Need For Speed. The name is synonymous with street racing games. This year is the 25th anniversary of the brand, and they’re celebrating by releasing the 24th game in the series, Need For Speed: Heat. Prior to Heat, I hadn’t played a Need For Speed game since 2004’s entry, Need For Speed Underground 2, which I remember fondly. So I was excited to give this latest entry a try.
My initial impressions can be found here, and you’ll see that I felt the game was a mixed bag. Now after even more time with the it, I can say it’s definitely not perfect, but ultimately I’m a fan.
First things first. The game gives you 127 unlockable cars to choose from. It has makes and models from a 2002 Nissan Silvias to a 2018 Ferrari FXX-K Evo. I haven’t unlocked anything super high-end yet, but I’ve been loving the Plymouth Barracuda that has been my main vehicle so far. The cars all look great and are pretty customizable, both in looks and performance.
There’s a lot to like about this game. The city feels enormous, with lots of different terrain to drive around, the soundtrack is great (although the songs do get old quickly) and mercifully, the characters aren’t annoying or too stereotypical. There are definitely some silly street racing dialogue tropes, but I haven’t heard anything too cringeworthy. My favorite thing about the game, though, has to be how fast it feels. After you upgrade your vehicle a bit and you start hitting 130-140 mph regularly, it feels like you’re absolutely flying. The handling at high speeds is pretty good, too. If you’re paying attention to the road, you should be able to avoid most (though not all) collisions.
Speaking of collisions, you can drive straight through a lot of things in this game. Like, a lot. Short brick walls? No problem. Telephone poles? Get outta here. Trees might as well be tissue paper. Your car barely takes damage, for better or worse. If you’re used to strategically using the barrier sometimes in racing games, you’ll have to give up on that dream right now. In NFS: Heat, you’ll probably barrel right through it.
The toughest parts are the night races. You can choose to race either in the daytime, to earn cash to upgrade your car, or at night to earn “rep,” which allows you to unlock more cars, items and events. As you might expect in an NFS game, cop chases are a big part. The police in this game are pretty ruthless, and they love popping up mid-race to ruin your day, or particularly, night. The AI on the cops (and racers for that matter) can seem pretty weird. At times, some drivers seem like they’re going impossibly fast, but at others it seems almost too easy to grab a win. There seems to be some “rubber banding” going on, a common technique in racing games, speeding up the cars in the back and slowing down the cars way out front to keep the pack more together, but in my experience it didn’t feel super consistent.
That’s not the only thing that felt inconsistent in this game. The most frustrating part for me is the drifting system. Drifting is a pretty huge part of NFS: Heat, and you’re encouraged to drift constantly. There are even events solely based around drifting. For me, it just isn’t intuitive at all, and worse, even when I was sure I nailed the input on the controller, sometimes it just … didn’t work. The game’s primary drifting mechanic is used by lifting your finger off the accelerator button, then quickly slamming it back down while turning in the direction you want to drift.
That said, although drifting is a big part, it certainly isn’t the whole game, and despite some of the annoyances, I still ended up really enjoying it. It’s not a perfect game, and in an ecosystem of dozens of competent racers coming out every year, this one might not be for everyone. But if you like the street racing aesthetic, fast arcade-style racing, and legally living out your fantasies of being an outlaw, I’m pretty confident you’ll enjoy it too.
If you want to see more of the game, you can tune in to our livestreams on twitch.tv/autoblog every Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. EST or watch our entire review-in-progress series of this game here on our YouTube page. Thanks for reading, and let us know what you think about the game in the comments.