Not everyone who reads PRC.net is a hardcore NASCAR fan, so I’ll try to make this introduction as brief as I possibly can. After years of the license to America’s most popular racing series bouncing from Electronic Arts to the lowly makers of Ride to Hell: Retribution in Eutechnyx, NASCAR finally found a home with Monster Games – the same developer who had created a killer officially licensed title for the Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2 during a time when exclusivity deals simply didn’t happen. Unfortunately, the prodigal return of the license to a veteran stock car racing developer after almost a decade spent in a metaphorical hell was anything but a celebration, as the many years Monster Games had spent working on titles such as ExciteTruck and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, along with the allegedly unusable assets inherited from the Eutechnyx franchise, meant the product Monster Games shipped in September of 2016 was pretty horrifying – nothing like the return to form most were expecting.
While many fans – including myself – lashed out at the clearly rushed package and penned lengthy odysseys detailing every last flaw and shortcoming with NASCAR Heat: Evolution, a vocal minority begged for the immense criticism to subside, pulling the age-old excuse “it’s their first try in X amount of years at a major NASCAR release, show them support with your wallet and maybe the next game will be a lot better.”
Unfortunately, there might not be another game from these guys to begin with.
Away from the hyper-critical confines of PRC.net, NASCAR Heat: Evolution has been universally panned by major gaming websites, as well as practically any NASCAR fan with a modern internet connection. Aside from Polygon’s glowing score of 75 – highly questionable due to their previous demonstrated incompetence when playing skill based video games – other established outlets noted Heat was a decidedly average experience with no shinning moments, whereas NASCAR fans themselves were significantly harsher when it came to dishing out user scores. Obviously, a combined average score of 4.1 speaks volumes about NASCAR Heat’s quality.
Developers make bad games; this is something that happens all the time and is almost unavoidable now thanks to how technology has progressed, as well as the current state of the industry valuing profits and schedules above the artistic aspect of game development. However, the entire reason for Heat’s existence in the first place was to move on from the previous string of bad officially licensed NASCAR titles dating back all the way back to early 2011, and obviously it didn’t play out the way they wanted it to. It’s hard to believe a sanctioning body so sensitive to how they’re portrayed on store shelves like NASCAR is wouldn’t put their foot down in this situation. Pure speculation, sure, but as I said, Heat was created to try and break this chain of bad games. It didn’t happen. You bet your ass DMi and Monster Games were on an infinitely short leash from the beginning, and it’s not hard to see where this might be heading.
When plans to resurrect the Heat tagline were first announced by DMi Games, the product that eventually became NASCAR Heat: Evolution was never explicitly implied to be the first entry in a multi-year franchise as we typically see with mass-market sports games, but instead a one-off project. Though the initial press release stated Dusenberry-Martin had obtained the rights to create NASCAR games until 2020, Heat Evolution was treated as just that – Heat Evolution. So I’m under the impression there was a clause in the contract allowing NASCAR to bail early if the product wasn’t up to snuff.
Circumstantial evidence of this can be seen in the $10 USD 2017 Monster Energy Cup Series DLC that recently came out, which adds the 2017 NASCAR season to Heat Evolution in a very limited fashion, suspiciously not allowing you to race the new season of cars online against your friends – which is something basically anyone who bought the package would obviously want to do. Even with the nicest of developers fueling the project, most yearly sports games don’t do major season updates like these – you’re forced to wait until next years’ game for the updated list of drivers and circuits – so the act of pushing out a severely limited season update package like this raises a red flag or two.
The execution of the package is also quite sloppy for what it offers, with contingencies and windshield banners varying across all 40 vehicles – as if the DLC was just sort of slapped together at the last minute, with nobody at Monster Games giving enough of a shit to check for consistency across all liveries. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable of vehicles feature the Monster Energy Cup Series logo across the windshield, while the Hendrick Motorsports cars still rock the abbreviated driver names from last season, and entries such as Matt DiBenedetto’s #32 Fusion don’t feature any driver name over the window or series decal under the A-pillar at all. These kinds of sloppy mistakes are something you’d expect from an amateur painter over at NNRacing.com posting work-in-progress shots of his own free carset on the forums, not a developer with the official NASCAR license selling you a 2017 season update on Steam.
With a hastily released 2017 Season package that can’t even get the official series decals appearing on all of the cars, and won’t allow you to race against your friends with the new update, I’m under the impression something is happening behind the scenes we’re not aware of. This kind of shoddy workmanship and strange restrictions usually indicates a studio is in the process of backing away entirely from their project.
When NASCAR fans have inquired about a sequel to NASCAR Heat Evolution, obviously hoping their purchase last September was not made in vain, DMR Games have responded by saying there is “no news yet on a future iteration of NASCAR Heat: Evolution.” Copy/pasted responses are commonplace on the game’s official Facebook page, with elaborate suggestions written by passionate NASCAR fans given an almost automated response by the lone PR staff member in charge of the account, saying they will take the ideas into consideration – highly unlikely to happen if the next game were to come out later this year. The complete lack of excitement from these responses makes it hard to believe something brand new, or even a basic announcement about when we’ll learn about the next game in the franchise, is around the corner.
And that wouldn’t be surprising.
NASCAR as a racing series is dying a slow, painful death. With dwindling TV ratings, non-traditional race formats driving away fans, and support series races on Friday and Saturday that are completely unwatchable due to the abundance of wrecks, the brand’s reputation is at an all-time low. Most auto racing fans have chalked up NASCAR events to be a form of motorized wrestling – an assumption occasionally vocalized by the drivers themselves. As a result, they are now in survival mode. They cannot be complacent with how their brand is represented in the public eye if they want to stop bleeding viewers every weekend, and I would not be surprised if their notoriously shitty licensed video games – in this instance, NASCAR Heat – will be on the chopping block in some fashion.