Racing games are one of my favorite genres. From arcade racers like Cruisin the USA to racing sims like Forza, me and Ricky Bobby have one thing in common; We Wanna Go Fast! The difficulty with many race games is trying to balance the arcade with the sim. Some race titles ignore the balance and go all in on the arcade (Mario Kart, Crusin’ the USA) or they go all Simulator (iRacing, Assetto Corsa, or Project Cars). Others try to find a balance between arcade and sim this is where the majority of racing games fall; some execute the balance successfully, many fail horribly, and a few find their place in between. Then if a very specific theme is added into the mix the game is expected to deliver on that theme.
NASCAR Heat Evolution is one of those games trying to balance theme, simulation, and arcade style racing. It does a pretty decent job at two of the three.
NASCAR Heat is an arcade racer attempting to create an overall simulated experience. The default setting for damage requires being involved in a serious wreck to have the car’s performance affected as a result of the accident. When it comes to car tuning (an essential part of NASCAR racing) the only available options are tire pressures, radiator tape, and wedge. These are adjustable during a pit stop and that’s pretty much it. This makes the overall driving experience accessible to anyone but ignores the details that would satisfy a gearhead. Worse than the lack of adjustments available, when they were made they didn’t seem to affect the drivability of the car quite like it should. It always felt like I was trying to fight the car from pushing through the corner, I could never adjust it enough so the car would break loose and spin out. This pushing effect makes cornering difficult.
NASCAR Heat nails the theme right on the head. All tracks on the NASCAR circuit are present in the game and are executed with precision. One really good example is the inclusion of the bump in the track while entering turn one at Charlotte Motor Speedway, hit it just right and the sparks fly from the car’s front splitter barely scraping the track surface. The graphics aren’t the best as there’s still a lot of evidence of old anti-aliasing technology especially when using cockpit/drivers seat view. The racing action is close quarters and fast paced as NASCAR should be. The AI drivers traded paint on the short tracks and would even push back if they felt they weren’t given their racing room, a small rivalry system would have been a fun addition. The one thing that was missing in this title, was the ability to celebrate after the win, a good burnout and donut session after taking the checkered flag is a pretty essential part of the NASCAR experience.
Included within that theme is a solid challenge mode where pro drivers will dare you to out perform them when given a similar circumstance to one of their career highlights. Some of these challenges are extremely difficult to accomplish or out do. But it takes the time to set up the scenario accurately although the whole thing may play out differently than what occurred in real life.
The career mode is realistic and annoying. You start at the bottom of the NASCAR ranks as to be expected with any career mode available. For each race you gain fans, and money. As your fan base builds your sponsors get better and pay more for each race, the secondary sponsors pay on performance conditions. For a bit of extra immersion the pros you race with send you tweets at major milestones and big accomplishments as you move up the ranks. The money earned is used to purchase facilities and upgrades for your race team. These upgrades help with engine horsepower, aerodynamics, and tire grip while racing. The upgrades get extremely expensive and require either lots of races or some great performances. The improvements and upgrades were noticeable during practice and qualifying; however, these improvements seemed to be mirrored in the other cars I was racing against. I felt that I had gained no ground and had no edge above any of my surrounding competition. With each upgrade getting more and more expensive it takes more and more races to even keep up with the 40 driver field. At this point the career mode got really annoying, but I pressed through the rough stuff as was able to eek out some decent finishes to boost my earnings for some more upgrades. After a short streak of decent performances and two short course wins, I hit another progression wall…. While I have had some great experiences with this game, the fickle speeds of my career opponents was inexplicable and discouraging. After finishing 2nd in the standings of my sophomore driving season I started a 3rd season, I expected to qualify mid pack and would have to do some work to get a top 10 finish only to see that after all the money I had earned and then spent on upgrades in the previous season equated to a 33rd place qualifying run… I was caught totally off guard by this and had to turn the game off for a while.
The online multiplayer is organized in a really unique way. It has three separate modes, one being a no hold barred free for all with full contact and no rules. Cars were flying everywhere, driving around the track back wards hoping to cause wrecks it was crazy and a little fun. The overall online experience was a short lived. I was only able play one session, by the time I had done some career and challenge mode racing and returned a week or so later the servers seemed to be empty. The enjoyment found in this game for me wasn’t in the multiplayer arena the effects of the players who were just messing around, had too much of an influence on the players who were racing seriously. While the open lobbies are virtual ghost towns every once in awhile you can join a hosted lobby, hosts can boot you if t
hey don’t like you’re driving style or they feel you’re too good. BTW trading paint on the short tracks is guaranteed to occur regardless of how clean of a driver you are…..
The overall my experience with NASCAR Heat Evolution was a positive one. As a fan of NASCAR racing the game delivered solidly on the theme and the racing wasn’t terrible enough to break that experience, but when it came to the career mode I felt just a touch on the cheated side as I kept hitting progression walls that seemed more like setbacks than having a difficult time moving up the ranks within NASCAR elite driver roster. I’d recommend this game to any gamer who is a NASCAR fan as it’s one of the best installments for the franchise since EA lost its exclusive contract, but it does come with a loss of realism. In my opinion, NASCAR races are won more in the pits and by the gear heads, tuners, and chassis adjustments than they are by the drivers that sit in the cars and steer left; unfortunately many of those elements are missing in this particular title and the ones that are make little to no difference in the way the car handles.
-Great execution of the NASCAR theme
-Career mode has initially fun experience
-Team managment has realistic feel
-Overall graphics are pretty good
-Best NASACR installment since 2009 (bar was really low to being with)
-Car handles like a tank, regardless of the tuning options I choose
-inexplicable progression halts in career mode
-online community already sparse