After the crash and burn that was Need For Speed Payback, it looked as if Ghost Games were running out of gas when it came to the iconic, arcade-racing franchise. However, Ghost returns to the track with a third attempt at making a name for themselves on the 25th anniversary year for Need For Speed. Introducing Need For Speed Heat – the best of some worlds, with the worst of others.
One thing is for certain – Need For Speed Heat tries its utmost best to remind you that it will never be Payback in any shape, way, or form. For many, that will be a good thing. For others, it’s just an annoying reminder of their past. Most importantly, this would be the last chance Ghost had at redeeming themselves. Who would look at a developer that ruined the 25th anniversary of one of the biggest racing franchises currently out? Thank heavens that this isn’t the case.
Thankfully, Ghost chose to opt out from the Fast and Furious-like action set pieces…
The story for Heat is probably the worst aspect of the game. You are an up and coming racer in Palm City, a place where racing is at the core of the city’s beating heart, but there is a group of cops who are hell bent on making sure you never race again. Alongside your friends Lucas and Ana, it is up to you to put an end to the tyranny that Lt Mercer causes on the street. Ghost chose to honour 2015’s Need For Speed by continuously jamming cringe-worthy dialogue at you from the get-go. At one point, an NPC said they would fling a banana at me. Yes, this was real. Aside from the potassium-wielding enemies, the story doesn’t really throw any twists your way. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it bland, but it did feel very generic for the most part. Thankfully, Ghost chose to opt out from the Fast and Furious-like action set pieces, and focused more on telling the story around the real stars of the show – the cars.
There are nods to the cars in the game at almost every corner. Most of the story focuses around Lucas and Ana’s father, who was a legend in his time. You can listen to them talking about him from time to time, but the real proof comes in the form of his Camaro. This was an aspect of Heat I wish had more emphasis, similarly to Sargent Cross and his Corvette or Razer and his Mustang in older Need For Speed games.
That being said, the gameplay itself saves a lot of what the story brings down. Racing is almost as important as breathing to the residence of Palm City. So much so, that the entire day is filled to the brim with legal street races, where players can earn Bank (Heat’s version of money) in an almost festive manner. However, that love for racing is turned up a notch when you entire the night mode.
Night racing can be seen as the spiritual successor to the Underground series. You’re no longer within the safe confines of legal street racing from the day time. Now, it’s hunt or be hunted. A special task force being led by Lt Mercer himself is on the prowl, waiting to take down any racers that aren’t vigilant enough. Racing at night earns you Rep, which you use to level up and progress through the game. However, if you fail to reach a safe house before the cops arrest you, you will lose all the progress made that night.
[At night] You’re no longer within the safe confines of legal street racing from the day time. Now, it’s hunt or be hunted.
It’s almost poetic, the fact that Ghost took the core ideals of EA’s business practices and turned it into a fun gameplay loop. Night racing is a huge gamble. You’re constantly having to balance out how much Rep is worth taking the risk of having an army of Rhinos (the iconic armour trucks in past Need For Speed games) dismembering your car. Overshoot it, and the last 45 minutes you spent earning Rep could all be for nothing. Escape safely, and you’re rewarded with a multiplier that will make all that trouble feel worth it.
Night racing felt leagues above the day races, but the customisation is truly where this game shines. Almost every aspect of the large roster of cars can be tweaked in some manner. The foundation seems to be built off of what the developers did in 2015’s Need For Speed, but it has seen a lot of refinements that benefit the game. Gone are the speedcards from Payback, and we are finally able to choose our own parts again. You will have to grind rep to unlock better parts, but cosmetic parts are unlocked from the get-go. The customisation has an almost RPG-like feel to it, with the active and passive slots added to each car. You can use these slots for an instant refill of nitrous, repair damage, increase the duration and power of nitrous, and reduce the damage you receive during cop chases. A welcomed feature would have to be the new exhaust tuning. Being able to control the various pops and bangs made me feel like a 6-year-old kid staring at the poster of a fully customised R34 Skyline on his bedroom wall, thinking about the day I get to experience the 2 meter-long flames spitting out of the exhaust first-hand. While that day is still yet to come, I thoroughly enjoyed the level of control I had over what I could do with my cars.
All of this customisation translates into the gameplay rather well. Gone are the constant Tokyo Drift cars that seemed to be present in Payback. Now, Ghost has chosen to regard various attributes of the cars in Heat, with the handling reflecting a lot of what the car would feel like to drive. For example, the initial BMW M3 you get has a lot of natural drift, but the R34 Skyline tends to grip more in races. You can change the attributes of these cars, thanks to the extensive customisation and live tuning, but it’s nice to see that the cars don’t just go sideways in every direction.
Need For Speed Heat takes everything we loved from the past 25 years of Need For Speed and puts it into one neat package. While the game excels in having a little something for everyone, it drastically falters in its storytelling and the rather awkward dialogue left a lot to be desired. However, the amazing gameplay, immaculate customisation, and a larger focus on the cars, gives fans of the series more than enough reason to come back. This is a good foundation for Ghost Games to work from, and it only leaves me with hope that the next Need For Speed will be a step in the right direction for the franchise.
Need for Speed Heat
Need for Speed Heat takes everything we loved from the past 25 years of the series and puts it into one thrilling, fan-service package.