Virtual NASCAR fans have been subjected to a special kind of hell over the past decade. A once-brilliant line of EA Sports titles descended into mediocrity thanks to a restructuring of the core staff at Tiburon Studios, before NASCAR themselves awarded the exclusive license to little-known European developer Eutechnyx. Five years of shovelware-caliber releases gave way to what was supposed to be a triumphant return to form for Monster Games – a team who had once worked on the phenomenal PlayStation 2 offering NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona – yet in execution we were blessed this September with one of the worst racing games ever to hit store shelves in the past five years. American Stock Car Racing games have not achieved an acceptable level of quality since Metallica was actively promoting their atrocious St. Anger album, and for an auto racing series that actively competes with the National Football League of all entities for TV ratings during the final portion of their season, it’s nothing short of pathetic to see something akin to a cheap Chinese knock-off product represent the NASCAR brand on modern video game consoles.
There’s just no way around it; NASCAR Heat Evolution sucked, and you are a brainwashed loser if you’re desperately searching for positives in order to kiss up to the developers on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit. The game struggled to hold 30 frames-per-second and exhibited a horrifying Vaseline smear-like visual effect on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with the raw on-track experience clearly indicating Monster Games had simply slapped updated car models and a new user interface on a game they had originally released for the Microsoft Windows 98 operating system in the fall of 2000. I would love to say that deep down, the underlying basic act of driving a car at speed around the track among thirty-nine other Sprint Cup opponents can be quite enjoyable, but NASCAR Heat Evolution simply never functions well enough to get to that point. There are always multiple problems with application stability, questionable authenticity in regards to car physics, transponder glitches, and other miscellaneous technical issues which in some cases surpass what you can on display in notable driving game failures such as Assetto Corsa and Project CARS.
And that’s before we talk about the complete lack of online racing features, such as yellow flags or car setups.
The full extent of the damage these issues have done has now been realized. While DMR and Monster Games have pledged their commitment to saving NASCAR Heat Evolution from the pit of despair with a continuous string of upgrades taken from community suggestions – which really shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place – NASCAR Heat Evolution is dead. Completely dead. The game has not even been on the marketplace long enough to warrant a price drop – still retailing for the full $66 CDN – and yet there are more people covering a shift at your local Wal-Mart than playing NASCAR Heat Evolution for the PC.
Embarrassing? Nah, this is only the beginning. Steamcharts really only tracks the users who have currently booted up the NASCAR Heat Evolution application, and the number really isn’t surprising. First, NASCAR is a series primarily followed by users in the Western Hemisphere, so it’s fairly obvious that there will be an extremely specific group of users playing this game all at once at a very particular time, as evidenced by the valleys in the above chart occurring when most of said users would either be at work or asleep. Second, despite being an infinitely more serious offering that requires weeks of dedication for the average sim racer, iRacing has taken a stranglehold of the PC oval racing market, and basically monopolized NASCAR gaming on the Windows platform. It would have taken an incredibly competent product to put any sort of dent into iRacing’s popularity, especially with how many sportsman cars are modeled alongside the three premiere NASCAR series, but that isn’t to say oval racing fans weren’t actively looking for a replacement.
In fact, on September 28th, 2016, over 2,000 people owned NASCAR Heat Evolution for the PC – indicating there certainly was a sizable group of sim racers that were interested in something a little less serious compared to iRacing. However, by October 3rd – only a week or so later – that number had dropped to just over 650.
Within a span of about a week, nearly 70% of all PC users who owned NASCAR Heat Evolution had requested a full refund through Steam’s support services. Not only is NASCAR Heat Evolution the worst-selling major PC driving game release of all time at a pathetic 2,000 copies – surpassed even by the lowly WRC 5 from last October – it is also the most-refunded PC racing game of all time.
While sales figures have climbed back to 1,458 as of October 10th, these do not indicate the quality of the game has improved; the overall number of owners merely grows after NBC Sports awkwardly push the game on viewers during NASCAR broadcasts each weekend. As a kid, I used to enjoy the segments where the late Benny Parsons, Wally Dallenbach, and Allen Bestwick would use the EA Sports NASCAR Thunder series to demonstrate a technical element of stock car racing to the viewer – partially because the game I could throw into my Xbox was every bit as good as the TV personalities made it seem – but these segments now come across as dishonest and forced considering how laughably poor the new NASCAR Heat product is as a $60 purchase.
So we’ve established the fact that NASCAR Heat Evolution is the worst way to represent the NASCAR brand in an electronic entertainment format, but as some of you may be quick to point out, NASCAR racing as a whole is a very unique sport that only a handful of gamers are interested in to begin with. Sales figures this absurdly small aren’t something to get my panties in a twist over, right?
Wrong. Sales figures for the EA Sports Golden Age of NASCAR Games have been released over on The Magic Box. On one platform alone, Electronic Arts managed to get nearly half a million units of NASCAR Thunder per year out to the general public on just one console. Monster Games were sitting at just under seven hundred a few short weeks ago, with a 70% return rate.
Apples to oranges? Possibly. I am comparing PC sales figures from Steam to mass market games published by the biggest sports gaming company in the industry during the height of their popularity. However, if Heat Evolution was a satisfactory product, it would most certainly sell more than 1,458 copies, and not exhibit a 70% return rate only days after a spike in sales. Quite simply, NASCAR needs to take drastic action. You can’t let Monster Games make another officially licensed Stock Car product, nor can you continue to let them nickel and dime the remaining user base with an abundance of downloadable content that other users are already producing for free over at RaceDepartment.