NASCAR Heat Revolution is the first licensed NASCAR title on current-gen consoles, and its existence is a remarkable feat for a number of reasons. The NASCAR series bounced from publishers and developers for the past few generations, and ultimately became overshadowed by racers with wider arrays of cars and tracks such as Forza and Gran Turismo, excellent simulations such as the F1 series, and arcadey franchises like Burnout and Forza Horizon.
The recent revival of the NASCAR series is reason for racing fans to celebrate, and we got two of our favorite Hit The Pass contributors Greg Sewart and T.J. Lauerman to weigh in on it.
Greg: You're a longtime NASCAR fan and someone that we know has a history with the genre on console as well as the people who've come together to make this game. What were your expectations, and have they been met?
I am a long time fan. I’ve been following the sport for over 30 years now. Back in the 90s, the only way to play a good NASCAR game was on a PC. The console games were generally awful. That is, until the early 2000s when Electronic Arts and, for a while, Hasbro started rectifying the problem with their Thunder and Heat series. Suddenly it felt like NASCAR games were being crafted by people who held the sport in the same high regard as I did. The drivers were part of the process, providing their personalities in video clips. We got career modes that spanned multiple years and multiple classes of racing. It was all treated with the sort of respect normally reserved for stick and ball sports.
I must admit my expectations were very high going into NASCAR Heat Evolution. The crew at Dusenberry Martin Racing features some of the folks responsible for the glory years of EA’s Thunder series, while Monster Games is the same studio responsible for awesome games like Heat and Dirt to Daytona.
But were my expectations met? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
T.J.: I'm surprised you jumped into this game. Considering the wealth of new games available right now - racing and otherwise - what prompted you to pick up NASCAR? Is it what you were hoping for so far?
While it is the prime sports game time of the year, I’ve kind of been looking to reach out of the normal “big four” American sports games. I had been a fan of most of the big generations of NASCAR games, from the Papyrus titles, to EA Sports, and even into the Eutechnyx time, though Eutechnyx’s netcode issues had pushed me away from the series in recent years.
I figured with combo of Dusenberry Martin Racing and Monster Games, it would be worth jumping back into the series to see what they’re doing.
So far I’ve been very happy with NASCAR Heat Evolution. I’m not looking for a super in-depth technical racing game on the level of a Forza Motorsport or a Gran Turismo, I’m more looking for something a little more arcadey. Something where scraping a wall, or giving someone a hard bump isn’t going to ruin the entire race for me.
Greg: What's the 'miss' for you? Is it the racing, the presentation, the content? Or, shudder, all of the above?
The racing is mostly fine. The feel of the cars is miles ahead of the last Eutechnyx titles. I have a minor quibble, which is that even touching the brake in the slightest puts your car into a full slide. It’s quite annoying.
The presentation bothers me as well. Not just the fact that the game looks washed out or that the menus and setup options are extremely lacking. I’m willing to let Heat Evolution get away with the sort of “first sports game on a new console” syndrome to a point.
For me the biggest issue is the detail surrounding the race weekends. Sports games live or die based on their authenticity, and I know the crew responsible for this game are big NASCAR fans. That’s why I can’t understand why the experience is missing things like the dual qualifying races for the Daytona 500. I don’t understand why I can’t see other cars’ lap times during practice. In fact, there’s a major lack of telemetry and results for the other 39 drivers throughout the whole experience.
What’s more, in career mode there is a major rubber-band AI issue that you can’t seem to turn off. When I play career mode in a racing game, I’m looking for an experience where I fight for a position each race that reflects the ability of my car. And with Heat Evolution, I thought I’d found it. That is until I realized that the game basically sets a target finishing position for you during each race. And when you get to that position, all of the other cars speed up in order to keep you in that spot.
I could go on. I just expected a much deeper experience.
T.J.: What's your favorite aspect so far? What about a few interesting moments that have endeared NASCAR to you?
For me it’s really been the accessibility. I’ve been able to get into races and go. A lot of other driving games want you to spend hours tweaking your wedge, and I don’t even know what that is.
Launch NASCAR Heat Evolution -> Career -> Race
It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Obviously, I’m looking for something far more casual than Sewart. While I do also wish that there was more depth, I think this is a decent first outing for the team, and I hope they continue to expand the game in the future iterations. Until then, I’m happy to be rubbing and racing without too much penalty.
With so many options right now - racing and otherwise - will NASCAR be in your rotation? If so, where does it fit in? What are you going to do, and what are you not going to do? If not, is it a temporary "putting away"? Or is it permanent?
Despite all of my griping, I do think that Heat Evolution is a good step forward for the NASCAR franchise. As with any initial title in a new sports franchise, I’m willing to look past the warts and see the potential. And this game has a lot of it. It’s going to remain in my rotation until I win a championship in career mode. After that I’ll eagerly await next year’s version. I know it’ll be better.
NASCAR is going to sit in that place for me where games go when I have 20 minutes. Just enough time to knock out a Career race on about a 5% length. I’m not really seeing this being something that I’ll sit down with for hours on end, but it will be more of a change up in my normal sports gaming rotation.