In Pursuit Of Relevance

HIGH The Day/Night split is both interesting and well implemented.

LOW: The stories in this series continue to be insufferable…

WTF: …which would’ve been more bearable with a healthy dose of FMV, which ain’t here.

Need For Speed used to mean something.

Anyone who’s been playing games for any length of time has likely touched one version or another of Electronic Arts’s prolific racing franchise, and in years past there would have been a marketing blitz surrounding this latest release. However, I found myself surprised when I was browsing Origin and right on the front page was an ad for the next entry in the series — Need For Speed: Heat.

My initial reaction was “…Wait…there’s a new Need For Speed game coming? Did I miss this during E3?”

It turns out the answer was no, as EA released a trailer in August and snuck the game out during the annual cavalcade of holiday releases. Perhaps they didn’t want to go too hard on pushing it considering the unmitigated disaster that was Need For Speed: Payback, but it’s unfortunate that such a high profile series has fallen to the point where its next installment kinda got shoved through the door.

Need For Speed has two main subgenres: there’s the ‘Blasting Down Linear Path Highways In Supercars’ genre seen in stuff like NFS: Hot Pursuit, and there’s the ‘Open World Hip Hop Car Culture Street Racer’ from games like NFS: Most Wanted. Heat falls into the latter category, and it takes place in a pseudo-Miami stand-in called Palm City. The world is split between day and night cycles, with players choosing which one they want to participate in upon leaving their garage.

Day events are spectator-populated circuits and drift competitions to earn cash for new cars and parts, while night events are illegal street races which earn reputation that unlocks new tiers of cars and equipment. With this structure, lopsided play may mean that one has the money to buy a Pagani Zonda, but not the reputation necessary. Apparently car dealerships care about street cred as much as they do cash? Still, the system is balanced nicely and works well.

Heat uses the Miami motif to its full potential with plenty of sunshine and neon colors, and it’s a sharp-looking game overall with detailed cars, slick menus, and great weather effects. Another nice touch is how different things look between day and night. Tying up the presentation is a Latin-themed hip hop soundtrack that fits the vibe perfectly. I have no idea if it’s good or bad as I am (unfortunately) the whitest man on Earth, but I enjoyed it while driving.

Another thing EA has done to capture Miami perfectly is populate the story mode with thoroughly annoying and vapid human beings. While the script doesn’t quite reach the offensively awful lows of Need For Speed: Payback, it’s not much better. I mean, I know it’s a racing game so I’m not expecting it to move me like The Last Of Us, but the devs are clearly putting resources into the storytelling, and that department needs to move away from this D-grade straight-to-video Fast & Furious knockoff nonsense. It might have been saved with some appropriately campy FMV, but that’s not here.

So the storytelling is still in a rut, but there are a few key areas where Heat some significant improvement. The biggest of which is the actual driving.

The cars handle great, with a good balance of arcade silliness while still having some weight to them on the road. It’s also now actually enjoyable to drift, and whizzing through corners feels tactile and natural. These factors contribute to the other big improvement — the cars actually feel speedy.

Back then, it never felt like one was actually going 150 miles an hour when the speedometer said so in Need For Speed 2015 or in Payback, but that’s not a problem in Heat. When one is driving fast, it feels fast. These three improvements lead to an experience where the core mechanics are far more enjoyable than in years past.

Another thing worth mentioning is the police presence in Heat. It’s recently been way too easy to breeze by the cops in these games, but now the fuzz actually have some teeth. They only factor in at night, but when they do, it’s in a big way.

As mentioned previously, players earn rep by racing illegally. Once a race is done, the rep earned has to be cashed in at a safe house, and the more races one does on a given night, the higher the rep multiplier gets — but this also increases the amount of heat on the car, which leads to more cops, cops with better cars, and a lot of potential headaches as it can be tough to shake them off. The risk/reward of cashing in early or trying to finish another race knowing that armored Corvettes will start coming after the player is implemented well, and it’s nice to have a little menace return to NFS.

When booting up Heat, players have the option of playing solo or online. The campaign is the same either way, but when online players can interact and race against other players in a shared ecosystem… theoretically. Maybe my location on the globe or the fact that i’m playing on PC contributed to this, but the world never seemed populated enough to warrant playing online. After multiple attempts to initiate a public race left me waiting for minutes without anyone bothering to enter, I went back to the offline mode and stayed there.

For those that choose to play online, I found that there were huge issues with pop-in — cars would frequently appear out of nowhere. Luckily, the developers seemed to realize this and ghosted these cars so players can literally drive straight through them, but these unexpected appearances also caused me to swerve wildly and lose races on multiple occasions.

The best thing I can say about Need For Speed: Heat is that it is objectively the best Need For Speed game from this console generation and a monumental improvement over previous entries, but that isn’t the highest bar to clear. This storied franchise desperately needs to knock one out of the park and resuscitate itself, and I don’t think Heat has done it. Still, this is a step in the right direction and it wouldn’t be a terrible pickup for anyone looking for arcade-style racing. I’m hopeful that EA can continue to build on the successes that are here, hire some new writers, and bring the series back to prominence.

Rating: X out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Ghost Games and published by Electronic Arts. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and Origin. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a PC using a GTX 2080 with 32GB of Ram and a Core i7-9850, which was able to run the game on max settings and a 1440p resolution at a locked 60FPS. Graphical stability on consoles was not tested.  An estimated 20 hours of play were devoted to playing the game, and the main story was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and features Language and Mild Violence. Parents should ask a simple question — would they let their kid watch a Fast & Furious movie? If so, then NFS: Heat shouldn’t cause many issues.

Colorblind Modes: The game features three colorblind options on PC — Protanopia, Deuteranopia, and Tritanopia

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features subtitle options and presents them in clear, white font but with no way to resize them. The game features no necessary audio cues, but occasionally dialogue will let the player know of police reinforcements or new activities, and moving one’s eyes to read subtitles during a high-speed race may be difficult.

Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are fully remappable on PC using a keyboard. However, controllers are not configurable.

Jarrod Johnston
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