Hustle by day and risk it all at night in Need for Speed™ Heat, a thrilling race experience that pits you against a city’s rogue police force as you battle your way into street racing’s elite.
Need for Speed Heat is a racing game set in an open-world environment called Palm City, a fictionalized version of the city of Miami, Florida, and its surrounding area. The in-game map features diverse geography, including mountainous areas and open fields. Unlike Need for Speed Payback, the game does not include a 24-hour day-night cycle, but players can switch between day and night. During the day, players can take part in sanctioned race events, which reward players with cash to spend on new cars and upgrades. They can also take part in illegal street races at night, which would earn players REP. The more REP player earns, the more aggressive the police will be during the night. Players must escape the cops and get back to their safehouse, before they are busted, or their car is wrecked. When players return to a safe house, the REP they have earned during the night will be multiplied by their "Heat Level".
If players are arrested, they will lose their REP multiplier, but will still receive their unmultiplied REP. The REP multiplier mechanic works similarly to the Speed Points multiplier from Rivals. The game also features a storyline in which the players interact with the city’s police force, led by authority figure Lt. Frank Mercer. Players can smash neon flamingos hidden within the map, which rewards them with a small amount of money or rep depending on the time of day. They can also find graffiti, referred to as "Street Art" in the game, and send it to the livery editor to use it on their car(s). Lastly, they can complete activities around the open world such as smashing billboards, beating scores on drift zones, getting the highest speeds passing through speed traps, and going the longest distances when performing long jumps. Players may complete "Crew Time Trials" which allows them to complete short timed events in an attempt to get the #1 spot on the leaderboard in their crew.