The neon soaked streets of "Need for Speed: Heat" look beautiful and the night is still young. One more race before calling it a night, you think, while gently pulling up in your tricked-out Ford Mustang GT at the starting line.
As you cross the finish line while reveling in your victory, you catch a flash of red and blue in the corner of your eye. Your heart sinks, a lone squad car from the Palm City Police Department has found you.
If you get caught now, everything you earned throughout this night will be gone. Praying that your reinforced chassis holds, you floor the pedal of your Ford roaring Mustang GT, t-boning the cop car and putting the officer out of commission with one hit.
Your sigh of relief turns into horror as you realise that the officer had managed to call for backup. Multiple squad cars are now homing into your location while cutting off all possible escape routes.
Driving like a madman, you use every known back alleys and tunnels to reach your safe house, with cops hot on your tail. You enter the garage and kill your engine, with mere seconds to spare. Your hands are shaking from the adrenalin but your ride and bank is safe, for the night.
At time when hardcore fans of the Need for Speed series had almost given up hope, NFS: Heat came crashing through the wall and swept us off our feet with a very delightful surprise.
The open-world arcade racing title is the 24th installment of the titular series, marking its 25th anniversary. Based in Palm City – a fictionalised version of Miami, Florida and its surrounding areas – the game injects much needed fresh ideas into the series.
Duality in its soul
Need for Speed: Heat is your gateway to building your dream racing machine and then, dominating the tracks, off-roads, and streets of Palm City. The game features a whopping 127 cars from 33 manufacturers, catering to a wide variety of car enthusiasts.
Early in the game, you will get access to a garage owned by a friendly mechanic, who will allow you to use the shop as your base.
Heat is divided into two segments – day and night, and you can choose between them at will. During daytime, racing is legal and the police will turn a blind eye to your reckless shenanigans.
During the day, you will do most of the racing on closed-off tracks, and you will be able to make some serious cash by beating other racers.
But just because you have cash to spare, it does not mean the shops will sell you parts right from the get go. Your reputation, called "rep" in game, is as much a factor as the money in your bank.
Without adequate rep, you will never get access to faster, more expensive tiers of cars, and essential performance upgrades for your rides. This is where the nighttime racing comes in.
Higher the stake, higher the risks
During nights, you will not race for money, but for reputation. The police will become hyper-aggressive as your "Heat" level increases. Unlike earlier games, they do not joke around in NFS: Heat.
The Palm City PD will use every heavy handed technique in their book to bring you down. Your car can get damaged in Heat, and the police will batter you into submission if you get caught breaking the law by street racing.
The police will become more and more destructive as your heat goes up, and will begin using tactical equipment such as spike strips and kill switches to shut you down.
Too much damage and your ride will get totaled, resulting in your arrest. When that happens, it is lights-out for all the reputation you earned throughout the night. Apart from the humiliation, the police will make you pay a hefty fine.
You will have to master the tricks to avoiding police while racing and earning rep multipliers through multiple Heat levels. Once the police spots your car, NFS: Heat, turns into an intense cat and mouse game.
Most police cars will immediately call for backup and cut off your escape routes. There are no pursuit breakers in the game, so evading the police comes down to outmaneuvering them on the map.
You can use buildings, alleys, rough terrains, jump ramps, and tunnels to break the police line of sight. Making it to your safe house without being followed by the law will allow you to "bank" your reputation.
The game features some of the most iconic cars such as 2016 F-150 Raptor and Ferrari 458 Spider 2014, not to mention the fan favourites including Lamborghini and Porsche. You will also find a deep customisation system for both the visuals and performance of your cars.
Heat allows you to swap out your car's engine for improved performance and tuning for custom preferences such as over or under steering. A level system based on reputation gradually unlocks newer, cooler cars and parts.
It features a goofy single player story, along with enough side missions and challenges to keep you busy for months.
NFS: Heat – with its neon aesthetic at night and photo realistic visuals at day – looks, sounds, and feels absolutely gorgeous. This is hands down the best entry in the series since NFS: Most Wanted.
The game is available on Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.