NASCAR Heat Evolution Review (Xbox One)
It’s not an exaggeration to say NASCAR fans have been waiting for over a decade for the next great stock car simulation, and while patience is a virtue, it also has its limitations. So, fair or not, the amount of pressure that has been thrust upon the newest licensed NASCAR video game and its developer is already incredibly high because of the years of disappointment that fans of the sport have been forced to endure.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the developer that has taken on the somewhat monumental feat of creating the next great NASCAR game has been here before. Monster Games, the former developer of NASCAR Heat and NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona has thrown its hat into the ring again, this time with NASCAR Heat Evolution. Do they succeed in capturing the authenticity and excitement that their previous attempts did? Read on to find out.
Creating a genuine NASCAR experience on the track is not the easiest of tasks as there are multiple variables involved, and if one component of the equation is off, it can truly ruin the whole dynamic. When trying to replicate what one sees and feels on a Sunday afternoon, you have to take into consideration the physics of the user's car, the AI coherency on the track, the AI competitiveness and understanding, and mesh that together in a fashion that harmoniously works.
Thankfully the developers of NASCAR Heat Evolution have done just that by faithfully re-creating what we as fans see on any given weekend. The driving model that has been created by Monster Games is as good, if not better than, anything console fans have seen before -- regardless what era you grew up playing NASCAR games on consoles. Push your car too hard, you are going to find yourself out of the track's natural groove(s), and your tires will fall off at a much more rapid pace. Slow the pace down to easily stay on your desired groove, and the AI will blow by you and take advantage of your inability to hit your marks. It is absolutely imperative that you find the correct groove at each track that allows you to hit your lift and acceleration marks consistently.
Understanding how to hit your points on each track is incredibly important to the user, but just as important is who is racing beside you. If you spend a lot of time offline racing against the AI, you are in luck with NASCAR Heat Evolution. The game provides well developed AI experiences with digital opponents who will take advantage of your shortcomings in any way possible. Now, please don’t confuse aggressive with cheap and dirty, because the AI opponents in NASCAR HE are not that. They are smart, competitive and lurk while waiting for you to make a mistake.
That being said, the AI also makes mistakes, and it’s incumbent upon you to take advantage of their issues. It is a game of cat and mouse throughout the race, and sometimes you win and sometimes they do, which is a good thing. On top of the stellar interaction with the AI at default, the game allows you to change the difficulty of the opponent at each track to your liking in “race now” mode, so you can set up the type of challenge you want at each and every licensed venue in the game.
For many, this is going to be the mode where they spend the majority of their time, and NASCAR HE provides a deep and fun career mode experience. You will find yourself as a young up and coming driver who is trying to earn his way. As a rookie, you will start with no sponsor but will be given the chance to impress based on how you perform over the course of a few races. Depending on how you do in those races, certain sponsors will want to sponsor you, both as primary and secondary sponsors.
Not only will the sponsorship appear on your car, there is a monetary gain as well. Depending on how well you perform during each race weekend, you will allocate a certain amount of winnings that you apply back into your business -- the business of racing. You will need to build your facility and shops, and once those are built, you then have to sink your winnings back into improving and upgrading your car, teams and facility. Make no mistake about it, this takes time. And depending on what difficulty you are playing on, it can take you up to three to four years to become a top-notch racing team with access to the best equipment. The good news is that as you improve, your sponsorship does too, and of course your ability to earn more each weekend increases as well.
The presentation and immersion is lacking in career mode. You only get a few messages from the team owner, and an occasional tweet from a fellow driver. However, the overall excitement of learning you have earned enough to upgrade to the next level of ability in research and development is completely addicting.
You can set the race distance as low as two percent of the actual race length, or if you are into the “grind it out” type of mindset, set it all the way to 100 percent of the actual race length. So the game allows you to set the pace and length of how long you want it to take to become the next Joe Gibbs or Rick Hendrick Racing. What I found to be so compelling about career mode is that you feel the ups and downs of each and every weekend. There's excitement when you crack the top five, and there is anguish when you wreck -- you feel it all.
You will also find a certain amount of success at certain tracks even with an under-developed car, and have tracks that will absolutely beat you down and make you want to find an office job. In the end though, career mode in NASCAR HE is a deep, exciting and emotional experience. It's one that should not be overlooked, even with its shortcomings in the presentation department.
If you have watched even the smallest bit of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in real life, then you know full well the spectacle a NASCAR weekend provides. Massive crowds, fireworks, banners and flags, pre-race concerts, driver introductions and more. While many will consider this “fluff” and want to hurry past it, it is this type of presentation that brings the immersion factor to a crescendo. Sadly, while NASCAR HE does provide a quick weekend synopsis before each race in career mode, that is where the weekend excitement ends.
While you find over 40 different licensed drivers and every single track that is on the Cup circuit in the game, you will find no flyovers, no pre-race national anthem, no pit-road gatherings and no driver introductions. In fact, the game does not allow users to even celebrate their victory with a burn-out or manually enter Victory Lane because...there is no Victory Lane scene after a win.
If you win, you will simply get a short message from your spotter conveying a quick congratulations, and then you move onto the next race. What limited presentation that is there is handled with care, such as the NBC logo implementation, and the quick videos and history of the track before each race. Hopefully in future iterations the development team finds a way to add more to match what fans see during a real weekend, but keep it quick hitting and always moving forward.
Although the options to race online are extremely limited, what is actually offered runs extremely well and is easy to navigate. NASCAR HE keeps it pretty simple with three types of lobbies: private, normal and no rules. The names of each lobby and what each offer are straight forward. There were not many people available to race at the time of this review, but I did get the chance to race online in 10 or so races. Every single one was smooth, easy to join, and I was able to move to the next race after the current one had finished.
The game allows up to 40 people in a single race, and while that option is amazing, the chances are strong that you will find a nice balance of racing, fun and stability on track with a number more around 12-15 -- maybe 20 if you are part of a legitimate league with drivers who know what they are doing. It would have been nice to see a bit more robust lineup of online modes, but what is there has worked really well in my experiences.
There is no denying the excitement, fun and on-track authenticity that NASCAR Heat Evolution brings in its first iteration, and for that reason alone fans of the sport should find a way to enjoy this year-one effort from Monster Games and Dusenberry Martin racing. That being said, the lack of presentation, track atmosphere and technical accessibility do hold it back. However, the racing and accompanying AI are very solid, and they are reasons why NASCAR HE should be in your rotation if you are a racing fan. The developers have created a solid foundation for the fan base to enjoy for years to come. While it’s a pretty thin in some areas, the game offers an extremely fun career mode and gets it right when you're in control on the track.
Score: 6.5 (Above Average)