Saturday, September 17, 2016

REVIEW: NASCAR Heat Evolution

On Tuesday, Dusenberry-Martin Racing released NASCAR Heat Evolution, the first NASCAR video game for PS4 and XBox One.  I've been on track since Tuesday, and I have to say, my reaction to the game has been what it has been all through development: meh.

When you first fire it up, NASCAR Heat Evolution gives five racing options: Race, Challenges, Championship, Career and Multiplayer.  Race is just what it sounds like, allowing you to pick a driver and jump right into on-track action.

Challenges allow the player to participate in real-world racing action, with the player getting a second chance at accomplishing something a driver wasn't able to do in real life.  The first challenge that unlocks puts you in the cockpit of Brad Keselowski's "BRAD" Ford (beer sponsors are not in the game, along with Clint Bowyer's 5 Hour Energy).  A pretty basic challenge, you start inside the top 20 and need to win in 5 laps.  I even downloaded the Toyota Challenges pack that gives the player four more options with Toyota drivers.  Same as the Keselowski challenge, I blew the competition away.

The Championship mode is just the basic season mode, where the player can take their favorite driver all the way to Homestead to fight for the Sprint Cup.

Career mode allows the player to create a driver and start them on a NASCAR journey.  You first get a pretty crappy car, and through good finishes, race winnings and sponsorship deals, you can work to improve your car's performance.  Until then, you'll get to find out how Matt DiBenedetto feels as you fight hard for a Top 25.

Multiplayer promises 40-player lobbies, creating the most authentic NASCAR experience online.  Unfortunately, I haven't found any rooms with that many players.  In fact, the one online race I did play was one-vs.-one match because only one other player stuck around for the actual race.

After playing with it for almost a week, the whole game feels like it was rushed to the shelves.  The graphics looks like they're out of a game from last generation, which is really irritating.  The handling of the cars is a little off, and this is probably due to weird physics.  Don't try to brake while turning the car, the back end will just step out on you and you'll have to correct your driving to save it.  I shouldn't be able to get around Martinsville without braking, but that's exactly what I had to do.

Get used to this view. It's the only one you're going to get.
The game also doesn't offer custom paint schemes.  In the old games, I would spend hours to make the perfect paint scheme to take to the track, and then I would take pictures of it in racing action.  But I don't even have that option in this game either.  In fact, the pause menu doesn't even give you any options other than Resume, Restart or Exit Race.  The only way you can get a screenshot is to use the Share button on the PS4 controller (I don't know what this means for XBox).

The game also lacks many simple abilities that we take for granted in racing games.  You have to flip between the HUD, so you can't see your lap times and your car's damage at the same time.  The camera is also locked into position, so you can't look around your car.

Overall, NASCAR Heat Evolution is a major misstep.  This game offers less features than NASCAR '15, but at least it costs three times as much. 

Would I buy this game again?  Yes, but not for $60.  This bare-bones racing game is not what NASCAR fans deserve after suffering through bad iterations the past few years.  I think it's time to give the license back to EA and let it go.

Final score: 5/10.

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