NASCAR Heat 3 (PC) Review

By Tomas Barry 01.10.2018 1

Review for NASCAR Heat 3 on PC

Curiously, NASCAR doesn't seem to be anywhere near as popular as it once was. Television ratings and live attendances have been steadily declining over the last decade. Worse yet, the changes to the rules and the structure of the series, which NASCAR made in the hope of rekindling America's enthusiasm for their beloved motorsport brand, only produced even more apparent drops in numbers. Suffice to say, then, the sport itself is currently facing some challenges. Thankfully, though, there's no question that there's still a dedicated audience out there for NASCAR videogames. Monster Games has proven this with NASCAR Heat Evolution, which released back in September 2016. Then again, with its follow-up, NASCAR Heat 2, which added the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series to the series. Now, it is back again with the third instalment, in as many years. Does NASCAR Heat 3 continue the upward trajectory?

Every time a new racing series comes along, a considerable portion of the racing community likely crosses its fingers in the hope that it doesn't become an annual, iterative franchise. Such a structure, for most genres, all but guarantees that progress will come in a tedious and incremental fashion. The most successful and highly regarded racing titles tend to be ones that don't subscribe to this format. This means they can be fleshed out with DLC and mods if that's applicable. It also gives the community a chance to grow and ensures the developer rolls the experience out when it's certain this is a step above its predecessor. To illustrate this, while not a fan of sim-cade racers, it is possible to appreciate the fundamental progress made in the realm of physics and handling between any iteration of Gran Turismo, versus the drip-fed increments found within the official F1 series, which releases every year to coincide with the new season.

Although Monster Games doesn't seem to be stamping the year on its NASCAR entries, it looks like it is going for annual iterations rather than something a bit more measured. This outlines what to expect from the series going forward, unless there's an abrupt U-turn on this approach. As a result, it's crucial to compare NASCAR Heat 3 to its predecessor, NASCAR Heat 2, and ask what areas it improves on and whether it improves enough, as well as how it expands the experience at large. In terms of the latter, the real development is the addition of dirt ovals, which comes in the form of the new Xtreme Dirt Tour. This is a fictional dirt-racing series, rather than anything official, which sees drivers compete on eight fictional dirt courses. This acts as the proving ground in career mode, providing the driver with a tangible place of origin and a backstory, which makes the rest of the career mode experience a bit more meaningful. How does driving in the dirt fare?

Screenshot for NASCAR Heat 3 on PC

NASCAR Heat 3 doesn't strive to be the pinnacle of realism, but it's not a wholeheartedly arcade affair, either. While the dirt component is a welcome addition, in theory, when using a wheel, the experience leaves an awful lot to be desired. Unfortunately, this is down to a fundamental issue: the force feedback is seriously underwhelming and far too light. It doesn't convey the finer details of the tracks and terrain, nor the forces of the car itself, anywhere near as adequately as it should, regardless of settings. This is a problem that, disappointingly, has been carried forward from the last iteration. For standard oval racing, where the road surfaces are smooth and the racing technique is generally more straightforward, this is at least less problematic. For dirt ovals, however, it's a substantially more damning issue, with serious knock-on effects for the immersion and the sense of authenticity.

Racing on dirt, put simply, feels like ice skating. There's nowhere near enough information being transmitted through the wheel, and no sense of the forces the driver should be wrestling with. The terrain doesn't dynamically evolve, either, making it all feel extremely amateurish. Anyone who knows how racing on dirt should feel will instantly recognise a disconnect here. The fact that this experience is more arcade than sim is irrelevant. The generally poor force feedback hasn't been improved from last year's entry at all, and it does not lend itself to dirt ovals in any way whatsoever. It's quite astounding that Monster Games decided to throw this discipline into the mix without addressing that flaw. The only logical explanation is that the developer believes most of the audience plays with a pad, but that's equally mystifying. Steering wheels in racing games should never be an after-thought.

Amazingly, the butchering doesn't stop there. For some reason, NASCAR Heat 3 includes some road courses, too, in the form of Watkins Glen, Sonoma, and Road America. Driving around these is every bit as woeful as you would imagine, as the terrible quality of the force feedback and the awful physics come to the forefront like no other. It really is astonishing that these tracks made it into the experience, because just like the dirt ovals, they only highlight how much work this title needs. Graphically, they lack surface details, although in most other respects they look decent enough. The problem is that the vehicles simply don't behave the way they should, resulting in plenty of ice skating moments and frequent tangents off track, as it's impossible to feel the grip and the traction. When the car goes, there's really nothing the driver can do about it. If one manages to save it, it will be down to luck, not skill.

