Need For Speed: Heat Review: The Best Need For Speed In Years
Even for its most dedicated fans, the Need for Speed video game franchise’s legacy exists on shaky footing. Since Need for Speed Carbon‘s release in 2006, successive new titles in have struggled to live up to the earlier games’ appeal. Recent offerings such as Rivals and Most Wanted left fans looking back and wanting more. The latest NFS installment, Need for Speed: Heat, is a much-needed return to form.
Now, let’s back up for a second. I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t MotorTrend review real cars? Yes, we do. But, when we wrap up those super-hard duties—hey, someone‘s gotta put Ferraris and stuff through their paces—we go home, flick on our game consoles, and kill time just like the rest of you. Given how we’re car nuts, you can probably guess the types of games we get into. And besides, we review plenty of car stuff that isn’t strictly, well, cars.
With a little extra time on hand lately, I downloaded the latest NFS installment for $59.99 on Playstation 4 and got to playing. The title is also available for Xbox One and PC. Having been playing NFS titles since the Nintendo GameCube was a thing, I’m happy to report that with Need For Speed: Heat, the series has, at long last, satisfied this life-long fan once more.
Set in Palm City, a fictionalized version of Miami, the world of Need For Speed: Heat includes a proper downtown area, a sprawling port, and even a NASA-like base with a rocket ready for take-off. The in-game story revolves around you, a wannabe hardcore racer, the Rivera family, and your fight to get to the top of Palm City’s racing scene. Lucas, a former racer himself, acts as your mechanic while Ana is your proverbial partner in crime. She ropes you into races and drives the story, all in an effort to get into “The League,” a group of Palm City’s most elite racers.
The League has access to the sweetest rides and have the baddest reputation. But where The League sits on one side of the law, Lt. Frank Mercer, a crooked cop who runs a specialized task force to hunt down street races, resides on the other. Heat‘s story sees your character push Mercer to take ever more drastic action to thwart your efforts until he goes a step too far. Eventually, his chop shop and car exporting side businesses are exposed, and it’s up to you to take him down.
The story itself is a little plain, and the game’s campaign mode is pretty standard arcade racing stuff and takes around 10 hours to complete from start to finish. Even so, it’s fantastic compared to the aimless nonsense of NFS: Rivals, and finds a way to keep its players wondering what’ll happen next. Enjoyable as the campaign mode is, I wished it were both longer and filled with more races and surprises. That said, the storyline isn’t really why you buy Need for Speed: Heat. At the end of the day, it’s all about the cars, and this is where Heat truly shines.
The roster of vehicles available to you is, in a word, expansive and includes everything from the Lamborghini Diablo to the Ferrari 458 Italia, and from the 1969 Camaro SS to the Volvo Amazon P130(!). The level of customization is diverse without being overbearing. The body kits are based off of what’s available in the aftermarket—meaning if you want a widebody kit for your Nissan GTR, there’s nothing stopping you. You can even turn your 488 GTB into a 488 GT race car, if you’re so inclined.
You can also modify your cars’ performance, dropping in clutches, engines, brakes, new wheels, tires, crankshafts, turbos, suspension bits, and more. You also can adjust and tune several chassis and powertrain aspects. If you like drift races, modify your ride to suit the twistys. If you prefer the straight and narrow, make your car as fast as you can for the normal street races. Race during the day to earn cash and race at night to earn rep—just make sure you can get away from the cops.
The controls are easy to master, and as with every other Need for Speed game, they take little time to get truly comfortable with. You can also fine tune your car by adjusting how much downforce it has and how sensitive it is to turn-in. The developers even bothered to get the displacements for every in-game cars’ engines correct. That’s a level of attention to detail we’ve never seen before in a Need for Speed game, and the car nerd in me genuinely appreciated those little touches.
Heat has something for everyone. It’s not as edgy or gritty as NFS: Underground 2, and it doesn’t offer as much customization as Carbon did—which, looking back, hasn’t been matched by any game since then. That said, it is a move in the right direction for the NFS franchise as it finally steps out from under the shadow of the ho-hum versions that came before it. Heat can finally live up to the greats. All publisher Electronic Arts has to do now is not screw up the next one. Then we’d really be getting somewhere.
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