Racing to the Bargain Bin
Monster Games and Dusenberry Martin Racing made some big promises with Nascar Heat Evolution . The marketing for this game was incredibly ambitious and optimistic. As such, I was looking forward to no less than what I was promised: a true, next-gen return for Nascar Heat with modern trappings and expertly tuned gameplay made possible by no less than five Sprint Cup drivers working personally on the game with developers.
My expectations have not been met. In fact they were dashed rather rudely, and I feel like we’ve been duped by Monster and DMR. I found it extremely difficult to put serious time into this review because the game simply is not fun to play. A discouraging majority of the reviews so far on Steam are from disgruntled sim racing fans who claimed that they had seen everything they needed to see within the first 20 minutes of playing, and they’re requesting refunds. I can’t say that I blame them – this game is not worth $60.
Perhaps Evolution ‘s biggest failure is its presentation. I kept seeing screenshots and thinking to myself, “Well, every game can’t be Driveclub and look amazing in photo mode. I’m sure it looks much more impressive in motion.” It doesn’t. There are a number of graphical shortcomings and distractions that continually put me off, and sometimes they even affected the gameplay.
While driving, you’ll notice two fixed and distinct detail horizons that precede your car no matter which of the three views you’re using. Right in front of your hood you’ll notice the point at which the road begins to render in a finer, more granular detail. Beyond that point things get a lot less detailed, and there’s another noticeable breaking point about 35 yards ahead of your vehicle where fence details constantly pop in, and beyond which the road becomes a gray blur.
Frame rate is also all over the place, and it makes the game feel like an awful mess. Sometimes during a qualifying lap, when you’re the only car on the track, things will roll along at 60 FPS on a straightaway. During turns the frame rate will dip down rather jarringly, but it’s nothing I wouldn’t mind getting used to if I were having fun. When there are 39 other cars on the track, forget about it.
Monster Games’ main selling point for Nascar Heat Evolution , besides the fact that real racers were working on the game alongside them, was the realistic and competitive AI. We were sold exciting races with guarantees of three and four-wide sweeps that would have us on the edge of our seats. In my experience, it’s during those moments of nail-biting three-wide jostles that the game slows to a stutter, with the frame rate dipping down into what is undoubtedly the low teens. When you’re trying to delicately steer your way up out of the apron and back onto the track on the tail end of a tight turn, sudden frame rate drops like that can completely throw you off.
I thought that maybe this was an issue exclusive to the PS4, as games made in Unity often times don’t get along with Sony’s console (for whatever reason). After perusing other players’ impressions on Steam, however, it’s clear that this isn’t a PS4 problem; it’s a Nascar Heat Evolution problem.
I can hear some of you already, chastising me for expecting this humble revival of an older series made with Unity to compete with the likes of Forza , Driveclub , and Project Cars . Well, you’re damn right I do! You pay $60 for those games, and Dusenberry Martin Racing is going to make you pay $60 for Nascar Heat Evolution , so the comparisons – even for things like graphics and performance – are completely justified. Evolution doesn’t hold a candle to those games visually, and the gameplay doesn’t hold up very well either.
This doesn’t feel like a sim racer or an arcade racer, to be quite frank. It’s in a strange and confusing middle ground where you can bump and collide with your competitors with little to no consequence, but you can’t take corners aggressively at all. Your brakes are completely useless, and feel like binary switches. There’s no finessing the break and working the turns. Instead you’ll find yourself feathering the gas pedal by tapping the right trigger like you’re shooting a pistol in Call of Duty to make it through the tricky turns. On tricky, winding road courses like Watkins Glen, this means you have to take things really slow or else be forced to slam on your breaks for each turn.
Veteran sim racers won’t have a problem finding their rhythm here, but for amateurs like me the learning curve was grueling. During the early phases of career mode and for championships I very rarely qualified within the top 30, and in those races I rarely finished within the top 20. The AI does do a great job of blocking you, utilizing multiple lanes, and punishing you for your mistakes. Placing well will earn you cash, which you’ll use to upgrade your team’s facilities and improve your car. That, in turn, will make it easier to win over higher paying sponsors that will dish out huge rewards for placing in the top 15 or top 10. It’s a very linear progression system, and one that I didn’t find particularly compelling.
There is a single race mode as well, but a vast majority of Nascar Heat Evolution ‘s race tracks are locked away until you reach certain levels or accrue enough “speed points.” This was a huge mistake, and it makes the game feel like an incredibly limited, free-to-play offering. Where’s the $5 microtransaction that lets me race on whatever track I want while I’m not slogging through career mode? Having these blocked off is a brutal low blow to casual fans who just wanted to buy this game and take an occasional spin on their favorite track with their favorite racer.
I will say that the netcode in this game is excellent. Racing online, I didn’t experience any significant lag at all. Strangely, I felt like frame rates were much more consistent online than they are during single-player, so that was nice. What isn’t nice is the fact that you can’t talk to anyone you’re racing with – voice chat disabled unless you’re in a party. There are also no caution flags for wrecks, and in two out of the three online modes, there’s no way to automatically kick the jackasses who just want to purposefully run into you or chill sideways in the middle of the road to ruin the race for others.
You also can’t switch your driver between races. In order to do so, you’re forced to exit multiplayer entirely, select a new driver in the single-player Race mode, and then head back. As far as track selection goes, you’re at the mercy of whomever may be hosting your particular lobby or session. This is a little disappointing, as map and track voting have been common in multiplayer games for almost a decade now. I’d love to say that it’s no big deal, and that you can just work out amongst yourselves which track you’d like to play next but, again, you won’t be able to talk to anyone unless you’re partied up.
I’m not sure what else I can tell you. Don’t buy this game for $60. The competition is too good out there no matter which platform you’re playing on. Nascar Heat Evolution could have used another year or so in the oven, and it’s lacking in almost every regard. It’s amazing to me that a PlayStation Plus subscriber can purchase Driveclub for less than $10, but would have to shell out $60 and tax for this piece of work.
Move along, or wait for a sale. Nascar Heat Evolution is a devolution for the series, and even when playing friends online, I can’t imagine how you’d have fun with this game for more than a few hours – if you even make it that long.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.7 Graphics
Screen-tearing, aliasing issues, and constant frame rate dips are distracting and disruptive. 3.3 Control
Cars feel nice and weighty, but you can’t notice any effect from drafting and brakes are useless. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Menu music is great, and cars sound decent. You’ll want to kill your spotter, though, and there’s no way to shut them up. 2.6 Play Value
No matter the mode, the game feels stale and dated within minutes. Wait for a deep discount on this one. 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best