I… don’t know where to start with this one. I’ve been sitting in front of a blank page trying to write anything about this game for so long now. You must understand, I take notes when I play games so I can form more complete thoughts later, and I took more notes for this game alone than all the other Need for Speed games I played combined. There’s almost two pages of just notes. There isn’t a single positive thing in all of those notes, and yet the game isn’t awful, I just hate it, but it’s not horrible, but I don’t like anything about it, but it’s alright on its own… see the problem here?
Need for Speed Heat is apparently the best Need for Speed game in a decade, and the most well received too. When I first started hearing about it before release, even then it was getting nothing but good reception, and I was at the time in the middle of playing the Black Box games to write about, so I ended up going straight from those to this. People love comparing things to Most Wanted, and I could do that very well since that game was VERY fresh in my mind as I went into this, but I’m going to try not to. This is a new era, that comparison would be unfair to both games. Well… except for one thing in particular. Interestingly though, I see a lot more comparisons between this and Underground 2 than Most Wanted, with some people saying it feels like an Underground 3. I… don’t see it. Not at all.
Heat put me in a very strange place, because I played the game start to finish and didn’t feel like offing myself for it, but at the same time I could complain about every single thing along the way. Which I will. So get ready for that.
Let’s get the ball rolling quick fast in a hurry and start with the most pertinent of complaints. This game uses Denuvo DRM. Usually I can still play games with Denuvo just fine. Ace Combat 7 has it and I have no issues at all with that game. This one though… I don’t get it. This is the only game I’ve ever played that not only needed more than six processor threads to itself, but almost fully loaded the whole CPU. I have a Ryzen 2700X and a Vega 64, both overclocked and water cooled, and still can’t manage a stable 60 fps. The CPU gets hit so hard by Heat that, wouldn’t you know it, it overheats. The CPU is also HEAVILY bottlenecking the GPU, only in this game, which I can see by watching the clock speeds never going past 1100 on the core and 800 on the memory when they should be at 1700 and 1050 respectively, and also because the game performs exactly the same no matter what graphics settings I use, from lowest to highest and in any combination. For context, the recommended specs only ask for a Ryzen 1300X and an RX 480. Adding insult to injury, the game is installed on an NVME SSD and still takes its sweet time on every loading screen, of which there are a great many. It can take upwards of 20 seconds to restart a single race sometimes, because for some reason just restarting a race requires a loading screen.
The performance actually got so bad and so hard on my system at one point that it caused a MEGACRASH. Black screen, all connected devices powered off, fans pegged at 100%, power button on the PC did nothing, the only thing I could do was unplug the thing from the wall. Interestingly, the game actually performed BETTER after that… for the most part. In gameplay, the average frame rate went up and the frequency of stutters went down, the CPU was even loaded less though it was still using every core, but in menus, cutscenes, race intro and end screens and loading screens, both CPU and GPU get pegged at 100% for some reason and temperatures shoot up. I don’t understand any of this. I can’t help but wonder just how much of a performance improvement I’d see in a cracked version… and if spicy glitches like this would go away.
Performance issues aside, I still have more to complain about that isn’t even about the game itself. One of the first things I ran into with Heat is that the controls cannot be remapped. In some games, I can live with that. Not racing games, and especially not when the default layout is like this. Ever since Forza Motorsport 3 ten years ago, I’ve been remapping every racing game to that layout, or at least something close to it with shift up, shift down, and handbrake on the face buttons, B X and A respectively. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that I simply cannot adjust to anything else at this point… but that’s never been a problem before since I could always remap buttons. And in this game, shifting is on the bumpers and A is nitrous, not handbrake, so that led to some frustrating corners, speeding up when I wanted to slow down. The bumpers are also mapped to other functions as well… being your PRIMARY ACTION BUTTON and an option to bribe cops, so if you play in manual you could be in for a rude interruption or sudden loss of cash at any time if you’re not careful. I had to play in automatic anyway since I can’t adapt, but I tried my best for a while and did run into a couple of those fun little problems. What’s the point of a locked layout? I don’t understand what reason there could be to not give the player an option so simple, yet so important.
I’m not done complaining about the controls but at least we’re finally getting to the game itself now. Drifting. How in the world can you get it so wrong at this point? It’s been 12 years since ProStreet and some of the same problems are still here. There’s an occasional and unpredictable massive input delay when drifting, and even a delay to straighten the wheels when done with a corner. The physics themselves are also familiarly unpredictable as sometimes the car will plow straight on when you try to turn in, or turn in way too hard and spin out instantly, or take the corner perfectly even if you felt like it shouldn’t have been perfect… all on the same corner at the same speed with the same inputs. It gets worse too, because cars universally have FAR too much grip in drift events, and they carry almost no momentum at all so it’s a massive ordeal to do anything smoothly. For some reason, the upgrade parts SPECIFICALLY FOR DRIFTING only exacerbate all of these problems and do no favors, so if you want to drift, don’t use drift parts. Because that makes sense. Drifting actually works better outside of drift events, but it’s still a bit of an ordeal there too. I don’t understand why the physics need to change for drift events in any game at this point, but it does and it’s frustrating. All drifting is especially bad if you’re using the automatic transmission like me, because for some reason it just LOVES to shift up and down all the time to make sure you’re bouncing on the rev limiter at all times. Interestingly, when NOT drifting, it has the opposite problem and shifts up too soon and down far, far too late, keeping you outside of the power band.
There’s more. I haven’t played the Ghost made Need for Speed games prior to this one, but they implemented a brake-to-drift system where you tap the brakes to initiate a drift. Apparently it’s done better in Heat, but no sir, I don’t like it. If you use brake-to-drift, the car will start to slide under ANY proper braking. Heat also has an alternative mode, gas-to-drift, where you let go of the gas completely and quickly floor it again to get the same effect… but you need to let off the gas to brake for corners, so it’s functionally identical in races. No matter which option you choose, you get both effects. Why? What’s the point of this? In fact, what’s the point of either of these options at all when we have a perfectly good handbrake button? This problem makes it feel like you’re never quite in full control of the car, and the slippery physics don’t help with that either.
Speaking of physics, how about the collision physics? They’re all kinds of weird. On one hand, your opponents are no longer immovable objects and police cars are no longer light as feathers like in some of the Black Box games, but on the other hand, colliding with either of them in any way can sometimes send you rocketing wildly out of control. This applies to the traffic cars too, and that AI is more brain dead than I’ve ever seen in any game, making them get in your way a LOT. Police cars are especially powerful with collision weirdness, and they love to hit you whenever they can.
And on the topic of the police… hoo boy. Chases are also all kinds of weird because the police cars are seemingly impossible to take out or outrun. Try to take them out and you get the collision issues I just mentioned, and you also get no feedback on the condition of the police car so it feels like you’re just bouncing off them doing nothing. Your car also takes more damage than they do, and if you take too much damage, you’re busted automatically. So naturally you would take your other option, outrunning them, but that doesn’t work either because they have god tier rubber-banding and will ALWAYS be right on you until you get several hours into the game and get much faster cars… but then they catch right back up again at higher heat levels. And then they hit you. There’s practically no winning. Until you find a ramp, that is, because for some reason you escape the chase almost immediately whenever you take a big jump. Seems unfair to me from all angles. I’m sure there are other effective ways to deal with chases but everything I found felt like a cheap trick, never rewarding or challenging.
The police also appear to be taken straight out of a terrible movie. They’re not just cheesy, not just caricatures, not just completely unbelievable, but all of those things in extremes simultaneously, and on top of that, they speak and emote like a rebellious edgy teenager’s wet dream of a power fantasy, complete with extreme police brutality just ’cause. I don’t get it, why are they like this? Is this appealing to anyone? A big part of what made the police so compelling in Most Wanted was the believability of them. They may not have been the most realistic, but they were close enough to sell you on the illusion. They also had a certain chaotic intensity about them, talking over each other, getting audibly desperate sometimes and genuinely angry other times, and the intense chase music only multiplied that effect. Meanwhile, in Heat they have all the vocal intensity of a drama class dropout and instead of dramatic chase music, they just cut out the music entirely and replace it with a little bit of subtle percussion and… noises in the background. This is beyond falling flat.
A lot of those problems apply to the entire story at large as well, because that’s what the whole story is, a different rebellious teenager’s wet dream power fantasy. The idea is you’re some bright-eyed racer kid who rolled into town and wanted to jump right into the deep end, and for some reason the guy you buy a car from conveniently lets you live in his garage, and his sister conveniently has connections to build your reputation. Then you watch her get abused by a policeman that steals her car, and wouldn’t you know it, turns out the police were corrupt the whole time and it just so happens that you’re the only one that can stop them! Who could have foreseen this? The worst part is that the core concept of the plot isn’t even bad at all, it could have been pretty solid actually, but because all the performances are either really far over the top or completely wooden and are all completely unconvincing either way, and how all the setup is just perfectly contrived and convenient, and how the character models are all incapable of emoting and have some serious uncanny valley effects goin’ on, and how there’s no weight to any aspect of anything, and how half the stuff in the game is just completely unexplained… well, I’m sad to say that the writers failed on all counts to make use of a good concept. What even is the point of including such a big important narrative in a game like this if it’s going to be executed like a no-budget afterthought?
