NFS Heat comes flying off the starting line, bringing with it many elements that have made the storied series great. I’ve been in the driver’s seat since the series launched in 1994 and was instantly hooked with the “cat and mouse” police pursuit mechanic. Since then the series has continued to change and evolve in many ways. The Need for Speed franchise is celebrating its 25th anniversary in style returning to its roots while offering a new day/night mechanic to help modernize the experience.

Some of the changes over the years have given us gems like Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Underground 2. While other titles in the series like NFS Undercover strayed, leaving fans wanting more. Thankfully, the series has learned from past mistakes and returned to top form this year. NFS Heat doubles down on great racing, thrilling police chases and deep car customization, letting you upgrade the speed and style of your ride.

Buckle up, it’s time to explore the streets of Palm City and see all that NFS Heat has to offer.

NFS Heat Details

Platform:PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Developer: Ghost Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Racing
Modes: Single player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Ages 13+)

Welcome to Palm City

NFS Heat takes place in an expansive open world giving you a nice variety of cityscapes, rural areas and open tracks. The crown jewel of the experience is Palm City, a fictional version of Miami, Florida. The city, especially at night, is a neon-drenched spectacle that is a feast for the eyes.

Here the story unfolds as you play a protagonist looking to gain street cred while on the run from some seriously crooked cops. The opening cinematics set the stage with a heavily influenced Fast and the Furious vibe. From there it’s up to you to race legally and illegally to gain cash and cred to build your street racing legacy.

Gameplay on the grid

NFS Heat does a great job giving you more control of your car than ever before. You can upgrade performance and cosmetics like spoilers, skirts, and body lighting.

The best part is you can really feel the performance difference in your rides as you customize them. In the past I found car upgrades weren’t as pronounced. You could apply plenty of speed and steering options and not notice a difference, thankfully NFS Heat bucks this trend. Vehicle performance has more of a prominent role as cars have off-road, performance racing and drift areas which need to be balanced.

You can focus on a particular area of a car for pure speed, or if you grow your garage you can focus a car’s attributes for specific races. This is definitely a positive, especially for gearheads who love to tinker with their rides to squeeze as much performance out of them as possible.

Day and night

The core night/day mechanic is the biggest change for the series in quite some time. It works extremely well, helping to refresh parts of the Need for Speed formula. The new mechanic helps racers pinpoint the experience they want out of Palm City. When you leave your in-game garage you are presented with a choice: do you prefer to race during the day or at night?

Picking the daytime gives a professional racing experience, your run-ins with the law are minimal and your competitions are plentiful. The day cycle is composed of circuit racing, drifting trials and time attacks. In the light of day you can fast travel from location to location and explore the map with very little interference from the fuzz. It’s all about cruising to victory with these events and earning money to buy more parts for your vehicle.

Nighttime is a different story; you illegally street race and the police pursuit is constant. In fact, the 5-0 will even crash the party in mid-race adding more pressure to the experience. Not only do you need to claim top spot, but you’ll also need to shake the cops. Night racing is higher risk but it’s the key path to take in order to level up. It’s also the only way to build up your rep, allowing you to progress in the story. Most of the game can be experienced via night mode, which veterans of the series will feel right at home with. It comes down to money (daytime) and rep (night) depending on what you need, the game points you in the right direction.

It’s white knuckle action at its best, delivering 24/7 on an adrenaline filled street racing experience.

Sights and sounds

Whether racing during the day or at night, NFS Heat looks and sounds great. The game really stands out at night, adding a new layer of detail to the world highlighted with a rain slicked neon glow. The tropical climate that Palm City enjoys offers one weather effect with rain. It does the trick pairing beautifully with the highly stylized nature of the game’s menus and overall presentation. In daylight the graphics are no slouch either, providing great detail while you whip by at breakneck speeds.

The cars themselves have a ton of detail, all 127 included vehicles have plenty of options for tweaks and upgrades. You can really inject a lot of personality into your ride, with so many different options to upgrade and unlock. It adds to the visual allure and motivates you to keep racing in order to grow your garage’s cars and available parts.

NFS Heat features online racing but it’s not a focal point of the experience. It operates much like Forza Horizon 4’s open world where you can have other players join your events. It’s less intuitive going online as you need to opt in via menus, taking you out of the experience. Racing against human opponents adds to the fun and rewards, but it could have been fleshed out more.

The winners circle

NFS Heat is a great way to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary, revisiting its roots while offering a fresh take on a classic formula. Heat brings together parts of the series that work like high speed chases, beastly supercars and plenty of mods to trick out your ride. It all adds up to the best Need for Speed I’ve played in years, making it the perfect candidate to take a race down memory lane with. It’s a great return to form for the series, one you shouldn’t pass up.

+Day/night mechanic adds a new twist
+Massive catalogue of parts and upgrades for cars
+The police chases are back and better than ever

-Minor slowdown when starting races
-Cutscenes are a little hokey

OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF NFS HEAT

Gameplay: 4/5
Graphics: 4.5/5
Sound: 4/5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3.5/5

Overall Rating 4/5 (80%)

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Buy NFS Heat for Xbox One

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Matthew Rondina
Matthew has been involved in all things tech related since the start of the digital era. He shares his passion for technology in his day job as a teacher and via multiple media platforms. As a long-time veteran of the video game and tech industry, he's covered interactive entertainment and esports on the web, in video series, podcasts, and on international television. You can follow Matthew's tech-venture filled lifestyle on twitter and instagram @dapper_tux

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