How NOT to play Need For Speed Heat

We weren't particularly good at the Need For Speed Heat demo. Please learn from our mistakes.

At Gamescom 2019, Den Of Geek zoomed over to the EA lounge to get hands-on with Need For Speed Heat. The upcoming instalment in the iconic racing franchise has a nice new twist to it: adding some duplicity to proceedings, Need For Speed Heat will offer legit track races by day and gritty illegal street races by night.

When we first loaded up the brief demo, everything seemed to be going well. There are 12 avatar characters to choose from and loads of cosmetic options, so naturally, we produced a very badly dressed bloke and had a good giggle to ourself. (Come on, who needs to wear a cap and sunglasses?) We also mucked around with the deep customisation options for the vehicles, cooking up an equally garish ride for our custom character to roll around in. (Would anyone really put that many stickers on a car?)

Once we were ready to rock, we loaded up the first available mission: a daytime circuit race by the name of Portview. This summertime sojourn looked lovely, with blue skies and a setting sun complementing each other to eye-pleasing effect. However, as often seems to be the case with racing games (similar struggles were had during the Dirt Rally 2.0 preview event), there’s a bit of a learning curve to contend with on Need For Speed Heat. A learning curve, it turns out, that we weren’t very good at navigating…

Although it follows a similar control scheme to most other racing games, of course Need For Speed Heat has its own unique mechanisms and ways of doing things. It’s easy to either overdo it or underdo it on the breaking and cornering, with either option sending you slightly swerving and making crashes feel inevitable (at least while you’re learning the ropes).

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We were smashing into a lot of barriers, basically, trying to get to grips with the nuances of the handling whilst also attempting to pepper in nitro blasts at the ideal moments. It was a scrappy race, providing the game with an opportunity to show off an impressive array of destructible environments. We didn’t end up winning, but we had a good time, and the graphics looked great – there was, appropriately, a real sense of speed as we whizzed around the track and consistently whacked into things. There’s a slight visual ‘woosh’ that accompanies the nitro boosts and feels very satisfying to witness.

It was all fun and games in the daytime mode, but perhaps the game was just trying to lull us into a false sense of security. Don’t worry if you haven’t fully nailed the controls yet, the gaming gods seemed to be saying… it’s just a demo… what could possibly go wrong?

Well, as it turns out, rather a lot can go wrong when Need For Speed Heat shifts from daytime mode into night mode. This isn’t just a cosmetic gear change. Under that veil of darkness, the whole gameplay experience alters and you start to realise what the ‘heat’ in the title really refers to. More than just a cool word to stick in the name of the game, this is the same sort of ‘heat’ that you’d hear about in a crime movie – a strong police presence in your vicinity.

The evening races in Need For Speed Heat take place on populated roads, which are stuffed with civilian cars and monitored closely by an array of police vehicles. And if you want to stay off the fuzz’s radar, maybe don’t drive around like a moron and crash into everything from stationary objects on the pavement to random cars on the road. Coming straight off a manic circuit race, though, this is exactly what we did. Bollards be damned, we’re trying to drive here! 

It only took a matter of seconds for the cops to get on our tail. It started with one solitary car chasing us, but it soon escalated to fully-fledged roadblocks and a whole fleet of high-speed pursuers. This segment of the game feels a bit like a successor to those classic GTA getaways, albeit without the army tanks turning up. There’s a real sense of exhilaration as you try to shake the old bill without going too far off the designated roads of the race.

With panic settling in, we kept on mucking up and the police presence just kept on growing. We ended up completely dropping out of the race (taking a sad spot at dead last on the leaderboard), but the chase didn’t stop there. With the original target of winning the contest dropping away, another quest presented itself: lose the cops and get to a safe house. And now, freed from the constraints of trying to stay in the race, we decided to try some new tactics.

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Using the map in the bottom left of the screen to see where the cops were and weren’t, it became clear that a drastic option was needed: going off-road, driving wildly across parks in a desperate bid to find a clear stretch of road on the other side, seemed to be the only way to proceed. We tried it, and it worked, and the smug feeling of elation washed over us like a powerful carwash. 

We didn’t manage to make it to a safe house before the demo ended, but we did manage to lose the police. We learned a few things here about how not to play Need For Speed Heat – they were mainly lessons about being careful on the corners and not getting too silly in the night mode – but we also had a whole lot of fun. We’ll try to avoid crashing into things next time…

Need For Speed Heat will launch on 8 November for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Google Stadia.