Earlier this month, a new Need for Speed hit major consoles and PC platforms. It’s alright if you didn’t notice, EA seems less than enthusiastic about promoting the game. Announced as an afterthought during a financial call, this once mighty franchise now feels like an obligation to the publisher. It’s not to say that NEED FOR SPEED HEAT is a bad game as it certainly improves on Payback, a microtransaction-riddled mess that only avoided its own heat thanks to Battlefront 2. However, with little identity and a rehash of dire mechanics from past releases, the latest from Ghost Games feels like one of the most inessential AAA releases in quite some time.
Need for Speed Heat Review | Caught up in the action
You play as a new driver to town, a nonentity who stands to the side while the story unfolds around them. You exist to win races throughout a neon-drenched open world and oppose a comically evil police force that wants to eradicate street racing for their own criminal gain. Played a bit more subtly, that could be a narrative line worthy of interest or perhaps even a driving force to get you through the endless identical races on identical tracks. However, since the cop characters act so outwardly twisted, many late-game revelations come as little shock. It’s a fine narrative for what it is, but you wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t here.
Even if you find some merit in fighting The Man as a street tough dude, it’s rather difficult to build any sort of momentum through the story. Each mission has a required Rep level before you can play it, requiring players to grind through lesser races to upgrade their cars and reach arbitrary milestones. Despite removing “speed cards” and slot machines from the last game, car performance still boils down to a single Destiny-style number. You can pretend that each part you buy keys into some realistic tuning system, or you can just accept that you’ll always want to buy the part that bumps your number up for the next race, regardless of what type of event you’re facing. And that approach is defeating and quite out of place in a racing game.
Need for Speed Heat Review | It’s off the street
The beginning of Heat is nothing but races, but that eventually gives way to a few more interesting attractions. Off-road events and drift trials add some much-needed variety and are infinitely more alive than the standard six-pack challenges you’ll play most often. This is kind of how things were in Payback as well, although there’s much less of a narrative reason to seek out alternate missions off the beaten path. There are a few stabs at side missions, but even the main missions suffer from an extreme lack of any story content. Dialogue often comes in the form of Assassin‘s Creed-style follow missions, which is more annoying than you can imagine when you’re behind the wheel of a muscle car.
While there are a few interesting additions to the open world (hello, flamingo collectibles!), not a lot has changed outside of races. There are speed traps to blast through, billboards to crash into, and other similar challenges. One neat addition is collecting street art and then using it to customize your vehicle’s wrap. All the customization lives up to the high standards of car games, with plenty of options for Heat‘s wide range of vehicles. It takes quite a bit of time to grind the two currencies required to get any car you want, but at least you can make a gaudy mess once you’re done. Also, I really appreciate the hilarity of rocking a Payback vanity plate I received as a reward for my past suffering.
Need for Speed Heat Review | I’ve been looking out for you
Somehow, the online component of Heat regressed compared to past outings. Playing online just means driving alongside randoms in the same open world. Starting a race means that you’ll sit there for a minute while everyone else ignores your request to play together. Levels don’t balance out for online races, so there’s no real reason to ever put a stop to what you’re doing to race against an online competitor for bragging rights. Races also bizarrely have one single starting point for everyone, which leads to constant pile-ups when you’re just trying to leave the garage. The need for a constant connection not only will cost you progress as you get hit with connection issues, but also stops you from pausing the game even in a single-player race. Needless to say, after a few problem-filled races online, you’ll quickly switch back to solo.
On the flip side of all that, there is a certain style running through a good chunk of Heat‘s gameplay. Neon usually looks great, so this mythical version of Miami bursts off the screen more often than not. The music similarly fits, although I found myself cranking it down just due to personal preference and missing the salad days of EA Trax, as Heat‘s rap-heavy soundtrack rarely strays beyond the expected hits. Thankfully, Spotify works just as well in providing the variety I need.
Need for Speed Heat Review | That’s a chance you take
No matter what you do or don’t do, it’ll take a few races to reacquaint yourself with Need for Speed‘s unique driving style. After that, it’s easy to turn your brain off and zone out to the open road. For all the flack these games can get, they’re still totally serviceable arcade-style racers, the only franchise keeping the genre limping along. If you’ve played any NFS this generation, you’ll know what to expect, and there are undoubtedly those who just want more of the same. They’re probably the only fans who’ll really get anything out of Heat‘s threadbare offering. If you’re not absolutely in love with the franchise’s sense of style or the racing on offer, there is simply nothing to pull you in.
Above all, Heat feels like subscription filler, another driving game to add value to EA’s Access bundles. You could remix races from this game, Payback, and Rivals and then run a game show where contestants try to guess which game is which. After an entire season, you’ll be hard-pressed to give away even a single dollar of prize money. For years, Need for Speed has felt like a burnout, a franchise stumbling in the dark searching for a sense of purpose through an entire lazy generation. Since there seems to be no end in sight despite this, here’s hoping that Need for Speed is radically retooled when it is inevitably dragged out once again in the next few years. But if Heat is any indication, it’ll be almost better left to rot in a junkyard.
GameRevolution reviewed Need for Speed Heat on Xbox One X with a copy provided by the publisher.