Ghost Games returns with their fourth Need For Speed entry, and it resembles a mix of prior games like Underground, ProStreet, and 2005’s Most Wanted. Now, Need For Speed Heat lays the melodrama of cops vs racers on rather thick, but the dichotomy of day & night is what takes center stage. It feels like the game is running on all cylinders this time, and is such a triumph for the series. Need For Speed Heat is the most exciting racing game of 2019.
Palm City, a tropical Miami-like is host to the Speedhunter Showdown tour. Speed begets speed, and this thirst spills out from the sanctioned events to illegal street races. The police have had enough, and developed a task force to put an end to it. Unfortunately though, those who are hellbent to stop these activities are borderline reprehensible. So their actions become almost murderous in their pursuit of you. What unfolds is nothing surprising, but a bit too extreme even for the game’s standards. There’s four chapters, and depending how focused you are to playing the campaign missions, it’ll easily take you over a dozen hours to see it through.
There’s three tent-poles beyond the racing and cars that drives Need For Speed Heat. There’s bank which is your money, rep which is your influence, and heat which is your presence. They involve each other that makes cars, parts, and certain customizations available. Day is where all the sanctioned races take place. It’s here you’ll find all legal races that take place where they are supposed to. It’s here you’ll earn bank that’s used to buy car parts, and vehicles from the showrooms. Night is where the unsanctioned races take place, potentially putting people in harm’s way. This is how you earn rep. Rep is like experience and fills a meter, and you’ll tier up. Each new tier unlocks a car part or vehicle for purchase.
There’s not a day and night cycle, but instead there’s a defined day versus night, and it’s a really cool way of handling it. Even the map is separated by the two times of day, offering a whole different set of races and options. You can even sign-up for daily challenges per time of day, and by completing them can earn rep and bank simultaneously. Bouncing back and forth between day and night is effortless, and lets you rest if one or the other becomes too much to handle.
The cops are the biggest threat in the game, and offer an increased level of challenge the more heat you accrue. Aggressive actions like participating in street races or hitting cops will lead you to be pursued by them. At first things are rather simple and you’ll be chased by one or two cops, but if you don’t escape or purposefully antagonize them to race your heat level (to earn more rep as a sort of multiplier), then you’ll see the force increase as well. There are auxiliary items you can equip on your car that are essentially gadgets. You can have a radar jammer for starters, and in the later game have items you can activate that re-inflate your tires if you drive over a spike strip or refill all your nitrous so that you can escape. The tools at the driver’s disposal are all defensive measures, and it would be cool if you had the ability to utilize an EMP like the cops do. All in all, interactions with the cops are incredibly stressful. Because, if you get busted, you lose a majority of the rep you’ve earned — yes, like Dark Souls in a way. And it’s just as soul-crushing here.
Customization is big for the cars, but there’s even player customization. You can choose from one of twelve characters to race as, and even modify their hair and accessories. Like in the above screenshot, one of them is Andy Lawrence (the youngest Lawrence brother). He’s actually the voice of the main character throughout the game, so it made the most sense to select him.
Now, you can potentially stick with one car throughout most of the game, but with more than 100 cars to purchase and use, you’ll want to collect more. The way the game’s part system works, is that when you upgrade, the previous part is put into inventory. So it would be possible to have a single car that works well in races, then swap parts to make it viable for drifting, offroading, and so on. Cars have a rating or performance level, and it starts at 100. These levels gate your car from participating in races above your level, but lets you “overlevel” and stomp out early races. Getting your car upgraded is just a matter of time and bank. Car upgrades are split into four different groups: Engine, Chassis, Drivetrain, and Auxiliary. There’s a rarity to car parts, but gone is the card system from Need for Speed Payback that never made sense.
Live Tuning has been a part of the series for a while, but I feel like it’s worth noting one particular element of it. By default, the game utilizes gas as the means to initiate a drift. To make things easier, I suggest you go in and change it to brake instead. This will feel more natural, but unfortunately is a per-car setting. I could never get used to the default setting no matter how hard I tried, and I’m surprised at why this setting is buried. Other customizations you can do go so far as being able to tune the exhaust note to your liking. It’s such an unnecessary but welcome option. This is a game made for those who love cars, and it shows.
Palm City is split into districts, and there’s lot of activities within them. NFS Heat retains a lot of what Payback had, but it’s a lot better and more streamlined. There’s drift zones, long jumps, and time trials to complete. Then you’ve got your Campaign Missions and Driving Stories. And there’s collectibles that unlock rewards like graffiti tags, pink flamingos to run over, and billboards to smash. Of all things, the billboards have the most reason to be smashed as they feature the face of the task force out to stop the racers. There’s definitely an anti-establishment vibe throughout the game you can’t help but get behind. Nothing feels forced, out of place, or superfluously added. The collectibles and in-world events all have purpose and worthwhile rewards.
Crews are an optional part of the game, but you can create one or be auto-joined to a Ghost Games crew. Ranking up in the crew unlocks bonuses for everyone in it. In addition, you play the game online with other racers around, and to join you in races. Or you can play solo for an uninterrupted experience. I sided with a solo experience, and didn’t find one or the other too populated or lonely.
PC Specs of Review System:
– Microsoft Windows 10 Pro
– Intel Core i7 6700k @ 4.2Ghz (Turbo)
– NZXT Kraken X61 106.1 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
– G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3200 Memory
– EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 FTW 8GB GDDR5X
– Seagate 2TB Barracuda SSD SATA III 6Gb/s Internal SSD Drive
Need For Speed Heat looks amazing. You can’t ignore how good those pink and blue neon checkpoint gates look at night. It’s such a great visual effect and in-game element to guide you. It really leans into weather effects such as rain, during day and night. But at night, the wet roads look stunning. Frostbite was just made for this.
Need For Speed Heat is bathed in neon while offering a great sense of speed, fantastic customization, and generates a great level of tension when being pursued by the cops. The car selection covers a wide variety of eras and types that’s more than enough to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Between the actual races and roaming around challenges, there’s hours of things to do you’ll never tire of. Need For Speed Heat is the best racing game of the year, hands-down.
A Origin (PC) code was provided by the publisher for review purposes