racing leagues by day and a far more attractive illegal scene by night. You arrive as a starry-eyed rookie, looking to get his first taste at the big leagues. Sound familiar? It should; the story is so cheesy and cliche, it’s painful.
After you burn through your first few races, you begin to attract the eagle eye of the league: an elite collection of racers with access to all the best cars, parts, and races in the city. It’s basically a collection of young adults that like to throw the words crew and bank into every other sentence, because apparently money isn’t a cool enough word.
Before long, the dark underbelly of Palm City plays its hand. No, it’s not the high-octane night racing scene; it’s a group of corrupt police officers, an elite unit setup to take down the illegal street racing scene. Cue Torres, Shaw, and Frank Mercer, the worst of the bunch, more crooked than a flamingo’s resting leg. The narrative twists and turns between making a name for yourself and exposing the corrupt activities of Lieutenant Frank Mercer’s unit. The story plays it safe throughout, and is predictable, cliche, and rather dull. But let’s be honest, nobody plays Need for Speed for cutting-edge storytelling.
One of Need for Speed’s biggest problems in recent years is the driving. It’s failed to keep up with acceleration of the genre, with Forza setting a higher standard and reaching it year after year. Both the 2015 release of Need for Speed and the 2017 release of NFS Payback failed to meet the expectations put in place with 2013’s Need for Speed Rivals, and honestly, even those expectations weren’t very high.
Need for Speed Heat’s driving is a huge improvement on Payback’s, introducing a new drifting element that’s more fluid and more fun to use, albeit still somewhat slow in the responsiveness of it all. The first few hours felt frustrating. One race, I’d be terrifying spectators with my cornering, the next I’m breezing through chicanes, choking my opponents in exhaust fumes. The learning curve definitely felt a little steeper than most games in the genre, but after a few hours and some tweaking of the handling, the driving felt great. Rain or shine, dirt or tarmac, I was tearing up every opponent in my path…until those pesky police got involved.
Heat’s racing scene is divided into two distinct parts: day and night. During the day, you’re working your way up a reputable racing league, earning cash for your winnings which can be used to buy new cars, performance upgrades, and customization options. By night, however, you’re racing illegally, earning reputation to unlock access to the aforementioned goodies. The night scene comes with a slight caveat: it’s a risk vs reward mechanic that, at first glance, is really exciting stuff.
The more you race at night, the more police you encounter. As a result, the more chases you evade all increase your Heat meter. This Heat meter adds massive multipliers to the Reputation points received at the end of the night, but you have to make it out alive. Get busted. and you lost a massive chunk of your hard-earned reputation. The problem? The police in Heat are ridiculous.
While my initial encounters with the police filled my fuel lines with nostalgia, adrenaline pumping as I weaved between traffic attempting to lose my pursuers, I quickly awoke. I wasn’t dreaming; that’s just how quickly I was arrested. Although that particular version of events only happened the once, the regular, less-buggy encounters with the police were much more of the same.
It was never fun, rewarding, or exciting; it was just a chore. As soon as you reach a Heat level of 3, which is required to do some of the more profitable races, your only hope of losing the police is a selection of jumps over hazardous terrain. The vast majority of the time, you’ll be rammed, shoved, pushed, and stunned into oblivion…and there’s no fighting back. Trying to PIT or tip a police cruiser is like trying to side swipe an M4 Sherman Tank. Likewise, a police car even slightly aiming to take you off the road is like a penguin-colored torpedo aimed for your center mass. It’s a mess. To make matters worse, you’re constantly hearing the police whining and bitching over the radio.
Another Need for Speed franchise staple is its customization, and Heat’s is up there with the best of them. Both character and car can be customized, with the former featuring basic clothing options and the latter being a game in and of itself. If you can imagine customizing any part of a car, it’s likely you can customize it in Heat…at least externally. Everything from window tint to the noise your exhaust makes can be changed. Heat boasts an impressive collection of versatile and creative tools that create for infinite possibilities, although annoyingly neon pink seems to be a favorite with the community. Why is it always pink?
Need for Speed Heat features both single player and online game modes, both consisting of the same content, with the latter introducing other players to the mix. Unfortunately, I was unable to get into any races with other players, as my lobby never had more than three people, none of which ever wanted to race. In its online mode, you cannot pause or look at your map without your vehicle smashing into a wall or getting busted, so I quickly went to single player and stuck with that.
Need for Speed Heat’s driving is a step in the right direction for a franchise that’s stuck at the back of the pack. However, its poor story, severe balance problems, and complete lack of an online presence stop it from ever reaching top speed.
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