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  • Writer's pictureNick930

Need for Speed: Heat vs Payback

Updated: Dec 28, 2019

Welcome back everybody to the 100th episode of Direct Comparison! In today’s episode, we’re going to take a look at the recently released Need for Speed: Heat – and see how it compares both visually and from a gameplay perspective, to 2017’s Need for Speed: Payback.

Reflective surfaces are N4SHeat's best improved feature

Both games are being run on the PC with the settings cranked up as high as possible at a 1440p resolution – though for the sake of image clarity, I will have the motion blur option disabled.

Car Models

Now obviously the first thing you’re going to notice here is that the coloration and reflective surfaces have been changed a great deal, but I’ll expand on that during the lighting portion of this video.

Same model, new lighting

Note the jagged edges around the taillight and gas cap

As far as the vehicle model itself goes, there’s very little that’s actually been changed here. All of the same details are in exactly the same place and appear just as crisp. However, there does seem to be slightly more aliasing in Need for Speed Heat, which is odd considering they both utilize the same Temporal Anti-Aliasing method.

Other than that, there’s really no noticeable change here. It’s likely that the exact same models that were use din Payback have been recycled into Heat, but with some very minor changes to the default cosmetic appearances in some rare instances and a drastic improvement to their reflective properties.


N4SHeat takes place in a fictional Miami

Both Need for Speed Payback and Heat offer large open-ended environments to race around in – but the choice of location is drastically different. Payback takes place in a desert city inspired heavily by Las Vegas, with several winding canyons, long stretches of desert road, and the neon lit streets of Fortune Valley’s casino district. Need for Speed Heat on the other-hand – takes pace in a fictional version of Miami – with bright beaches, some classic 80s inspired architecture, and lots of rural cliffs and farmland off to the east.

But despite this potentially more colorful – lively locale, Need for Speed Heat feels almost lifeless. There’s fewer civilian vehicles on the road on average, and I have yet to find any pedestrians walking on the sides of the road like in Payback. The pedestrians in payback didn’t look particularly great, but it did add a little bit more to the world that feels odd to not include in a location like Miami.

Textures however, have been improved upon a great deal. Things like grass, roads, trees, and even small things like fire hydrants and traffic lights have all seen a nice bump to their polygon count and texture resolution.


One of Need for Speed Heat’s biggest changes has been to its lighting. Heat offers some fantastic reflective surfaces throughout its game world, from its many vehicles and shop windows, to its large water surfaces and beautifully done wet environments during and after rainy weather. However, Need for Speed payback does boast a full dynamic time of day system, allowing for more variable lighting conditions. Heat only offers static lighting effects, with a few different randomize preset conditions selected whenever the player decides to flip between night or day. It feels like a step back, though it does seem to be done for the sake of benefiting the design of the gameplay mechanics. The lighting still functions about the same, with minimal volumetric properties but still some decent godray implementation, and the new reflective surfaces really help make the experience feel more immersive than before.

Reflective surfaces look great now


Street lights cast no shadow

Because the lighting is now static, Ghost Games were able to improve the shadow quality of environmental objects significantly, with softer edges that appear more natural. Unfortunately, the nighttime shadow effects are still disappointing, as street lights still fail to cast shadows of the players vehicle. Though daytime shadow projects of player vehicles appear more diffused and realistic this time around, and the shadow render distance has been extended.


This game rains 90% of the time

Next up, let’s talk special effects. One of Heat’s most impressive new effects is its dynamic weather system, that allows for heavy rainstorms to quickly form and create that oldschool Need for Speed Underground feel. Need for Speed Payback doesn’t feature any sort of rain effects because of its desert setting, though in its place are some pretty solid smoke and dirt effects, especially when offroading. There’s a few areas where you can offroad in Need for Speed heat, but the focus Is primarily on street racing.

Damage also appears to be just as arcade-like as it was before, with the vehicles requiring several big hits to be destroyed, though Need for Speed Heat does offer a ton more dynamic physics based props to smash through, including large trees that typically stop racers dead in their tracks in arcade racing games.


While there’s certainly a lot of similar design elements through, Need for Speed Heat offers a pretty significant change up to the gameplay loop over its predecessor. First off, the separate vehicle classes from Payback have been removed – meaning you no longer need to choose between street racing, offroading, or drift cars to compete in events. But this doesn’t mean there’s less cars to choose from. In fact, Need for Speed Heat starting vehicle roster is significantly larger than Need for Speed Paybacks – and even features some cool classic cars to race around in, inspired heavily by the older need for speed games.

One of the biggest complaints made about Payback was its implementation of randomized loot upgrades for vehicles, making it a chore to improve vehicle stats. Thankfully, this has been removed entirely – and players now simply need to rank up their racer with reputation points and earn money to purchase the upgrades they want. There’s a ton of vehicle upgrade options, including several different engine, chassis, drivetrain, and auxiliary modifications – along with an exhaustive list of different cosmetic changes to let players build their ultimate street racing machine.

One of Heat’s most unique design choices though, is how the day and night cycle works. As I said before, there’s no dynamic time of day in need for speed heat.

Instead, players can manually select when they race, with cash being rewarded for participating in daytime events, while reputation is typically awarded for competing in illegal nighttime races. On top of this, late-night races also draw the attention of the local police, who can interrupt races and can even be bribed with money to back off. To encourage players to participate in these night time events, players can earn bonus reputation points by completing more race and evading the police, but will need to secure these points by safely escaping to an unlocked safehouse – adding a sort of survival twist to the experience.

The changes made certainly add a more oldschool feel to the experience – and remove the annoying randomized nature of the previous game and cut out a lot of the unnecessary back and forth required with the different vehicle classes.


Need for Speed Heat offers a number of technical improvements, including improved texture resolution, higher quality reflective surfaces, and some interesting changes to the gameplay design. Though with the removal of the dynamic time of day, and a sizable decrease to the amount of pedestrian and random traffic, the world does feel a bit less lively.

But, what do you guys think? Do you think Need for Speed Heat is an improvement? Or do you prefer the design of Payback Let me know in the comment section.

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