Need for Speed Heat roared into Gamescom the other week, as EA paired a reveal trailer online with a hands-on demo for show attendees. That preview build let players sample Ghost Games’ fresh spin on the arcade racing franchise: one street racer fantasy, played out across two distinct but intertwining game types.
The difference, as they say, is night and day. Sanctioned events are organised and run during the hours of sunlight, letting you perfect those racing lines and chase leaderboard glory on closed courses. Illegal activities are greenlit after sunset, battling for pole position on the open roads of a street-lit Palm City. But with added thrills comes increased danger: you need to weave through nighttime traffic and escape a growing pack of cop cars.
EA has already talked about the game’s story and car customisation. We also know that Palm City is an open world inspired by iconic landmarks along the US eastern seaboard; the sweeping Georgia mountains, the sun-kissed streets of Miami.
But we wanted to take a longer look under the hood to get to grips with its gameplay mechanics, find out what form multiplayer is taking and more. After a quick spin on the Gamescom demo, we sat down with Ghost Games to talk how the studio is evolving street racing.
Here’s what we found out.
1. A great gameplay loop is tied to the day and night cycle
Key to a successful life in Palm City as a street racer is taking advantage of its gameplay loop. Doing so requires understanding of what Heat, Bank, and Rep are, and how they’re interconnected.
Let’s take those in reverse order. Rep is your player level. You can only increase Rep through night time events. Doing so unlocks more car parts, which will upgrade your ride.
But you have to buy the parts first; that’s were Bank – the in-game currency – comes in. And you can only earn Bank completing daytime events.
And Heat? That’s a score multiplier tied to Rep, active at night only. It increases the more illegal stunts you perform, but there’s a catch. The higher the Heat, the more aggressive the cops get. Make it to a safehouse to cash in the multiplier, but get caught and you’re back to zero. It turns Night into a score attack-style game mode, as you decide if reward is worth the risk.
You can switch from day to night at any time, but you can’t leave the latter until you’ve made it back to one of the safehouses dotted around the map. Given how the systems bridge the gap between night and day, you’ve got good reason to split your time between them.
2. Cops are an ever-present threat
The police will be a thorn in your side in free-roam and during some events as well.
Cops patrol Palm City regardless of the hour, but they’re more aggressive come nightfall. Get spotted and you’ll need some serious driving skills to escape. And as aforementioned, the more Heat you have, the more cops will come. The AI scales according to the threat you present: expect nastier tactics, such as boxing you in between four cars or forcing you into a wall.
One brilliant addition is that finishing first in an illegal street race is only half the battle. Any cops on your tail come the finish line will continue their pursuit post-event, forcing you into a nerve-racking race to the nearest safehouse to cash in your winnings.
Another is that cops will latch on to whoever has the most Heat: drive close to another player during multiplayer to shift the attention of the flashing sirens onto them.
3. Car customisations have tactical benefits
Tap the right button while roaring across Palm City for a quick boost from your on-board nitrous tanks. It’s a staple of most arcade racers today but the studio’s given Noz deployment added depth in Heat.
You deplete Noz a tank at a time, something to factor in when you decide your Noz loadout. Do you gamble on the power a single, massive tank will give, or favour the flexibility of a trio of smaller tanks?
In addition, equipable ‘special’ items are deployed with the Circle button. Ghost Games showed off two: one instantly refills your nitrous, another counters a cop tool that can killswitch your car – though it needs to be timed perfectly.
4. Multiplayer makes the city feel alive
You’re free to keep your street racer life private, but if you want to get involved in multiplayer, the game supports 16-player servers. You’re free to invite racers you meet free-roaming the map to events, keep them NPC-only, or form a party with friends and tackle activities together.
Ghost Games suggests the unexpected events that come from a multiplayer open world is reason enough to keep your Palm City open to all, especially at night.
Because unlike day, events aren’t separated into a private server. Picture the scene: you’re competing in a night race and another player, unrelated to your current event, blasts past with a pack of cops. And in doing so – BLAM! – they cause a pileup that takes out one of your competitors.
It’s just another way that Ghost Games is adding spice to its open-world racer. Palm City looks to be a dangerous place to make your mark as a street racer, but that’s also what makes it so enticing.
Need for Speed Heat launches for PS4 on 8th November. Pre-order the game now.