Gamescom Hands-on – Burnt by Need for Speed Heat

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It has been 25 years since the first Need for Speed was bestowed upon us gaming petrolheads. EA’s signature racing franchise has been around since 1994 and in that time, has been on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to overall quality. It hit its zenith in the mid-2000s with a collection of titles that I am still, very patiently, waiting for EA to remaster (the studio representative just laughed when I asked him that question). But in recent years, we seemed to have hit a period of stagnation. Need for Speed Rivals has left little to no impression upon arrival. The 2015 title made gains in offering a more customizable experience a la Underground, but it was then overtaken and overshadowed by the clunky execution of Payback. Points for not including Spike, minus points for compromising your overall gameplay in the form of limited play options and a story that went nowhere at a tire-melting speed.

There were many similarities shared between NFS 2015 and Payback. A few too many. Sure, Ghost Games has every right to rework a formula that it thinks yields positive results, but the consequence of that has been a franchise that is slowing losing its identity and the prospect of new and unique installments. Hopefully, with the 25th anniversary, the studio would be compelled to deliver something special. Something that could stand out from all the rest.

AAARGH.

Need for Speed Heat has hit the tarmac suddenly and at full throttle. EA is gearing up for a November release and the announcement trailer was only dropped a week ago. Check it out:

The trailer didn’t impress me. It showed off a colour scheme, narrative, and gameplay that was too reminiscent of the 2015 game. The bad accents didn’t help either. It’s like… we’ve been here before.

That feeling got even worse when I sat down and had a good look at it. Immediately I was facing a user interface lifted straight from three years ago. The customisation is all there and players still have a multitude of extensive options for when it comes to modifying a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT. Different colour headlamps and window tints, rims, skirts and spoilers. The visual elements such as decals and sponsorship logos are all here and are in line with other arcade racing titles. But it remains the exact same layout and navigation as 2015, and it just feels so…safe.

From Ventura Bay and Fortune Valley, we are now ruling the roads of Palm City. A Miami-inspired metropolis where racers can engage in both legal and illegal automotive activity. By day you take part in the Speedhunter Showdown series. By night, you are engaging the 5-0 in road combat that leaves no lamppost or golf cart upright. Beyond this, not much else has been revealed. Progression is marked by the unlocking of new vehicles and custom icons, with also earning the good ‘ol in-game currency to purchase further unlockables and raise your reputation from the impound lot it probably sprouted.

Despite feeling like a rehash, Heat does sport some terrific visuals. The colours are crisp and the world details are of a new level when compared to the previous games. Vehicular damage and collisions have also been improved. Every knock is satisfying, and T-boning a cop’s cruiser hasn’t felt this good since the days of Most Wanted. the cars look great and thanks to a new mobile app launched in conjunction with Heat, you can spend your commutes from work putting a new set of wheels together that you can show off when you get home. It’s a neat little addition.

Driving wise, it’s like riding the same bicycle, or, car. I have had problems with the Frostbite engine from the start as it compromises the handling and weighting of your car and can make it too rigid and heavy. Case in point, dodging pedestrians and objects in the road used to be much easier in the road, and the way in which players experience speed has a slightly delayed effect. Given that Frostbite has been the norm since the Golden Turkey that was Need for Speed: The Run, it’s something that we have to live with.

But I could forgive how Need for Speed: Heat drives if it was simply a different game. All I can say is that, it feels like we’ve been here before. In both the map, its design, and the atmosphere. Not to mention dialogue that is just becoming insulting.

Watch this space. I’m not done with this game.

Last Updated: August 23, 2019

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