This year, EA’s NFS developer, Ghost Studios, takes us to Palm City, a very thinly veiled version of Miami, for a bit of street-racing with Need for Speed Heat.
Heat puts behind us some of the odd design choices employed by EA Games’ Ghost Studios in the past. There’s no cheesy live-action cut scenes. There are, also, no shoehorned card elements in the game and it’s free from loot boxes. Upgrades and new cars are obtained through gameplay progression and not gimmicks.
Being set in a fictional depiction of Miami, it’s obviously monsoon season, with most days being very wet. And why not, wet roads look cool, right? The city and its surrounds look visually stunning on both Xbox One and especially PC. To be fair, none of Ghost’s Need for Speed titles have been shabby in the looks department, but this one looks extra nice.
The environments range from the metropolitan Palm City to the lush countryside surrounding it. There’s a port (good for drifting around containers and even an interpretation of NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre. The landscape is diverse and at times breathtaking.
Ghost have taken a few ideas from the Forza Horizons playbook. If, fact, whilst not quite as polished, Heat is very similar to Playground Games’ racer. Apart from substantial structures and large trees, car will smash everything in the way. This is pretty reasonable and whilst slowing cars only a bit, keeps the races moving.
Whereas the Fast and the Furious movie series puts the pedal to the metal, the movies do so with their tongue firmly in their cheek. EA’s Need for Speed games are not so self-aware, the results is a campaign rammed full of cocky tossers that you just want to punch in the face. The story isn’t really meant to be highbrow, nor does it wander far from what has gone before. You are a rookie street-racer out to prove yourself amongst the established racing set whilst on the lookout for the cop local cops and their questionable ethics.
The story is not a patch on last time’s Vegas-themed Need of Speed: Payback. Heat has the sort of plot that’ll appeal to anti-establishment dude-bros only. But it is fortunately easy to ignore in favour of the actual gameplay, which is rather good.
The game is split into day and night races. During the day players get to race for cash and police are alert but not looking for trouble. At night players race for reputation and the police will chase any racer that they see. You need rep to unlock upgrades and cash to buy them.
During both day and night, there are races dotted around the map. Unlocking safe houses enables fast travel between locations. There are also campaign missions (which usually involve racing) unlocked as players reach a certain rep level. Similarly, optional driver story missions also become available.
As well as races there are a load of activities such as speed cameras to record top speed, graffiti to collect, billboards to break, drift challenges and race rival competitions. They’ve really thrown the kitchen sink at this one. The end result is one of the best Need for Speed games that’s not been developed by Criterion. And that’s a huge compliment.
Players can pop to the dealership and buy a cool new ride, or use the bank earnt racing can also be put down on new parts and components for your car. Everything from the ECU to tyres can be swapped out for stock to “sports”, “pro” and “Pro+” parts. The choice of components alters the vehicles handling giving the setup a bias towards circuit racing, road racing drifting and off-road.
Car handling is clean and responsive, allowing for some precise manoeuvring guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Drifting is easy (too easy, maybe) with the right setup making for some breathtaking cornering.
Whilst the general pacing of the game is good, a lot of the time, I found it easy to maintain a car a lot more powerful than my competitors. This made winning races a bit too easy sometimes.
The game’s soundtrack has what can only be described as Latin pop music during the day and rather hardcore techno for night races. I found it fitting, but probably not to everyone’s taste. If you are doing it right, though, the sound of the roaring engines squealing tyres should drown things the music out.
The story is lacking, but the gameplay is great. If they can give us a more original take on a street-racing plot next time, but keep this sort of vehicle handling, game environment and progression system, the next Need for Speed will be something special. For now, though, we can at least enjoy some top-notch racing with Need for Speed Heat.