The racing genre is almost as old as the video game industry itself. It is also a pretty saturated corner of the gaming world. The sheer number of racing games and franchises available makes it very difficult for a developer to find something that will stick and withstand the test of time. That makes Need For Speed's continued presence in the industry all the more impressive.
25 years since the release of the original Need for Speed, this weekend marked the release of the franchise's 24th title, Need For Speed: Heat. Although the gameplay and the graphics have improved as NFS has shifted from platform to platform, the general premise of the games has remained the same: a street racer with fully customizable cars. The trouble is, despite the premise being the same, NFS games most definitely peaked during the early 2000s. NFS: Heat is another attempt by EA to recapture the franchise's former glory and although it is a solid game, it once again falls short of Need For Speed's golden era.
An Era Gone
Racing games don't always come with a story mode, but NFS: Heat does. Players will be launched right into it shortly after the game starts up, so make sure you're alert and have a controller handy. The need to meet with seasoned pros who will introduce players to the daredevil world of street racing is a great way to get newbies accustomed to the game. For the more seasoned pro, NFS: Heat offers an open-world that racers can explore, peppered with races to take part in and other tasks to perform.
EA has gotten into the habit of releasing a new Need For Speed game every two years. Unlike sports games such as FIFA and NBA 2K, there's no need for racing games to have regular release dates as there aren't athletes to replace and rosters to update. So what exactly is EA trying to achieve? The hope would be to better the game that came before or at least offer up something different. In the case of NFS: Heat, it's one out of two on that front.
NFS: Heat is definitely different from a lot of the Need For Speed games that have come before, without being so different that it would be offputting for fans of the series. Cars can be tuned up and customized in what feels like countless ways as always, but the way in which players progress through the game is pretty different. Racers are tasked with striking up the perfect balance between earning money and gaining a reputation. Race legally during the day for cash, or illegally at night to make a name for yourself.
As for being a better game than anything Need For Speed has offered before, NFS: Heat simply doesn't achieve that. Titles such as Underground and Most Wanted might have been left more than a decade in the past, but they are still firm favorites of fans who have stuck with the franchise since its early days.
Pal City Is A Beautiful Part Of The World
There is one element of NFS: Heat that previous games could never even dream of matching up to, especially titles such as the ones mentioned above: the graphics department. The fictional Palm City in which NFS: Heat is set is visually stunning. Even without the added bonus of discovering billboards to smash through and speed traps to set off, we'd likely find ourselves driving around the expansive map anyway just to take in the views.
NFS: Heat is also a pretty easy game for anyone to pick up and play, regardless of one's familiarity with the Need For Speed franchise. There's naturally no backstory to familiarize yourself with, and the controls are the same as pretty much any other racing game players will have given a whirl over the past decade.
Didn't We Already Win This Race?
Other than not quite recapturing Need For Speed's former glory, the only other issue with the game is its repetitiveness. As laid out above, both cash and rep points are needed to progress, and both of those require some serious grinding to accrue. Players happy with poking and prodding their car to keep things interesting will be fine. Impatient players who want to open up the entire map and all of its races as soon as possible, not so much.
NFS: Heat is a visually stunning game that is pretty much exactly what players will have come to expect from EA's long-standing series. It's enjoyable and even a little addictive, albeit repetitive after a while. It is what it needs to be, but nothing more. At this stage, should Need For Speed's developers want to recapture the golden era of its games, it might want to consider a remastered version of one of its PlayStation 2 classics.
A PlayStation 4 copy of Need For Speed: Heat was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Need For Speed: Heat is now available for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.