You’d be forgiven for thinking this one was going to be a wreck. Pushed out with next to no fanfare and the latest of a series that’s been on a rapidly accelerating downward spiral this past generation, the signs for Need for Speed Heat haven’t been too promising. So it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that this is easily Ghost Games’ best outing since its debut with Rivals, that no-frills launch speaking to a wider, stripped-back philosophy that’s quicker to get to the core appeal of Need for Speed than recent efforts.
And Need for Speed Heat understands that this series is, above anything else, a romance. It’s the love story between you and your car, a love that blossoms over a series of street races, point-to-point drives and escapades with the local law enforcement. It’s about how you take a stock Nissan 180SX – one of the starter cars in Need for Speed Heat – and embellish it with tricked-out ECUs and turbochargers while lavishing its exterior with vinyls and bulging fenders until it’s all utterly yours.
Need for Speed Heat dials back the bullshit of the 2015 reboot and 2017’s risible Payback. There’s a story here, and it’s as painful as ever – you’re part of a crew that’s up against the corrupt police force of Heat’s Palm City, essentially – but it’s very much in the background and entirely ignorable. You get to pick your own avatar, from a fairly generous list, dress them as you see fit (a small nod, perhaps, to the dear departed Test Drive Unlimited) and then skip through all the cutscenes as you get down to business. The bullshit that’s here is mostly the bullshit that matters. Want to change the timbre of your exhaust note as you modify your ride? Of course you do, and Need for Speed Heat is more than happy to oblige.