Need for Speed for many years has lacked identity in the racing game genre. In the late 90s to early 00s with games like NFS 3: Hot Pursuit and Underground it established the series to be about street racing, exotic and tuner cars which they followed up in 2005 with Most Wanted. Later on it lost it grip about what they wanted to do and hasn't been until now they went back to find it self.
This generation Ghost Games has taken over the development of Need for Speed and it's been a uphill for them during the last couple of games where we seen progress but still lacked identity and wasn't up to par of expectations. In Heat, they went back to what the franchise did the best by many older fans and many from that era would probably agree with me that this is the best Need for Speed game since the original Most Wanted.
When looking online, this game has overall gotten great to mixed reviews by both critics and gamers and I think it's party due to the history where the game has changed a lot over the last 15 years which also made the target audience much wider which in itself becomes a more split audience on what they want out of a Need for Speed game. Some want more arcade, some want more simulation and realism, some want more track, others more street etc. I really like the more simulator-side of "Simcade" in games such as Forza horizon and DiRT etc.
My personally TLDR thought is that Heat is a fantastic game and very fun to keep playing, but it has some issues that could get fixed and improved upon if there ever will be a sequel. I would rank this game as 9.5/10 in terms of a review score.
Back on track
My favorite game in the series is Underground and I've always been in love with tuner-scene, Japanese import cars and the first couple of movies of Fast and Furious where the Japanese cars was the bigger focus. For me, this is a very nice throwback to that era, and I really liked the Miami vibe which reminded me of 2 Fast 2 Furious.
I really liked the Drag-racing in the Underground-series with more proper drag-strips, where in Most Wanted I thought it was much worse executed with its many corners and high traffic making you end up totalling/crashing a lot and not having a fun race.
What people has wanted and wished for during many years has been an Underground 3 or a sequel to Most Wanted as the reboot of Most Wanted in 2012 did not live up to expectations set by the original game. With Heat it feels like we got both, with a touch of ProStreet in terms of its legal visuals in the day races.
The only downside overall would be the lack of Drag-racing which both Underground and Most Wanted featured, but I rather have none than poorly executed ones.
The music in the older games is iconic and really stood out. The theme songs for Underground (Lil Jon - ft. Easeside Boys - Get Low), Underground 2 (Snoop Dogg feat. The Doors - Riders on the Storm) and Most Wanted (Styles of Beyond - Nine Thou) is some of the most recognizable songs in the racing game genre.
Heat sadly lacks a recognizable theme/intro song, I can't remember what it even is. As a soundtrack as a whole, it has quite good music that fit the day theme with the Miami vibe within a modern setting as of EDM instead of something like 90s techno. I do think something like Synthwave would had fit the night mode better.
The graphics mixed with the night underground art style and car body customization makes the game look amazing. The environment and physics are a bit questionable because as you're driving, it's not always clear on what you can run trough and sometimes it will cause you to a fatal crash when you thought it was something you could run over an object because you just drove over something larger.
The car choice combined with the customisation in this game is overall great. I really liked that the game started out with a choice of one car from each region. Ironically according to the trophy list on PS4, some people quit once they saw the cars where they didn't even give the game a chance because none of them didn't appeal to them. I guess you just can't please everybody out there.
As a swede, it was quite interesting to see some old Volvo's in this game (, tho it would had been more fun to see a Volvo 940 in it than a Volvo 240). The Polestar 1 was a great car in this game and it was different and something new which made it quite exciting. Similar to how many people didn't know what cars was in Fast and Furious movie because it was the first time seeing it in action, this car game me that excitement as well. I played around half of the game with this car and loved it and upgraded it a lot.
It was quite strange decision Ghost Games did that we never got to unlock the body kit or wing that the cover car had. I remember in the original Need for Speed Underground, one of the things you got when beating the game on the Skyline was the big bold body kit. I was one of those things when seeing the Heat cover where I bet a few people thought: "Oh I can't wait until I can get that body kit and split wing!". As it turns out, it was only for show on the first race you did in the game which was quite disappointing.
Aside from that, the Polestar 1 is definitely among my favorite cars in terms of video game cars along the Nissan GT-R (R35), but still far below my beloved Nissan Skyline GT-R R34. I don't know if any car gonna top the R34 as it's now been my favorite for 20 years.
One of the things I really like in games which is focused on a specific thing is the sound. Such as the sound effects the guns make in Battlefield makes me enjoy it a lot more than the sounds in a Call of duty game. The same goes for engine sound. The engine sounds in this game is fantastic and differ a lot depending on what engine and other components such as turbo you got, and you can even adjust the exhaust sound for many of the cars.
You basically can pick and buy whatever car you want and use that throughout the game because in this game you can not only upgrade the components in the car, you can swap engines in the cars to make it potentially stronger when upgrading later on. This made it so instead of picking the best car for its purpose, I could pick the cars I wanted and liked and go from there.
I really liked that this game have iconic unlockable cars from several of the classic Need for Speed games such as Eddie's Nissan Skyline from underground, Rachel's Nissan 350Z from Underground 2, and the player original car; the BMW M3 GTR from Most Wanted which has a fanatic engine sound.
I loved that I could get custom wraps for all the cars via the community, not sure if this functionality has existed in previous games as I never play these games for any online/multiplayer aspect. I could never figure out the sharing features in terms of 'how do I share a wrap to my PSN friend'?
