Back in the early 2000’s there were two main forces when it came to Stock Car Auto Racing video games, Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing series and EA’s yearly NASCAR titles. Monster Games lit a fire in the genre with NASCAR Heat and cemented itself as a name to be reckoned with. I remember the original titles leaning more “arcadey” than the semi-sim of EA’s titles and the full-sim of Papyrus’, giving those who just wanted fast cars and lots of passing something they could easily sit down and play. Now Monster Games have returned with Dusenberry Martin Racing to reignite that spark with NASCAR Heat: Evolution.
The game is fairly light on options from the get-go, there’s a career mode featuring the full schedule, drivers, and tracks. You can do a whole career, a season, or just play out the chase. There’s a 40-car online multiplayer mode and challenges to pass the time with. The game is fun, but the soul seems to be missing. I’d place the blame on it’s physics, they just weren’t clicking with me. When you play on the default settings, steering and braking assists are turned on. It definitely helps controlling the car with the Dualshock’s joysticks, but the car just feels like it’s being forced to stick; I never really had any sense of control while driving.
The car always felt tight, using a phrase from the famous Darrell Waltrip, “…the car is pushing like a dump truck”. If you’re unsure what I’m describing, because this is your first foray into the sport, when your car is tight, the nose wants to go straight for the outside wall; the car doesn’t feel right. It makes for slow turns with a game that already has an issue with it’s sense of speed. The game runs smoothly, at least while racing. The pre-race and post-race animations are jerky and uncomfortable to watch. Even though the racing is smooth, it never really feels like you’re going all that fast. The upside to all this is that when you are in a pack of cars, it makes it very easy to ride bumpers and slide up along side other competitors without a fear of wrecking. Just banging around with the pack and trying to make passes, clean or dirty, is still a lot of fun. The A.I. is fairly smart about where you are in relation to them and aren’t just stuck on one racing line. The action is surely there, things just need adjusting.
You may be thinking about upping the difficulty or maybe changing the default setting, to which Monster Games has a simulation option. At first this sounds like a no-brainer but I was rather quickly looking to get out of that mode as soon as possible. It’s very easy to miss this change to the physics because they hid it on an advance menu, in the options, by way of a button prompt at the lower corner of the screen. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d simply just think that the physics were as is, no changing. Not so though, with the simulation physics turned on, there is no help for your car and you’re at the mercy of your joysticks. My car went from pushing like a dump truck to rolling around on marbles. If you want to spend the time, you can adjust controller dead-zones and tune the car’s setup to make things feel better, which by the way the simulation physics option is the only way to adjust your car’s setup at all. So if you’re a gear head looking for that fine tuned control, or bother messing around with settings, it’s there; you just have to find it.
The way the game drives is 80% of the game, if you’re not having fun driving then there’s no point. Luckily, even with the lack of a soul in the default mode and the outrageousness of the simulation mode, I still enjoyed the actual racing, I just wish things were better. That leaves the other 20% and to me that’s the career mode. Monster Games had knocked it out of the park with Dirt to Daytona when it came to career and boy were my expectations rather high. I didn’t expect it to be a clone where you start in modified dirt cars and progress your way to the Sprint Cup, but I was hoping for some meat to the career. Maybe that’s why it was such a let down for me when I actually played it. Things started off well enough, I got to customize my driver from a handful of faces and body types. I got to choose my car number and make of car as well. Things took a quick turn once it came to signing my first sponsor. The game decides the design of your car. There is no customization except choosing whom you would like to sponsor the car. Once you do, you’re given a paint scheme and you have to deal with it. Later when it came signing a new primary sponsor they even tell you which manufacturer you have to drive. This wasn’t great, I felt disconnected from it being my team.
The upgrade tree for your shop was basic as well. They separate the upgrades in various tiers but it might as well be a straight line. If you want to put more emphasis on chassis than ties, you could. But the financial costs to do so benefit you more to just go from the least expensive to the most expensive in order. The system could have been incorporated a lot better rather than feeling like I was just checking things off a list. I will say that they do a good job at limiting your performance throughout your first year so that you don’t go in obliterating the field in your rookie season. I felt as if I had to work to get my top 20 finishing positions and as I finally earned enough for some high tier upgrades, could actually make my way up front.
Speaking of paint schemes, typically you’d find various team schemes within a NASCAR game because, well, it’s part of the allure of the sport. Seeing all the different designs that are either one-offs or for special events. It adds to the real-world feel when you load up a race and your opponents are running a special scheme that they raced at that track in the real world. NASCAR Heat: Evolution unfortunately hides this normally standard addition under paid DLC. You want the throwback paint schemes of select drivers that ran at Darlington? Great! You have the privilege to buy them.
Which you’d never even know you could do unless you decided to visit the game’s storefront on PSN. It’s not mentioned anywhere within the menu that you can even get these new paint schemes. There is even an option to download, again for money, a new voice pack for your spotter. I noticed something odd in the options when there was a spot to change the spotter’s voice. Bobby Labonte is the spotter that shipped with the game but you can purchase another voice from the PSN store. This I don’t find as grating as the paint schemes but again, they don’t tell you within the game that this is something that can be done. Until I found out about the DLC, I was beginning to think you unlocked additional voices, which would have been amazing and fleshed out more of that already steep $60 price tag.
NASCAR Heat Evolution is an okay re-introduction to the sport. It’s not terrible but yet, it’s not great. I am excited to see the future improvements and additions they make for a sequel, as this game has the potential to be wonderful. After such a long hiatus, you have to start somewhere.
A PlayStation 4 code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.