“I am speed.”
As a casual fan of racing games who had grown up on Mario Kart, I had picked up Need For Speed: Payback a couple of years ago when it went on sale online and was both pleasantly surprised and slightly annoyed with the game. The gambling system for parts, strange dialogue between the characters and insistence on drifting trials drove me away, but at the same time, I had a lot of fun building and racing my own classic 60s Ford Mustang.
In late March, I picked up the original Need For Speed on the PlayStation Store for $5 and got to experience the roots of the series. While somewhat limited in scope, I loved the process of building and upgrading my cars and seeing myself get better at racing.
Right now, there’s a huge sale on PlayStation Store titles running through April 28th, including the base version of Need For Speed Heat, which is going for $30 (half the original asking price of $60). The Deluxe version, for the players who want a little extra kick in their racing game, is going for $35 and includes K.S Edition cars, a 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X starter car, 4 exclusive character outfits, and a “Rep” and “Bank” boost of 5%.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
I bought the standard edition of the game since I figured you don’t really see much of your character when you’re driving and the whole point of the game was building your own garage from scratch (and the extra $5 can be put towards some other game, too.) The player is presented with a tutorial level to introduce them to the game’s story, and you find yourself completing a night race in a bright yellow fully customized supercar being chased by the police.
After completing the race, your car gets in an accident and falls off a bridge into the water while your player is almost killed in secret by the chief of police, Lt. Frank Mercer, a name so forgettable I had to look it up for this review. Your character escapes and gives up street racing, setting up a story of night racing and the crooked cops bending the law to their will.
Choose Your Character
You pick a player model to represent you, who’s referred to in the subtitles when he/she speaks as “Player”, and choose one of three starter cars, almost like choosing one of three starter Pokemon. Your choices are a ’65 Ford Mustang, an ’88 BMW M3 Evolution II, and a ’96 Nissan 180SX Type X.
The fourth option shown is a classic ’67 Chevy Camaro SS, but it belongs to the owner of the garage and can’t be chosen. I went with the Nissan just because in the previous two Need For Speed games I had chosen a ’65 Mustang and an ’80s Foxbody Mustang and wanted to switch things up.
The game then introduces you to sanctioned day races for money (or “Bank”) and illegal night races for “Rep.” Day racing poses much less of a risk to your character, featuring cones and no traffic on the racecourse, and earns you cash to spend on cars and parts to upgrade them. Night races, however, boost your reputation, and your “Rep” level determines what parts and cars you can buy.
The Racing Experience — Night and Day
The Day/Night race mechanics in the game felt like a good idea at the time but ended up being an annoyance as I played through the main story missions. There’s a part early on in the game where you drive to a parts shop and find out the owner won’t sell you car parts because he doesn’t know if you, the player, will put them to good use.
The game essentially tells you that while you may have over a quarter of a million dollars in the bank to spend, you can’t upgrade your car because you don’t have enough “street cred” to buy the parts, which is a horrible way to run a business. I regularly found myself grinding night races just to be able to play the main story missions because even when my car’s level was overqualified, I didn’t have enough Rep to play the story itself.
Where This Game Shines
The first 10-ish hours of the game feel like a grind-fest for bank and rep as you try to upgrade your car and complete the main story missions. The grind continues later on in the game but is lessened with your increased experience and ability to unlock races that reward you with both more rep and bank.
I found myself loving the Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport (C7), a car I picked up for $91k in-game. The handling and acceleration were incredible and a huge step up from my heavily upgraded Nissan 180SX. I regularly would annihilate other racers in NFS, finishing races between one and two miles ahead of the guy in 2nd place.
The environments are beautifully crafted — both night and day races looked stunning and provided their own unique challenges associated with them. Some of the story missions require drifting trials, but after those missions, the player can choose to completely ignore the races if they want to.
The player is rewarded after their grind with the ability to unlock some really cool cars to race, and, after seeing the movie Ford v Ferrari, I bought a 2017 Ford GT and have been flying through the streets at breakneck speeds since. Need For Speed Heat provides a fantastic escape for those who’d love to live out their fantasies of being in control of cars they’ll probably never be able to afford. For a sale price of $30, this game is definitely worth it.