My gaming experience throughout secondary school can be summarised in three franchises. Halo, Call of Duty and Need for Speed. None more memorable than Need for Speed Underground 1 and 2. A fantastic soundtrack, an incredible amount of car customisation, fast speeds and endless racing fun! At the time, the graphics were out of this world. The drag races, the circuits, and man oh man those drift challenges! Now imagine my endless excitement to acquire Need for Speed Heat! It's one of the latest in the franchise and boasts the usual formula cranked up to 11!
Need for Speed as a franchise is oriented around street racing, modifying and improving cars and earning a reputation as a street racer. Races come in several formats and often require cars modified to particular specialities. In this latest instalment, you can alter your car so it is more suited to the track or off-road, and towards drifting or racing. Races will specify which specifics the car would be best having to aid players in their planning.
Changes for Heat
The idea behind Need for Speed Heat is that you are a street racer, and so you race. However, the city has a problem with illegal night racing and therefore has a strong police presence. The game has two distinct modes for racing: legal day racing and illegal night racing. During the day, you race for cash and sometimes car parts. Races can be accessed multiple times with reducing rewards each time it is won. As you progress in the story more races are unlocked, requiring faster cars and rewarding more money.
Night racing however is done by reputation (an experience tracker that determines how renowned you are in the racing scene). What else is different here is that you gain Heat as you race at night time, and with that notoriety with the police. You gain more Heat as you race throughout the night, and as such you the police will be more determined to catch you. The benefit? The reputation you earn is multiplied by your Heat level, meaning several successful races can result in big level gains.
Need for Speed Heat does have a story, much like other past titles. It is heavily linked to the activities during the night and centres on your character taking on corrupt cops. The game shows the force has corruption in it during the first scenes and doesn't hold back on how corrupt they may be. You arrive and meet Anna and Lucas, siblings with racing backgrounds in some respect. Not long into the story, you get caught up in the possible illicit actions of the force and a revenge story develops into something wildly different.
The game features side stories and some link between characters and races/events unlocking, but the premise is heavily set into you racing. The player is never forced to engage in the story, and cars become available for purchase through levelling up your reputation, however, the story gives more purpose to these races. It's a short story but takes a while to get through due to the nature of the game.
How It Handles
Need for Speed Heat is a high octane spectacle of breakneck speed. At its best, it's flashy, punchy, bombastic and hard-hitting. A non-stop thrill ride of power and velocity. On the flip side, it's unforgiving and is quick to let you know if you're ready for something. You'll easily sink endless hours into this game without completing the story due to the freedom it gives you.
A Bolt of Fluorescent Pink
Want free choice? You've got it. It's why people crave these games! Customisation is the name of the game and oh man does this one deliver in spades! You start out with one of several cars and are immediately able to make it look fabulous. It all costs money of course, but no normal human being is going to NOT put the biggest spoiler available on the car. It's an unwritten law of the universe; if you can have a big spoiler, you must. Alongside that are a few performance modifications you can initially acquire, but they're not initially needed. The game eases you in through the first few races without needing to give a tutorial and does so very well.
As time goes on and you get more reputation by breaking the law at night, you unlock new cars and new parts for cars. These don't necessarily trigger in a progressive order. You unlock the ancient VW Beetle '63 after the Jaguar F-Type R. For clarity, that's like being given stabilisers for your bike after you've ridden a motorcycle. I'd put this down to demand and quirkiness initially, but after a bit of thinking, I assumed it was to balance out the unlock process. If you got all the fast cars at the end, there's a staggered and boring progression. This result is great for trying out those "fun" cars. And who doesn't want to stick a V8 engine in a Beetle!? It'll fly!
You Can Change HOW MUCH?!
Need for Speed Heat doesn't dress up the level of customisation a car has available to it either. It recognises that some of us just want to make a car look cool! (Cool in that sense of having a ridiculous body kit and flashing lights.) When purchasing the car, you get all the technical bits like BHP, acceleration rating and overall initial score. It gives you a rating out of 10 as to how customisable the ride is. 10 lets you put all the bells and whistles on it, and 1 would be the most minor cosmetic edits.
