Before ‘Forza Horizon’ and even long before the glory days of ’Burnout’, ‘Need for Speed’ was the premier racing franchise that put street racing and the scene’s urban, underground culture in lounge rooms long before Vin Diesel got choked up talking about family. It wasn’t long before ‘Need for Speed’ let players openly defy the boys in blue, leading them on games of cat and mouse. Playing the thorn in the paw of the mighty, and often corrupt, arm of the law became synonymous with ‘Need for Speed’ and fortunately ‘Heat’ has all of that good stuff under the hood.
Though Palm City appears to be an analog for Miami, it’s inspired by the whole southeast corner of the United States and goes a long way to capturing the diversity and energy of the region. The hands-on gave us the chance to experience Heat both by day and by night and believe me, it’s a completely different kettle of fish. By day, sanctioned race events play out like any normal few-lap circuits which is bound to please traditionalists who care a lot about the art and finesse of racing. Things tend to get a little blue at night, the outlaw and rebel culture is kind of hinted at by our race’s makeshift starting line, a pair of burning street poles. Though our demo made the choice for us, ‘Heat’ doesn’t have a fixed day-night cycle and gives players the option of switching back and forth at will.
The night-drive quickly unravels, attracting the attention of Palm City’s rather militant and incredibly aggressive police force. Though it’s possible to shake their attention, they invariably return time and again to wreck your shit. The longer you hold your own against their tactics, the higher your ‘heat’ will creep up. The longer you’re locked in the to and fro the harder it becomes to give them the slip, though managing to will result in a windfall of rewards. Get busted and you’re walking away with next to nothing, making each and every escape attempt high-stake and tense.
Ghost Games have never had a hard time getting the cars in ‘Need for Speed’ to feel mean and it’s no different here. It’s even easier to feel satisfied with the car feel and handling when the circuits are as well-designed as they are in ‘Heat’. In a concentrated effort to rid the franchise of painful dead-stops that often plague open-world racing titles, the developer designed their race routes first before crafting the remainder of Palm City around them. The road network is dense, though it’s a pleasure to explore.
‘Heat’ is all about the series’ roots, it delivers on plenty of things that’ll absolutely please ardent ‘Need for Speed’ fans. One of those things is customisation, which we got a small look at as part of our hands-on. Tuning and dressing up your garage of cars is still great and never feels like micromanagement keeping us from the real action and it’s now easier than ever to do courtesy of the Heat Studio phone app which lets you design on the fly. Those hoping the design lab might include ‘Forza’-like community features might be disappointed as there seems to be no in-game incentive to using the admittedly helpful tool. In a game that so faithfully adapts the racing culture, it’s great that players are now able to customise their own avatar right down to the licensed, real-world threads they wear. The options and styles are plentiful and I was quietly pleased to find a particular pair of Adidas kicks I hoped might feature.
‘Heat’ is also said to feature one of the more serious narratives that franchise has delivered, free of the overly fanciful fluff or cheese that have plagued older iterations. It’s said to be quite linear despite the open-world approach, but that’s not to say ‘Heat’ is said and done once the credits roll. With an additional twenty rep levels to pursue, the endgame will also feature special High Heat events that offer the top-tier parts but offer up quite the challenge.
2011’s ‘Hot Pursuit’ felt like a spiritual rebirth for the series. It brought the frenetic and heart pounding tête-à-tête back into our lounge rooms but sadly, that’s the last time I can say I’ve felt the titular need. Ghost Games appear to have recaptured that and are set to deliver a phenomenal street racing experienced with ‘Heat’.