Need for Speed Heat review: A return to what makes the racing series good

It's certainly better than Payback, even if that isn't saying much.

Need for Speed cop car
(Image: © EA)

I grew up on the Burnout franchise, and Need for Speed never quite caught my attention the way the former did. But with Burnout not seeing a new main entry since well over ten years ago — no, Burnout Crash doesn't count — I found myself looking elsewhere for my high-speed thrills. That's where Need for Speed and Forza helped fill in the gaps. Ghost Games may have missed the mark with Need for Speed Payback, but it learned some lessons and came back with a stronger Need for Speed entry and addictive arcade racing.

Need for Speed Heat What I like

Cop chase

Source: EA (Image credit: Source: EA)

First and foremost, a racing game is only as good as its driving feels. If cars feel slightly off to race, whether because they are too touchy or sluggish, it ruins the entire experience. Arcade racers have more leeway since the cars are meant to feel "light," and they aren't aiming for a realistic driving simulation, but it's still easy to lose that balance. Ghost Games does a good job in Need for Speed Heat striking that balance to create a fun arcade racer. Nearly everything you plow through (besides building and cars) is destructible, so it doesn't disrupt the flow of gameplay. The drifting is phenomenal with the hand brake, and you'll always feel in control of your vehicle. This is what it's meant to be; a fast-paced racer that takes the tedious elements out of realistic simulations and leaves you with the good bits.

Its cop chases that became a penchant for the series are also as thrilling as ever. It sometimes feels like they're at an unfair advantage, but it makes sense considering, well, they're a police force. They're supposed to be intimidating. It's still fun to outrun them or ram into a cop car to try and drive it off the road. Watching the red lights on my mini-map get closer and closer to me instinctively activated my fight or flight response.

Source: EA (Image credit: Source: EA)

With over 100 cars and some spare change, there's a lot of customization to be done. Everything from your engine and wheels to small things like the exhaust port can be swapped out to create your dream car. And these are more than just cosmetic. They can affect your car's handling and speed. You can mix up your garage with customized cars and newer cars you bought as you progress through the story. If you happen to fall in love with an early car, it doesn't have to become obsolete. Don't worry about cosmetics, either, because Need for Speed Heat still has visual customization options to choose from.

The fact that it doesn't feature any loot boxes is a big plus in my book, too. EA is notorious for using them, but between this and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order recently, it looks like the company may have learned a lesson, even just a small one. Need for Speed Heat is set to get DLC and car packs down the line, but it doesn't look like the experience will be mired with predatory microtransactions anytime soon.

Need for Speed Heat What I don't like

Need for Speed race

Source: EA (Image credit: Source: EA)

Here's the story in Need for Speed Heat (I promise I'm not spoiling anything): Cops think street racing is bad and vow to crack down on it. Being the rebel, you are, you go all renegade and do it anyway. Corruption is involved. That's it, that's the story. I realize that's extremely reductive, and there's more to it, but that's what it boils down to, and none of it is particularly memorable. It's what you'd get from a low budget action movie. It never really leans into "so bad it's actually good."

The promise of what Miami Palm City could be is enticing, but it never capitalizes on it. At nighttime, the neon lights give it a bit of personality, just not enough. The world felt a bit empty and lifeless. I wanted the city to be a character itself, and Palm City wasn't one. That said, there are still enough activities to keep you occupied.

I feel as if you've played some of Need for Speed's better franchise entries, you'll feel like there's nothing new here. It doesn't bring much to the table in terms of innovation. I get that there's only so much you can do when it comes to arcade racers, and maybe it doesn't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I just would have liked to play a game I haven't already played ten times over. Then again, that can be a selling point for racing fans. The same fun experience with new cars to use and streets to race.

Should you buy Need for Speed Heat? Wait for a sale.

Need for Speed starting line

Source: EA (Image credit: Source: EA)

Need for Speed mixes the best elements of its predecessors to create a fun, if mostly forgettable, adventure. Where it counts, the racing is top-notch. It does little to innovate in ways I would have liked to see, but what's there is enough to keep you hooked, especially after the disastrous Need for Speed Payback.

Unless you're a hardcore Need for Speed addict, I wouldn't spend full price on this. You can easily get a similar experience with earlier games in the series. If you do just happen to want the latest and greatest graphics, you should probably wait until Need for Speed Heat is on sale.

Jennifer Locke

Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life, and is very happy Xbox is growing a stronger first-party portfolio. You can find her obsessing over Star Wars and other geeky things on Twitter @JenLocke95.