Games: Need For Speed: Heat gives this ailing racing franchise a much-needed overhaul
Need for Speed: Heat (Multi)
NEED for Speed has been clocking up virtual mileage since 1994 after firing up the ignition on Panasonic's failed 3DO console. Recent years haven't been kind, though, with a move away from traditional racing to Fast and Furious underground culture.
Thankfully, Heat dials back the excesses of 2017's maligned Payback – but can it compete in a world dominated by Forza and Gran Turismo?
With a script and characters that make Fast and Furious seem positively Shakespearean, the plot – for what it's worth – is a slice of corporate rebellion with tone deaf attempts at cool, as a crew of street racers outrun the corrupt cops of Palm City.
Thankfully, the cheese can be ignored as you put pedal to metal in a Miami-esque playground over chases, circuit races, time trials and drift challenges. A groaning garage of customisable rides is yours to take to streets, docks, mountains and swamplands, banking reputation by hightailing it to safe-houses ahead of the fuzz.
Heat ransacks the Need for Speed series for inspiration, from the street racing of Underground to Most Wanted's cop chases, and with two distinct flavours as you switch between day and night at will. And the difference is, well, night and day.
Classic, legal racing is the order of the day, while after dark brings outlaw shenanigans with random cop encounters on the filth-infested streets.
Despite its forgettable story (I mean, who plays a racing game for the plot?), garbage soundtrack and iffy drifting mechanics, there's plenty to love in a game that harks back to the series' turn-of-the-century purple patch. And ,after 2017's Payback literally featured its own casino system, EA's usual devotion to loot boxes is mercifully missing – meaning progression isn't a glorified slot machine.
Heat may not quite reach the giddy heights of the series' heyday, but if you can ignore the committee-designed cool, it does a lot right, with well-designed tracks, cinematic swagger and a fine-tuned open world that's a massive improvement over Payback.
Heat atones for the sins of a series coasting on fumes and proves there's still gas in the tank for a franchise that could be turning a corner. It's the cam-crank redemption. Now, prepare to eat my rubber – let's burn some dust...