Need for Speed Heat Review: Greatness on the Horizon

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We've spent the week with NFS Heat; here's what we think.

Need for Speed Heat is now available in early access via Origin Access Premier and via a 10-hour EA Access trial on Xbox One; at the same time, we’re able to start our review-in-progress of the racer, with our final thoughts embargoed until 7.01 pm AEDT on Friday, 8 November. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Developed by Ghost Games (Need for Speed: Rivals, Need for Speed, Need for Speed: Payback), Heat seems to be a combination of the franchise’s greatest hits — a little bit Underground mixed with some Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted. As a newcomer to Palm City, you’re a rev-head looking to make a name for himself, taking to the streets to earn cash for bigger and better cars all the while showing off your impressive skills at night to earn the respect of your fellow racers.

At that same time, you’re racing in defiance of a police force with three main players: one who’ll turn his back on justice for a bribe, another who believes in upholding the honour of the badge and a relentless section head who believes that the ends justify the means. You don’t want to get on the bad side of the latter copper.

The Heat experience is siloed into two times of day… and night. That is to say you must choose to race in either. So far, I’ve only raced in clear and rainy conditions, though that’s not to say there aren’t more; I’m only at Reputation level 7 in my own career. During the day, you’ll be able to race for cash (aka “Bank”), useful in buying new vehicles or upgrading myriad options on your current ride. In the daytime, it’s also easier to see the side activities that can help progression — those come in the form of speed traps and breakable billboards. You’re freely able to roam Palm City and surrounds in the day (and in the night too), though I’ve not really had the chance as yet, speeding from race to race. You’re able to fast travel to your garage safehouses during the day without any penalty.

Nighttime is a different story; here, you’re racing for Reputation and not cash, though it’s equally as important. While cash will buy new cars and parts, you’ll find that all the good stuff is locked behind Reputation gates that demand you level up both sides of your character. At night, your goal is to win races, piss off the police and then escape or total cop cars in an effort to build a Heat multiplier that means more Reputation. Nighttime driving is very risk/reward — you can’t fast travel to safehouses and instead have to drive to them without a police tail. If you can manage to do that, you’ll be able to bank some big points. You’re also limited to three gas station stops per evening, which fully repair your car if you’ve been driving like a hoon.

Police behave differently depending on the day; those in the daytime will obey traffic rules and will generally be pushovers while the nighttime force will do anything in their power to stop you dead in your tracks. At least, that’s the general idea; so far I’ve found evening coppers relatively easy to outrun, though I’ve already ran into two head-scratching moments during play. First, a cop managed to push me off a road and into a river… but the act somehow caused his cop car to be totalled. It was an easy escape from there, obviously, when I respawned.

The second strange occurence was when I was at Heat level 3 and on the run from three cops. I’d just managed to stop a ‘Busted’ metre from counting down when the race started getting very choppy and I was treated to a “BUSTED!” screen that started to show be getting arrested… but then hung for a bit. I’m not sure if I was caught and just missed that between the frames, or if my car was totalled and I didn’t register it. Who knows?

Even playing on Xbox One X, I’ve noticed that most cutscenes are choppy and come with with noticable frame rate drops. So far, the game’s crashed on me three times in a little more than four hours. When that’s not happening though, things have been smooth as silk where it counts — in races — though transitions into and out of daytime events are fairly choppy too. Impressively, transitions out of nighttime races are almost flawless, letting you head straight back into the open world.

As for driving? It seems solid so far, though the two cars I’ve been switching back and forth between seem pretty heavy. I’ve earned enough cash for some upgrades, but I still can’t get my car past the 125MPH marker (nor figure out how to change it to KPH, though I’ve not tried very hard). Indeed, these are initial impressions; more will come with further time invested, as will a better idea of how cars handle. Stick around for updated thgouhts throughout the week, followed by a final decision Friday night.

Update [8 November 2019]: I’ve spent more hours with Need for Speed Heat over the week and have developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. For every couple positives, there’s a definitive negative. I think most of my frustration comes in that binary day and night choice.

A bold move by Ghost Games, the day/night cycle presents two very different racing models, but also makes for a lot of frustration. I struggle a bit with nighttime events — everything’s dark and accentuated by neon lights, which means I have a bit of trouble figuring out where to go next. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m old and have bad eyes (depth perception in the dark, wearing contacts, is proven to be limited… though I’m not sure if that holds up when talking of a video game) or if there’s simply too much going on at one time. I fare far better in the day, for obvious reasons.

The risk/reward nature of the night cycle is great on paper, but proves to be a little imbalanced in practice. I’m playing with racing set to easy (judge away, judgy internet) and while races themselves aren’t a struggle, dealing with the police is. If I’m trying to up my Heat — thereby upping Rep earned — I can handle two cops, either totalling them or escaping their pursuit. When my Heat increases and I have to deal with three cops, it’s a lost cause; my record is totalling six cop cars before the pigs eventually nab me; mostly, that’s because the cops continually respawn and I’m either nowhere near a gas station and get totalled or just burn through the three gas station repair instances I can use.

Addtional annoyances are a little more trivial; you get to set day or night challenges whilst in a garage with the obvious aim of trying to accomplish them. If you set your challenges to the day and then switch to nighttime racing — which can be done from a garage or simply from the menu itself — there’s no way I can see to change your challenges accordingly. If you’re racing in the day with nighttime challenges selected, you’re not progressing. Because of the ‘escape the cops’ mentality of night, you also can’t just swap over to daytime racing via menus; you have to drive to the nearest safehouse. It’s a time-waster to say the least.

There seems a definitive to tap into the Forza Horizon series — fast racing, pumping tunes and stylised… well everything — and for the most part, Heat does that well. Cars still drive like tanks (having to feature the accelerator to drift is also quite annoying) but once you get used to them, they’re manageable. Of all the Horizonness, the ability to rewind a race is absent… and sorely missed. Combating that, though, is Heat‘s ability to auto-add players into crews, useful for group-earned XP, races and Achievements/Trophies. It’s a small thing, but a nice thing… especially for us lone wolves.

Need for Speed Heat is ultimately enjoyable, an experience that can provide some high highs alongside some fairly low lows. Those looking for a new racing experience will certainly enjoy it, once mastering its quirks. The title is available now on Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4.

 

7 out of 10

The good

  • The risk/reward of nighttime racing is quite exhilerating.
  • Races are smooth as silk.
  • Stylised as hell.

The bad

  • Strange police behaviour.
  • A bunch of crashes and some choppiness and frame rate drop in cutscnes and when transitioning from races.
  • The day/night binary functionality sometimes frustrates.

 

Need for Speed Heat was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.