There's also a vast amount of difference between what you can alter on one car. Following a brand and committing that to the car wholly will give a very distinct look, whereas another brand will give another. Or you can be a lunatic and mix and match... but no one really does that, do they?
0-60 and A Heap Of Whiplash
Progression in this game is weird in the sense that, depending on how you spec your car, you may regress. You can always go back again easily by fixing it up of course! You'll never be in a position to not race the unlocked races. But I guess it depends on how you track your progress. For me, it's how quickly I can go! For others, it may be how easily they can alter their car from one speciality to another.
There's a real feel to your car dependent on how you've got it set up. Need for Speed Heat does a grand job of making a car specialised in track racing useless off-road. And because it's on a sliding scale, a small tweak may make it more tolerable on grass. And a massive change will make it all-terrain! Its use on a track will be hindered, but running it based on what you need is the best approach. I can't emphasise how important it is to tackle a race appropriately. Each race tells you which combination will be best, and then it's up to you to alter your ride as needed.
Of course, you're never forced to change the set up of your car! You can easily have multiple cars specialised to certain things - undoubtedly how you should play the game. Cars come with a specific focus in mind and I'd encourage you to follow that trend. I've tried to set a Land Rover up to drag race and was tremendously unsuccessful. But hey, that's your call. The level of freedom with the technicalities and specifics is important.
Is It a Story-Driven Racing Game!?
The narrative for Need for Speed Heat follows the stereotypical one of most games involving illegal activities. You're doing illegal deeds but the feds are more illegal-er, so it's ok! (Luckily this game isn't going to make anyone go out and drive at 150mph on the wrong side of the road.) The story doesn't drive the progress though as far as being a racing driver goes. You'll earn reputation and unlock stuff whether you take story missions on or not.
Cars and parts run separately from the narrative for the most part, but one of the goals of your character is to join The League. This is a group of the best drivers and your desperate to be a part of it and impress them. Progressing in the story will bring you closer to that goal, but the other progression elements will support that too. The story is enjoyable to be a part of, but it isn't the reason to play the game. It's a street racing game first and foremost, and that's the basis for any action you undertake. The missions just help tie them and direct you a bit more!
Does It Sound Like It Looks?
Need for Speed games are renowned for their soundtracks. From Lil Jon to Gary Numan, there's a lot of quality across the games to the point where you'd find yourself driving just to listen to the soundtrack. So how does this one fair? It's a heavy mix of urban music, electronic and other modern sounds. It's not my jam at all, but I can appreciate the sounds enough to say there's a great selection and it works well!
What else is interesting is that the tracks in the day are completely different to those at night. In the day you've got music that's suited to the beach, the sun, cold drinks and easy living. It's upbeat and lively with a positive tone to it all. At night? The opposite. It's very hard-hitting, grimy, raw and urban. The balance works superbly and makes for a way more thematic experience across the different races.
Graphically, the game is superb. The city you drive through is gorgeous and full of beautiful sights. Whether that's the high hills overlooking the city or the rolling sands of the beaches, it's all gorgeous and very pretty. But the cars? Now those are the crowning achievement. Even when you're blazing down the highway at breakneck speeds, your car looks stunning. Gorgeous. Perfect. And then some fruitcake crashes into you and your car has no end of scuffs... and they stay on you. Even when you're racing... it's infuriating. But goodness does it make you drive better! Still, the cars look amazing.
Need for Speed Heat is a fantastically fun racing game. It has a story, and the story helps give purpose to the racing, but at its heart, the game isn't afraid to let you just race and customise cars. You'll pimp your ride so it looks like a 12-year-old drew it and you'll drive it at ludicrous speeds... and it'll be so so much fun! If you're in need of a racing game that gives you freedom and has some real character to it, Need for Speed Heat may very well be for you!