Chalk it up to a change in staff members at Monster Games, a shift in the overall landscape of gaming, or just downright shitty decisions made without the customer in mind, but I’m not as excited for NASCAR Heat as I should be. Sure, the twelve year old trapped somewhere inside me is giddy at the fact that all of our wildest fantasies over the past decade came true – the team behind Dirt to Daytona really did wrestle the license away from the laughable efforts of Eutechnyx and EA Sports – but maybe those blissful memories of slugging away at NASCAR titles on the GameCube will remain just that – memories.
NASCAR Heat is set to release in just over a week for the PC, Xbox One, as well as Sony’s PlayStation 4, and while we’ve applied for a review copy of the PC version, I’ve got a few concerns I feel should be vocalized to kick off the weekend here on PRC.net. Yes, NASCAR is an acquired taste, and this won’t be of much interest to our European readers, but there was once a time when NASCAR console titles were simply phenomenal and truly something to look forward to. After falling off the map with five shovelware releases in a row from 2010 to 2015, the release of NASCAR Heat 2016 is an important milestone; these games are hopefully about to get back on track. Imagine, for a moment, if the Formula One license was given to the guys behind M&M’s Kart Racing for a few years before Codemasters picked it up in 2010. It was kinda like that.
Without the PRC cap on, I’ve combed through as much preview footage of this game that I can find, as well as the reactions of YouTube community members who still subject themselves to the torture that is NASCAR 15. Truth be told, there are more concerns about Heat Evolution than there are reasons to get excited about it. I don’t have a nice way to say this: as someone who spent many hours playing the original PC version of Heat, as well as Dirt to Daytona on both the Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2, the footage of Heat 2016 is worrying.
Judging merely by the speeds each individual tasked with demonstrating the game have been able to reach at a variety of tracks, I personally don’t have a reason to believe the team at Monster Games even bothered to change the physics of the cars to reflect the 2016 rules package. Of course, I could be wrong, and the guys at Monster might be currently throwing shit at the computer monitor after their first thrashing on PRC, but there are significant problems with certain tracks demonstrated to the public over the previous weeks. Atlanta Motor Speedway is a circuit notorious for tire degradation and an overall lack of grip thanks to the track’s ancient asphalt, yet this has not been reflected in any gameplay footage of Heat 2016 – the cars are close to wide open along the bottom of the track, something that doesn’t happen in real life. And while I’m hoping the lack of speed at Las Vegas was due to merely being stuck in traffic, the Generation 6 cars featured in Heat 2016 are something like 10 to 15 miles per hour slower with likeable sim racer Jeff Favignano at the wheel than what could be seen during this year’s Kobalt Tools 400. Again, it leads me to believe the team haven’t even adjusted the performance of the cars, but instead swapped new 3D models on what are actually 2002-spec Winston Cup rides when consulting the internal configuration files.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if Monster Games hadn’t gone out and tracked down no less than three real world NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, parading them around as if they were playing an integral role in the development of the game in the quest for realism and authenticity. I’m not expecting Automobilista levels of simulation value from generic marketing babble, but we’re talking a situation akin to a major Formula One game allowing you to pull off really absurd lap times because the developers weren’t quite acquainted with the source material. Even if the rest of the game was fairly acceptable, it would be one of those things that video games were supposed to outgrow as technology improved.
Aesthetically, my complaints are all over the place. The menus are just not doing it for me, the HUD falls into basic bitch territory, and the cockpit view won’t really appeal to anybody. I get that it’s a novelty to show the driver’s hands and the steering wheel, but you’re taking away a huge portion of the screen to display the internals of a cockpit that are of no use to you, while taking away the sense of speed helping you to drive the car in the process. There definitely needs to be a sim-like dash cam with the wheel and hands removed, placed closer to the windshield, because what you see above is absolute junk. I don’t need a third of the TV screen to be occupied by the window net; I can’t even see it when I’m strapped into my real car.
But let’s talk about an issue more important than any bullshit camera view that doesn’t adhere to my exact standards: Downloadable Content. Look, we all knew that there would be a few extra post-release goodies to come along with NASCAR Heat, as there were for the Eutechnyx line of games, but what Monster Games are planning once this title hits the shelves is something I can’t condone under any circumstances, even with my NASCAR fanboyism unleashed to the fullest extent. According to a recent article on RaceDepartment regarding the situation, we’re looking at somewhere over $20 in additional content for what’s already a $60 game, amounting to little other than alternate liveries and alternate crew chief voice overs. The partial list of DLC for a new NASCAR game should never be this long – and this only includes the content they’re able to announce at this time.
And since the team can’t offer a full Season Pass for whatever reason, you’ll instead be sold four mini season passes that bundle multiple pieces of content together. Price one of these at what appears to be an easy-to-afford $14.99 – reasonable given the cost listed for a simple livery pack – and you’re looking at turning a $60 NASCAR game into a $120 investment.
As a veteran NASCAR gamer, this is upsetting. All of this extra shit used to be hidden away as neat little rewards for playing the ever-loving piss out of the game, not monetized to capitalize on little asswipe kids begging mommy for her credit card.
And I can actually shit on Monster Games even more for this decision. Sure, a savvy businessman can make the argument for a steady stream of post-release DLC, but NASCAR Heat Evolution appears to include some kind of XP system that hands out experience points for doing well within the game. By monetizing all of these little goodies you see listed above, such as bonus liveries and alternate audio for the game’s spotter, you’ve effectively rendered this XP bar sitting at the top of the screen completely useless. What’s the point of even implementing experience points into the game in the first place if you’re going to take out level-up rewards and sell them as DLC instead?
Away from my little meltdown, the final element I’d like to address in this post is something Paul Jeffrey from RaceDepartment touched on in a reply to one of his articles. Despite NASCAR Heat Evolution originally being announced for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, the PC version of the game is strangely absent from recent promotional material. I mean, maybe they know the console versions of the title will greatly outsell the Steam version, which will really only be purchased by curious iRacers, but this is… Interesting…
And while I can confirm that I was indeed able to apply for a PC review copy of NASCAR Heat Evolution when the application link was emailed to me a few weeks ago (I could also apply for an alternate copy on a different platform), Steam doesn’t even list the game. Instead, there is a suspicious 2016 Season Update for NASCAR 15 that absolutely zero people were interested in to begin with considering NASCAR 15 was a steaming pile of shit. Why is there a need to update a redundant game with new liveries, when the new game everyone will flock to is set to come out in less than two weeks? What’s going on here?
I’m sure I’ll enjoy my time with NASCAR Heat 2016 to some extent once I get my hands on it, but aspects like the ones I’ve covered above are starting to deter my metaphorical hype train in the direction of modest expectations mountain. Hopefully Monster Games will be able to prove me wrong, but they’re not exactly starting off on the right foot.