Need for Speed Heat Review

November 13, 2019

When we first saw the leaks for Need for Speed Heat we thought that perhaps the game was going to be set in the 80’s with older vehicles and older style racing, but it turned out the subtitle Heat was used for other reasons. Need for Speed Heat is set in a fictional city in Florida called Palm City and features bits and pieces from the real-world state such as Mendoza Keys (Florida Keys), Cape Castille (Cape Canaveral), and other notably Floridian style locations. For the first time in Need for Speed history, you decide what time of day you want to race in, and the world will respond accordingly.

While the game can be (applaudably) played entirely offline, it’s a lot more fun online with friends. The problem with jumping online with Need for Speed Heat is that its open-world can’t be paused and therefore you can get yourself in a bit of a pickle very quickly. When playing online, you can start events with your party as well as attempt to join an existing lobby. You can also do a race solo even when online, but it will still act like it’s online and pausing the game will not pause the race or your vehicle. With police ever-active at both day and night, Need for Speed Heat is not a game you want to leave on idle.

Need for Speed Heat

Need for Speed Heat is all about taking chances and building your reputation while your garage slowly fills with exotic performance cars. Daytime brings sanctioned races, most of which are 3 laps around a circuit, with cash as a reward. Police are around but don’t activate pursuits unless you collide with them. Be careful though, we had an altercation where we were sitting idle at a fast-travel spawn location only to have a police car smash into our car out of nowhere and begin a pursuit. Night time brings the ‘Underground’ theme to Need for Speed Heat with illegal street races, most of which are point-to-point sprints, with reputation as a reward. Speaking of fast-travel, you are able to quickly travel to any safe house in Palm City, but whenever you want to change your vehicle you are ported back to your garage. It was irritating to not be able to fast travel to any explored area like in other open-world games, and also not being able to change your vehicle on the fly.

Reputation is the leveling system in Need for Speed Heat and maxes out at 50. We found that it was difficult to level up reputation at first as the starter cars are underpowered and the police chases get intense quickly if you’re not careful. Each night starts with a heat level of 1, but as soon as it hits 3 or 4 the cops start to hit you hard, and the first few cars you own can get terminally damaged after a few big hits. Driving through a gas station fully repairs your car, but you can only repair your vehicle three times per night as opposed to an infinite amount of times while driving during the day. When we said this game is about taking chances, the biggest chances have the highest rewards as your reputation will build a lot faster with a higher heat level, but if you don’t make it back to a safe house then not only do you lose any open-world reputation you’ve earned for the night, you also lose a decent amount of money for getting busted.

The main story of Need for Speed Heat will take you across the entirety of the map, and there are also some sub-stories which add an extra element to the theme of Heat. The cops are always on your back in one way or another, and you’re going to have to prove that you can tackle all kinds of racing if you want to overcome the odds. Story missions are often locked behind either day or night time, as well as your current reputation level, though they can be attempted with any vehicle. The game gives you a recommended vehicle level for each mission, as well as the many races available around Palm City, though we found these were a bit of a sketchy guide and often you could absolutely smash your opponents in one race but then not have enough speed to catch the front driver in the next race of the same level. Overall, it seemed best to make sure the vehicle was leveled up a good 20-40 points higher than the recommended amount which wasn’t too hard to do once we owned more than a couple of vehicles.

Vehicles can be modified in four different categories in a quadrant style. You can have an off-road or track drift car, and you can have an off-road or track race car. Off-road racing begins about halfway through the story once your reputation level nears 20 and your vehicle level nears 200, though due to the open-world nature of Need for Speed Heat, some players might opt to attempt some pursuits with an off-road vehicle early on in their career to help boost through the reputation ranks. Other than circuit, sprint and off-road racing, drifting is also a part of the latest Need for Speed game.

Drifting plays an essential role in the game, with a full drift story, drift events, and drift challenges scattered around the map. Luckily you can change your car’s performance on the fly, allowing you to quickly change to drift spec if you want to go back and forth between events. We found the drift story and events were incredibly easy, while the 3-star drift challenges were more difficult, even just to get one or two stars. Luckily the open-world challenges are more for completionists anyway, though they don’t hurt for building your reputation at night. We don’t recommend or endorse attempting police pursuits while having a drift-specced vehicle though, as they’re not the best type of car to escape from law enforcement in. While every car can be modified to be drift spec, there are many obvious choices that handle far better when modifying them for these challenges.

Along with the drifting open-world challenges, there are also speed challenges and jumps, as well as collectibles such as graffiti locations and bright pink neon flamingos. Collecting or completing all these events in each area of Palm City can reward you with anything from a new decal for your car to a completely new car, and therefore provides a great incentive to explore the full map, occasionally going off the beaten track. Some graffiti and flamingo locations require a bit of planning and faster vehicles to get to, and we did find one flamingo that bugged out and wouldn’t let us destroy it but we’re guessing that’ll get patched soon.

Police chases can be intense and can get significantly worse as the night progresses. Each illegal act you partake in will build your Heat meter, and once it reaches 3 or 4 the police presence intensifies. Later on in the game, there are special ‘heat’ events that require you to have a higher heat rating, and the game doesn’t really give you as many tactics to assist your escape as previous Need for Speed games have offered. We did find one tactic useful though, and that was diving into the water. Yes, that’s right, if you’ve got a few cop cars on your tail you can drive off a bridge or pier. Your car resets, taking just some minor damage, but they usually all follow you and get destroyed.

Need for Speed Heat has a day/night cycle that you get to control, and this affects its graphics and lighting quite a bit. While the game looks pretty enough on an Xbox One X in 4K, we did notice some texture loading issues. Cut-scenes looked great, with some nice attention to detail on the character animations as the Heat story plays out, though past the head, the rest of the body had little if any variable animations. The vehicles all look great, though we felt the follow camera was a bit close and low, and there’s no cockpit view behind the wheel either.

Need for Speed Heat

In summary, Need for Speed Heat is another typical instalment to the franchise. It offers some new features such as controlling the time of day and having different events during the day and at night, but the story of a corrupt cop chasing down illegal street racers is cliché and quite frankly, dry. Heat will appeal to the core Need for Speed crowd, but we’re surprised that the map was so small considering off-road racing plays a key role in the mid-section of the game. This is no Forza Horizon 4, but we’d say it’s a step up from 2017’s Need for Speed Payback.

Rocket Chainsaw reviewed Need for Speed Heat on an Xbox One X console in 4K. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. For more information head to the official website.


- Unique day/night cycle
- Great range of fully customisable vehicles
- Plenty to do in Palm City


- Map size is too small
- Fast travel is annoying, and you get ported back to your garage for no reason
- Graphics are a bit hit and miss

Overall Score: