Need for Speed Heat – First Impressions

The opening sequence of Need for Speed Heat shows the player everything they need to know about the game – it’s all about fast cars and evading the police. The first part is what the player aspires for, and the latter spells trouble for everyone involved. After a few cuts of some high-performance cars, the scene cuts to a local news outlet reporting on the commencement of a new special task force dedicated to putting an end to illegal racing.

One look at Lt. Frank Mercer and you can immediately tell he’s not going to do everything by the books. And sure enough, my first encounter with the cops ends with me losing my ride and having to find a new one from my local contact. This is where Ana Rivera and her brother, Lucas step in. Lucas is our crew’s mechanic who hooks us up with parts appropriate to our Rep level. Ana, on the other hand, opens doors for us in the local race scene. This is pretty much everyone in the important characters category, which I think is okay for a racing focused game.

The player doesn’t get behind the wheel of any one character in the story. Instead, they are a new comer in the city, looking to make a name for themselves. It is worth noting that the player can change their character’s avatar at any time and it’ll have no affect on the story at all.

One of the first things I noticed about the game is that there aren’t many cut-scenes apart from the opening sequence and the character introductions. In my less than a dozen hours of play, I’d reckon that I have seen a couple of character development scenes – all of which involving the corrupt cops, btw. Other than that, the game doesn’t try too hard to push a complex story of revenge down my throat. Or at least not yet. The scenes themselves are cinematic in their approach and I’m getting some Fast and the Furious 1 vibes so far. Well, it’s far too early to make a definitive call, but I have a good feeling about the contents of the single-player experience.

After choosing my character and a new car, I was quickly let loose on the streets of Palm City – this game’s in-game equivalent to the city of Miami. My initial reaction to the visuals is that it’s okay… for a current NFS game. It’s like they’ve taken the better elements of the last 2 major installments and stuck a bunch of palm trees to collide with. Seriously, why does every street in this game have so many palm trees? And why can’t I help but crash into them? It’s also worth noting that crashing head-on into anything affects performance more than visuals. You’re not going to witness your hood suddenly pop off like in GTA 5. So far, the locations aren’t as memorable as I would like, maybe because nothing major has happened yet. Who knows?

I do, however, really like the weather effects they have in the game. There’s a real feeling of speed as your car goes full speed and the rain kinda goes full horizontal to that effect.

The game controls handle quite as well as it always been. Drifting is still a case of letting go of the gas and applying gas again in the desired direction. The camera pulls back slightly in the event of making a sharp turn. The only striking thing is the fact that cop cars no longer get the cinematic slow down for destruction effect. To me, that’s no real loss at all in gameplay, but then again that’s just me.

Activities in the game are split into 2 major categories – the daytime sanctioned racing events and the night time illegal races. The day is for earning bank that players can use to upgrade their vehicles. Now, having all the money in the world won’t be enough to get the best upgrades in the game. To have access to them, the player needs to earn Reputation. Taking part in night races is the fastest way to accumulate Rep. Messing with the cops also increases Rep. At the cost of getting Heat. The more Heat the player gets, the more Rep they’ll earn once they’re safe.

“Safe” refers to losing cops and reaching a safe house. As long as the cops are on your tail, there’s no way to safely make bank. If the cops bust you, that’s your earned Rep and money gone for that night. I, personally, have yet to push my luck beyond having to go up against beefed up patrol cars and tire strips. But I do have a general sense that with my Heat level going up as high as 3, I may have been at risk of losing more than just money. I will try to push my luck when I can afford it but know that, at that time, I was at risk of losing a significant amount of progress should I have been arrested.

Unlike NFS Payback, the idea here is to lose the cops with either fancy maneuvering or flat out speeding your way out of their sights. While in pursuit, cops will force your car off the road and force you into a bust state. Stay in that state for too long, and it’s over. In time, the police will even roll an EMP jammer that’ll make steering impossible for a few seconds. Thankfully, in one encounter with an angry police force, there were gas stations in the immediate area to fully repair my car. Unfortunately, the garages only repair 3 times at most before closing up for the night. Which is fair, otherwise there will be players who would abuse a perceptual loop of going between gas stations for infinite Rep.

I’ll talk more about the difference between day and night racing in the full review when I’ve seen most of what the game’s story has to offer.

For the sake of making the story progress, I spent the majority of the time taking part in sanctioned races to get enough money to afford the next set of upgrades. Afterwards, I took part in illegal races and worked my way up high enough to spend on those upgrades. On the way up, I was able to unlock a number of cars. But knowing that each car will cost a significant amount of money (not factoring in the eventual upgrades) I decided to hold it off and focus on the one car. At this point in the game, the grind doesn’t feel too punishing. Reaching the necessary Rep to get the upgrades only took just around 3 or 4 races.

With regard to the upgrade system, it is a simple system revolving around optimization to a specific kind of racer. There is no longer any random card pulls and no annoying slot machine-like mechanics. Instead, the player decides what kind of event their car is good at, whether it is for off-road racing, street racing, or drifting. Knowing what your car is good at will make the difference when it comes to choosing races. (Expect a more detailed coverage of the performance system when the full review comes out.)

Various activities become active the higher you climb up in Reputation. Storyline progression unlocks more race types, such as drift tracks. As for other in-game activities, players can roam around the map looking for street art to collect and billboards to take down. Collecting street art allows the player to use that art for the decal on any part of their car. The billboards unlock more color options and other cosmetic features. And finally, reputation unlocks challenges that the player can do to unlock special cars. Challenges can range between hitting a checkpoint at a certain speed to destroying neon flamingo signs. On a quick personal note, the map’s just an excuse to fit in race courses, otherwise, it’s an empty sandbox that lacks personality.

I’ll save the customization for the full review. In my time with the game so far, the most I was able to change were decals of my cars. It is very robust and allows for some very creative designs. I have yet to try and change any parts of my current car. Apart from all the decals I’ve added, it’s still the same looking car as I first bought it.

As for current problems with the game, I have an issue with some of the locations in night time races. It may just be me not paying close attention to the checkpoints. The neon guides don’t really help either, but I guess that’s what sets it apart from the clean and organized day time races.

Other issues I’ve had involve the server not accepting my request to install a performance part. It took a few tries, but I was able to apply the part after receiving messages that the server couldn’t process the move. I encountered a weird bug when taking a screenshot of my car in viewer mode. After taking said screenshot, the face button controls no longer worked. I was able to use the shoulder buttons and return to the Home view – nothing else. I had to restart the application, and that seems to have fixed it.

Need for Speed Heat is a step in the right direction. The emphasis on cop chases and a real risk and reward system is a welcome change over the linear driving sequences of past games. The return of the performance specific tune-ups is a much welcome inclusion over the overly annoying card collect-a-thon of the previous game. The revamped chase system is by far a huge selling point for the game. A real test for any skilled driver. I haven’t fully made up my mind on the game’s story and the world as a whole. But I am confident that the gameplay and online capabilities will make up for it in the long run.

Check back in with us when the full review of Need for Speed Heat comes out in the near future.