When I’ve previously chosen to talk about the upcoming officially licensed NASCAR title by DMR games, I’ve done my absolute best to portray the game in a positive light. No, I’m not a viral marketer secretly sitting on the payroll; I’ve just been around the block a few times, and I’m fully aware how much this new partnership means to the NASCAR gaming community. Looking back to the days of the atrocious EA Sports releases to close out their deal with NASCAR at the end of the 2008 Sprint Cup Series season, the one thing hardcore American Stock Car Racing fans have been continuously praying for across message boards far and wide was for somebody to resurrect the Dirt to Daytona developers from whatever purgatory they were in, and basically pick up where the 2002 masterpiece left off. As a community, we sat through two or three garbage EA Sports products, and dealt with not one but five abysmal Eutechnyx offerings – complete with message board moderators looking to create a Fourth Reich – so to have our prayers finally answered almost exactly as they were once written on message boards many years ago by disgruntled NASCAR fans… It’s hard not to be in a celebratory mood, or at least try to put a positive spin on things.
The original NASCAR Heat was great when it first launched, and is still used as a modding platform by a dedicated group of individuals today. NASCAR Heat 2002? Eh, it’s a fundamentally sound racing simulator, but you’re much better off finding a copy of the fabeled Dirt to Daytona for exponentially more content. Oh, and then there’s that Test Drive: Eve of Destruction game that barely anybody talks about, but is bloody brilliant in its own right if you’re cool with kicking back and smashing into people. So when I saw NASCAR Heat Evolution in action for the first, second, and third time via raw gameplay footage of development builds, I was sold the moment I realized Monster Games weren’t straying too far from the original formula. In fact, they seemed to be using the exact same engine that everybody had fallen in love with over a decade ago – an engine that didn’t need any sort of fixing whatsoever.
But then the official trailer dropped today. I’m like, kind of shitting my pants right now. This game looks absolutely brutal. As a fan, this is not what I wanted to see at all. We are in a special kind of hell, and our wishes have been granted in the most sinister of ways. Yes, there will be an officially licensed NASCAR title by Monster Games – that much has been granted. However, the people behind NASCAR Heat 2016 are clearly not the same group of talented individuals responsible for the near-flawless Dirt to Daytona we were graced with over a decade ago.
The track models look phenomenal, I’ll give them that. But for whatever reason, someone in the art department of Monster Games decided the process of smearing oil-based skincare products over your television or computer monitor was the appropriate direction for the game’s art style. If you pause the 55 second trailer linked above at any given spot, you’re greeted with what is the absolute worst looking racing game on next generation hardware. This kind of visual quality would barely pass as a PlayStation 3 game, let alone a $60 title for the Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4. To add to the blurry mess, cars appear to be coated in a layer of Vaseline, damage and smoke effects are decidedly last-generation, and the outright lack of anti-aliasing is extremely odd to say the least. Aside from the obvious improvements in lighting effects, the game visually looks like an exceptional third party mod for the original NASCAR Heat.
Now, I wouldn’t mind downloading a mod that looked like this, because it’s a clear improvement over the game’s vanilla content that first saw action in 2000, but nothing in this trailer indicates this is worthy of being called a fully-priced retail title that will launch in September of 2016 on next-generation consoles. The car models sit too high off the ground, and the Toyota’s in particular look almost deformed compared to the real cars – something you can easily notice in the opening shot with Hamlin and Truex, and I’ll drop the original here so you can compare the two. It honestly look like Monster Games based their Toyota model off a die-cast car they found on eBay, and that’s uh, not the wisest of decisions.
So we get to the part where I dissect the handling, and I guess it’s important to make a bit of a disclaimer here. At some point during the developer diary video DMR Games released earlier this year, and again during the awful hour-long Twitch stream by that guy who had never touched a driving game in his life, there have been several mentions that NASCAR Heat 2016 will include a hardcore handling model. I saw it with my own eyes while DeeJay Knight was browsing through the options menu, and as someone who owns all previous NASCAR Heat entries, enabling the hardcore handling model completely changes how both the tires and suspension behave as a cohesive unit – essentially turning it into an entirely different game.
DMR Games have made no effort to show off the Hardcore handling model as of yet, and unfortunately, this means the entire trailer linked above was filmed with the default set of babby-tier driving physics. Nobody wants to see this. Seriously, from the driving displayed in the trailer alone, this looks like a fucking iPhone game on par with Real Racing 3. That’s not cool. If this were 2004, a period when NASCAR was thriving and most tracks were over capacity during race weekends, I’d understand the desire to appeal to a casual audience. However, NASCAR is literally dying in front of our very eyes, and the only people who will pick up this game are the diehards who love the challenge of driving an unstable Stock Car. If NASCAR is putting massive banners over entire sections of the facility because the casual fans simply don’t give a shit, why are the folks at DMR games even bothering to cater to these people? Why not focus on the role Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano played in development, right? Instead of showing cars glued to the track like an iPhone game, maybe focus on the fact that there are a few extremely talented real-world drivers helping with the project, and that their skills directly transfer over to Hardcore mode?
Actually, what happened to that whole thing? Early in Heat’s lifespan, it was announced by DMR Games that the two most prominent Team Penske Sprint Cup drivers had signed on to aid with the game’s development, as well as provide help for the development team over a multi-year timespan. Aside from appearing in a goofy TV spot that served absolutely zero purpose, we have heard nothing about their involvement. On the contrary, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season shipped with an entire selection of setups created by Dave Blaney’s #77 Jasper Engines NASCAR Winston Cup team, as well as an abbreviated tuning guide written to help people get started on adjusting things on their own. Should we expect something similar from the Penske boys? Or are we just going to be thrown more awkward commercials?
Lastly, I want to talk about the sound and user interface quality seen in the first trailer for NASCAR Heat 2016. Again, they’re both awful. I own a copy of the original Heat, and as Will Marsh noted in his own analysis of the trailer earlier today, some effects – including the engine tone – have been left untouched. That’s right, we’re going into a PlayStation 4 release using Stock Car sound effects recorded in the spring of 2000. And the user interface? Gone are the days of Dirt to Daytona’s polished menu and garage screen, operating under the guise of a laptop sitting comfortably on your own personal pit box. Floating, translucent boxes with barely-legible text appear to be what NASCAR fans will be graced with come September. The garage menu is an unorganized mess of numbers and settings, and I do not look forward to navigating through this garbage.
There’s a chance – albeit a slight one – that a few options menu adjustments and other minor oddities will turn NASCAR Heat Evolution into an entirely respectable NASCAR product, the likes of which we haven’t seen in almost a decade. However, from the underwhelming trailer, to the disastrous attempts at showing off the game to the public, and even the lack of a proper beta to generate feedback from knowledgeable individuals, we may possible be in for yet another pathetic attempt at a NASCAR title.