tends to make odd decisions. People have been screaming out for Skate 4
, to no avail. They shuttered Visceral
all but killing any chance of a necromorph reunion in a new Dead Space
, again to fan chagrin
(and in the wake of the poorly received, yet poorly directed, Dead Space 3
and the cancellation of a spruiked open-world Star Wars
title). They rebooted Mirror’s Edge unnecessarily when it should have been a direct sequel. They’ve flat out refused to address the mod community’s calls to give them a chance to play in Battlefield as creators and, consistently, ignored the fevered calls for Burnout
to become the publisher-developer’s A racing game, choosing instead to continually push Need For Speed
as its flagship car dealie. The fans, it appears, have no voice within the walls of Electronic Arts
, and it’s kind of maddening
That last example leads us here today to Need For Speed: Heat
-- an almost straight-up rip off of the seminal Burnout Paradise
, from racing and smashing gurus Criterion
. From its open-world design down to smashing through billboards, Heat is Paradise in a new skin, only less enjoyable due to a number of driving and physics mechanics that destroy fluidity in a field that, today, is led by the Forza Horizon
series, and is all about dynamic driving in chaotic, systems-stacked sandboxes. Ghost Games has been behind the wheel and under the hood of the NFS series now since 2013’s Need For Speed: Rivals
, incrementally adding to the NFS library on a two-year cycle, but still haven’t broken through Criterion’s high-bar windshield.
"Being able to break line-of-sight with police in a more open-world-friendly way has helped this entry, but it all feels a bit like Ghost is pandering to the NFS old-school..."
What I had the most issue with here, was the disparate design between day and night; night being the better option. Gameplay-wise, there’s sense here: during the day you do legal street racing (?), but at night it’s all illegal. This is when the cops come out in force and you get a more dynamic experience. The city also just looks
better at night -- particularly when it rains. During the day, however, you’re just driving through a concrete jungle, though it’s art direction is not even remotely far off how antiquated most of America
’s cities still look in this day and age.
Being able to break line-of-sight with police in a more open-world-friendly way has helped this entry, but it all feels a bit like Ghost is pandering to the NFS old-school. Like, the game features racing, challenges and more that keep it in line to a degree with modern racing games, but it never feels complete or wholly fleshed-out. Moreover, the Fast & Furious
-lite narrative is contrived, culture-specific (in that it’s really only for fans of that series), and lacks The Rock
. Still, there is a lot to do in the game-world, and that F&F influence has allowed the team to craft a seemingly more in-depth story. But contextually, it all feels a bit like a mess overall.
Funnily enough, in the same time I’ve been playing NFS: Heat, I’ve also been playing a belated copy of Wreckfest
-- a redneck racing game filled with ride-on lawnmower races and smash ‘em up derbies, car smash ‘em ups and school bus races; gassers, reinforced ‘El Caminos
and more. All in line for the battering of their life. It might seem odd to compare the two -- one is a neon-charged underground open-world racing experience, the other a game that encourages the sort of dynamic destruction you’d hope and expect from a game literally called “Wreckfest. But the reason I bring up the latter is that its physics and how those align with your race lines and approach is far superior to Heat. One of my biggest issues with Heat is that racing feels less physically fluid than it should. Cars feel *sticky*, and while I get a lot of the more modern cars in Heat have a lower centre of gravity, I’ve also played a lot of Forza and Horizon -- Heat barely touches any of these games in a ‘realism’ sense, even if most of them are arcade experiences.
"Gone are the days of manufacturers being upset at the idea of crumbling their brand as was the case in earlier Gran Turismos..."
Additionally, the damage model for cars in Heat is piss-poor, to be honest. The only impediment that rears its head from collisions is a break in speed. What Burnout did so well was celebrate the collision, here it feels like invisible walls are just as nasty as the OP cop cars chasing you through the city. Gone are the days of manufacturers being upset at the idea of crumbling their brand as was the case in earlier Gran Turismos
; now it’s a fun way to experience your reckless in-game driving, and its lack of dynamism in, or even aesthetic, in Heat just makes the product feel more behind the times.
There is fun to be had here, but in light of what else is out in the racing/driving wild these days, leaves Heat eating proverbial dust. There’s no question Ghost is a technically proficient developer (outside of car physics), but too much emphasis on a ‘story’ over more robust driving and driver-agency makes the game feel half complete on one side, and half over done on the other. What Burnout always was, was a driving game first. These past few NFS entries, however, makes it feel like EA feels
the public want a story-driven
experience over a driving one, despite this being a game literally
about driving cars.
It might be time to park NFS in its old garage and let it accrue some patina, and just age a little bit again. Meanwhile, a fixerupperer in the classic Burnout series is sitting there waiting to have its engine turned over again, so that we might once more relish in its actual over-the-top arcade sensibilities at the hand of a studio that truly rewrote the car gaming manual. Maybe we just need to open the glovebox and have a flick through it, EA.