Screenshot for NASCAR Heat 3 on PC

This applies to standard oval racing, too, the only difference being that it's difficult to unsettle a car in the same way in such a setting. Unfortunately, although the poor handling model and terrible force feedback is less prominent in standard oval conditions, certain other issues do rear their ugly heads, putting a dampener on the main meat of the experience. Firstly, for a contact sport, the collision physics really are dodgy. The AI behaviour, overall, is very good, but when a car loses it, causing contact with others, the results are often hard to anticipate. Computer-controlled drivers often seem to have brick-like reactions to collisions, when a player-controlled car would veer up into the wall immediately. Frequently, if you pile into the side of a CPU car on the high side, they carry on without so much as an adjustment, whilst the player ping-pongs into the inside car and a huge wreck ensues. It's strange the way so many cars that should be consigned to the pile-up get away scot-free. It's as though only half of the logical repercussions occur.

Then there's the way yellow flags are treated. When a wreck occurs, the cautions come out and the drivers must line up for the restart. For some reason, Monster Games has decided to take away the player control during these moments. In terms of functionality, this allows the driver to select whether they want to pit or not, and see some important information like estimated fuel, repairs, and tyre integrity, but there should be a way to see these things on the fly without the need to take away control from the player. It's very jarring and one would think the majority would prefer to remain in charge of the wheel. As an added complication, because the AI takes over the car until the restart, the in-game wheel angle dissociates from your own. When the player is abruptly given back the controls, it takes a second for the steering angle to match your own input, if the player isn't matching the angle themselves. This just feels odd and it's very unhelpful.

Another startling issue with the wheel inputs is that when testing with a Logitech G29, no matter what was tried, it wasn't possible to get the wheel to move past the ninety-degree position, to the left or right. This is a significant flaw that affects things a lot when saving a car that's out of control. Doing so requires a lot of intuitive wheel inputs, but if the wheel input stops once you have reached that angle, even though you can steer your physical wheel further - then obviously your chances of success greatly recedes. This is also extremely jarring in the dirt racing ovals, and whether this is a bug specific to the wheel tested with or a general problem, it's another factor that severely affects the integrity of this racing experience. Given this issue, it was incredible to find the brake and gas rumble motors on our Fanatec Clubsport V3s, which are seldom programmed to work with any racer - did work here! Although its integration was also more annoying than it was helpful.

Screenshot for NASCAR Heat 3 on PC

The best aspect of NASCAR Heat 3 is probably its challenge mode, which drops the driver into specific race scenarios with a target to obtain. Some of these are general challenges, such as leap-frogging five cars with five laps to go. Others task the driver with re-enacting or rewriting moments from NASCAR history, such as 'Championship round' at the 2014 Ford Eco Boost 400, when Newman narrowly missed out on the glory, to Kevin Harvick. The historical tasks are accompanied by very well-made info-burst videos, which are great for new NASCAR fans, the completely uninitiated and long-term fans looking for a trip down memory lane. Pleasingly, there's an ample supply of these scenarios, and their quick-burst nature, coupled with the fact they can be reloaded very quickly, makes them addictive to run through.

Elsewhere, the career mode may not be anything spectacular, but it's at least well-fleshed out. The dirt mode provides a sort of rookie proving ground, whilst the there's also the Camping World Truck, NASCAR Xfinity and Monster Energy series to run. It's possible to invest in a team, which requires a hefty amount of investment and the management of various behind-the-scene elements like staff members and research and development. Avid fans of NASCAR will find this to be a rewarding element of the career mode, but those who prefer lighter participation aren't forced into building a team, either, although they will miss out significantly on team earnings. Overall, there's nothing particularly special in the main single-player meat, but this doesn't skimp on any features in terms of the content. If only the gameplay itself was more polished, this side of the title would feel a lot more worthwhile.

Screenshot for NASCAR Heat 3 on PC

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Some aspects of NASCAR Heat 3 are well done. The challenge mode is absorbing and addictive, thanks to its quick-burst nature and the interesting context of the scenarios. The career mode, too, has been improved somewhat from last year's offering, although it's nothing out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, these elements don't make up for the rest of it. The visuals are sub-par. The engine audio and the sound of the tyres squealing are some of the worst around. The physics, the collision detection, and the damage model are all terrible. Worst of all, the force feedback is so bad it performs like a Playstation 2 era driving game. This was the major issue with last year's iteration, so it's unacceptable that this hasn't been addressed. There was little point in adding new features like dirt racing, with these issues still present. Overall, NASCAR Heat 3 doesn't have its priorities in order.

Developer

Monster Games

Publisher

704 Games Company

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

I'm happy to report that a recent patch has addressed the lacklustre force-feedback. It now feels much heavier and more realistic. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily equate to more usable information and detail through the wheel, but it does improve the experience somewhat. It's a real shame that players had to wait so long for this tweak, and it should have been present at launch.
 

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