In this game they updated the handling model, and the handling in this game is very much improved for players like me. However, it still a long way to go compared to their competitors with games like Forza or DiRT. Overall it's very fun to drive, but some aspect when playing I feel there could had been improvements with such as the drifting.
Early on it was a bit strange for me to double-tap the acceleration trigger to start drift, that felt very arcade for me as something like that is never my natural instinct in racing games compared to try out how the car handles when I tap the handbrake once or break, lower the speed, turn and accelerate again to drift. In this game the handbrake basically mostly is for 90 degree turns, other times it's just double tapping for the longer corner drifts.
The drifting overall was very easy for someone like me who is great at drifting in more realistic games. In the first drift event where you supposed to get 50k in 3 laps, I got over 200k with the Nissan 180SX.
The game had a Live tuning-feature and where you could adjust downforce and break-to-drift. I would had liked that option get expanded more as of adjusting the double tap and making it more sim-style as a opt-in.
Rubberbanding? No, but technically yes.
Some of the games in the series has been furious for rubberbanding AI which people like me never enjoy because it's not fair gameplay. I want to be able to crush and lap my competition. In Heat the racing never felt it had any kind of rubberbanding as I could beat the higher requirement levels if I was skilled enough while if I was above the requirement I would destroy them.
When it comes to the police pursuits however, that's where I felt the rubberbanding kicked in at heat level 3 as somehow the police would randomly catch up from miles away on me really fast as if they where all driving a Koenigsegg behind my Koenigsegg.
As for now, playing on Playstation 4, there's only a single controller layout and no way to remap any buttons without doing it trough the system itself. Overall it's a okay layout when driving Automatic, but when driving Manual, many times you want to set it up so it fits your play style. Codemasters however does a great job for over a decade to give console players fantastic layout options which I wished all developers would take inspiration from. Controller options is a make it or break it situation where a game could be completely unplayable for a huge amount of players in some games if they don't include an option to Invert Y-axis.. or in this case, I can't play manual even tho it's my preferred play style, especially for drift.
I would like to remap the gear up/down because now it's on L1/R1 which if you don't hold the controller in a claw-grip you can't hold the finger on the gas while shifting gears and for me the claw-grip is very uncomfortable. I would rather have the shift up/down to be mapped to the right analog stick up/down as in several of the old games.
I also would also like to remap the horn as of now as it's mapped to L3, I accidentally hit it at times when making a sharp turns.
Banking your level is a feature in games as it comes down to good execution. I remember playing Final Fantasy XV and I liked their implementation, but I could see many ways how it could had gone wrong.
One of the thing with risking everything you got is that you could make many players quit the game if they constantly kept loosing and never see any progress and you feel you're stuck and end up loosing all the money which would make some games even more risk of people quit the game and never return.
In this game, I think the risk to reward is a executed very well as even if you get busted and miss the multiplier, you still earn reputation points to level up so the player doesn't feel like they wasted 20min in a police chase for nothing over and over. Due to this, it made it easier to reach level 50 than expected, I think they could had increase the level cap and offered more awards.
Cutting is fine
One of the things that made this game a lot more easier than what I'm used to in many rally games I've played in recent years is the fun gameplay of cutting every corner. In this game, depending on the event, you could cut insanely huge corners in sprint/circuit races, while in some other events like map drift activities you basically missed the checkpoints if you wasn't inside the edges.
The police in this game is hard the couple of first time you get into heat 3 because you don't have the power-ups or a car strong and fast enough to take on heat 3. I think heat 3 should had been heat 4 because the difficulty between heat 2 and 3 is very steep where either you have a car that can handle heat 3 or you just don't and will get hammered by the police normal cars is so much stronger than yours.
Overtime as you play more you also learn the city map, tricks and locations and how to outrun the police with a faster car which makes Heat 3-5 easier to escape and survive.
The first story in a Need for Speed game that grabbed my interest was Most Wanted with Cross and Razor. Even tho it was very basic it made you want to take revenge upon Razor who took your car from you in the beginning of the game.
The story in Heat was more serious and dark compared to other entries that been very bland in my opinion. I really liked the characters as the police was rough and hard while I really liked the companions, especially Ana who I always wanted to know more about what's next.
The main downside of the story was the length of it. It was very short as the story ended as when it felt it was about to start the next chapter with the new police women in town, it ended like a cliffhanger as she tells she's going to fight harder but next day at the garage it's as if everything has cooled down. The story was no way near finished. Rather than ending it could had taken everything to the next level where your heat level now would always start at level 3, and then at the end of the game, every night would turn into heat 5 until the town would had been 'liberated' from the cops.
This do makes me wish for a sequel to get more of a story. Aside from the story, there's several side-missions and other things to do in the game so it still have very good replay value and many hours of fun left.
I really enjoyed the game. It hits a lot of what I love about the series and modernized it. There still is improvements to do to make it a better game, especially regarding the length of the story, heat level spikes, car choice (get some Toyota Supra) etc. Many of the flaws of this game however could be fixed trough patches such as adjusting the heat level damage, new cars, story DLC missions etc.
I'm excited to see what Ghost Games do next and if they will support this game with updates, DLC and patches, or just push out a superior sequel of this game on next generation consoles. If you been disappointed in Need for Speed games this generation, this game is highly recommended and Need for Speed is finally back on track.