I could keep this complaint train rolling for a long time, maybe even as long as my entire post about all the Black Box Need for Speed games, but I’m getting bored so let me finish up with some of the bigger things I haven’t yet mentioned.
Some of the story missions require you to follow someone to a destination, but for some reason they’re all too slow. It’s like when an NPC in an RPG wants you to follow them but they’re both slower than your running speed and faster than your walking speed, so you have to move in awkward bursts or run circles around them. They’re not this slow for dialog reasons either, because they never have much to say anyway so much of the drive is spent in silence, being frustrated. Only adding to the frustration is that there’s no GPS guidance when you’re following people, so you actually have to follow them to avoid getting lost, but if you follow too close then you’ll miss turns or hit them.
On the topic of GPS guidance, I absolutely need it in this game. I’m terrible at navigating in basically all games, I’m fully aware of that and I own it… but when someone like me can see that a map layout is confusing and hard to navigate, you know something’s wrong. I can’t follow this at all. Without the GPS, I’d be lost 100% of the time, so I built a much heavier than normal dependency on it. And then the game decides to remove all UI when races end at night, so I have to spend a few seconds feeling even more lost than usual except now I’m going 150 miles an hour in some direction that might be exactly the opposite of where I want to be going. This is especially annoying if I’m in a chase and there’s added pressure. Adding insult to injury, a lot of the interface likes to put itself DIRECTLY in the middle of the screen so you can’t see what’s in front of you for a few seconds, or flash bright lights that cover the entire screen and disorient you.
Making things even worse for navigation, this game has an unhealthy obsession with stupidly bright bloom and overly bright lights, to the point that a lot of reflections end up just being pure white blinding light… and EVERYTHING is reflective because it’s wet 80% of the time, so you’re often quite literally flying blind. I missed turns and ran straight into traffic or walls or other obstacles several times because of this, and that’s before considering that the actual light sources in the game are also insanely bright and glow so much that a TEXT POPUP can cover more than half the screen with its blue glow. And literally everything is blue. I’m pretty sure the whole game has a blue tint over it, so everything kind of blends together and harms visibility even more, and on top of it all is a lot of lens flare and other lens artifacts. Eyes are not cameras, so why do games have to simulate them? A subtle lens effect can look nice, but all this does more harm than good.
Visual customization seems to only have two real options despite the wide array of parts. You can have something understated to the point of almost looking stock, or balls-to-the-wall over-the-top widebodies and absurd spoilers. There’s no middle ground, which is extremely frustrating as someone who really prefers that middle ground. Because of this, nothing really feels unique even though it should. Some cars have several spoiler options, except all but one or two of them look almost identical because they’re all just slight variations on the big GT style wing, even all set at the same height. Maybe this is just me… it’s hard to tell because I tend to enjoy mostly everything except the particular style this game offers. Maybe slightly different side plates for GT wings are actually a really big deal.
And to round out the endless complaining… the soundtrack in this game is just sad. I admit that this is largely down to personal taste and I could be biased since I’m not into the club/festival style of EDM that’s so prominent here, but I think we can all agree that it gets very repetitive, very quickly. At night, the songs sort of blend together for the most part so it gets old, but it’s especially bad during the day where it feels like you hear the same three songs over and over again forever, not helped by how most of the daytime music feels like second rate “engineered for mass appeal” type stuff.
Now, I’d like to turn it all around and start talking about the positives, but… I just don’t have any. Genuinely, I personally don’t think this game has anything to offer beyond mediocrity aside from what I complained about. But there’s a lot of that too. I could complain forever, but that’s probably because I was looking for things to like and only found problems where I looked. Despite all of that, the game never got bad enough to make me drop it. In fact, I found myself having a lot of fun at points, like this one time attack race where you have to drive on the train tracks elevated above the roads, that was neat.
Thinking about it, Need for Speed Heat is actually an astounding achievement of a game. It can’t be easy to develop a game in such a way that every single aspect of it can be picked apart and complained about while still maintaining just enough quality to keep players playing. It’s masterfully middling. Amazingly adequate. Painfully passable. Aside from the performance issues, that is. I kind of think that a fair chunk of people who think highly of this game are also aware of many of these issues, but repress those thoughts because they’re just happy to have a game better than Payback.
Need for Speed Heat is like an abusive relationship. It attacks you in small, subtle ways, but rewards you just enough for taking the abuse to keep you coming back, slowly eroding at your sanity and convincing you that the abuse isn’t actually happening while also making you reluctant to talk about it for fear of people not believing you.
But by all means, keep playing it if you want to.