Brutal Ownership Figures Reflect the Abysmal State of NASCAR Heat Evolution

14567416_617516225088686_2514342258468770841_oVirtual 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 suggestionswhich 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.

heat-playersEmbarrassing? 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.

nascar-ownersWithin 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 viewerpartially 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.

nbc_nas_downforceanimation_160708So 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.

thunder-salesApples 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.

bowyer

Understanding the Engineering Behind a Papyrus Classic

uwtdrnyIt was a different time, a different era, and a different mindset. Racing simulators were once complete games, supported by loyal community members long after allegedly superior titles arrived on the market. When Electronic Arts secured the exclusive rights to the official NASCAR license over a decade ago, and sim racers learned NASCAR Racing 2003 Season would serve as a final goodbye for the legendary development team Papyrus Motorsports, hardcore virtual auto racing enthusiasts didn’t have enough time to pay their condolences – they were too busy modding. Over the past fourteen years, NR2003 has become an interactive history book in a way the real-life NASCAR Hall of Fame could only dream of; American Stock Car Racing’s past, present, and future have been passionately chronicled down to every last obsessive detail thanks to sim racers with a bit too much time on their hands.

If Dale Earnhardt hit the track in 1990 for practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a tiny contingency decal that was accidentally applied in the wrong cluster by a nervous rookie crew member, you can race that exact car.  If you were curious as to what the now-demolished Ontario Motor Speedway would look like on the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule, you’re welcome to take a lap. If your uncle once told you stories of racing late models in the 1990’s, the entire field he competed against – including his car – is probably available for download. If the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a museum, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season is a virtual time machine.

But limitations to the underlying engine have caused many to lose interest in this title. Yes, at one point in time, NR2003 was the pinnacle of modern PC racing simulators. However, the planned obsolescence on the part of Papyrus quickly put NR2003 into the past as American Stock Car Racing progressed into the 21st century. Rumors of Sprint Cup entries producing upwards of 1000hp and generating ridiculous downforce figures resulted in real-world performance benchmarks that the Papyrus experience simply couldn’t match. With NASCAR Racing 2003 Season hard-coded to just four preset physics types, all of which were based on NASCAR Winston Cup, Busch, and Craftsman Truck series rides from the final portion of the 2002 season, the simulation value of NR2003 dropped with each new rules package change. Sure, the screenshots may indicate Dale Earnhardt Jr’s #88 Axalta Chevrolet is available for the landmark Papyrus simulator, but under the hood, it’s still driving like his #8 Budweiser Monte Carlo. And while you’ve undoubtedly come across shots of the Dallara DW12 turning laps at Indianapolis within the NR2003 engine, the game itself believes you’re driving a 2003 Chevrolet Corvette C5R from the SCCA Trans-Am Series.

verizon_ics_3A friendly Russian fellow going by the name of JJ Hemp is looking to change that, and bust the aging NASCAR Racing 2003 Season wide open for sim racing modders who desperately need a dedicated oval racing platform, as other titles simply don’t want to accommodate stock car racing. Posting under the nick of RaceReady78 on the small yet fairly active NR2003 Subreddit, Hemp has made an active effort to both understand and document a powerful physics editing tool for NR2003, one which could turn a now-aging piece of software into the rFactor of Stock Car racing. That’s right – NASCAR Racing 2003 Season could actually make a comeback.

Has this been done before? In short, yes. The tool Hemp is using was briefly circulated shortly after the release of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, yet the landscape of sim racing at the time warranted drastically different results. With the future of PC racing simulators still largely up in the air – rFactor was a few years off, and nobody was sure what would happen to Papyrus as a company – those who attempted to work with this tool and upload their results for others to enjoy were pursued legally by the company now known as iRacing, discouraging anybody from making real progress with NR2003 from a physics standpoint. While both a historic Group C Prototype offering and 2005 IndyCar Series mod were eventually uploaded to show how much potential NR2003 still had as a legit modding platform – and each release was praised by sim racers – the harsh reality of dealing with John Henry and other iRacing representatives in a court of law became too much of a risk for the average modder. Those who did step up to the plate were basically destroyed financially, even if hilarious quotes from the litigation made iRacing to be the bad guy in the court of public opinion.

iRacing was scared the community could produce a better product than what iRacing would eventually become; the physics editing tool was promptly shelved and treated as a collectors item; the Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card of the NR2003 community. Those who could use it to its full potential simply moved on to other games, unwilling to deal with iRacing’s bullshit.

nr2003ss0012Hemp doesn’t give a shit, and today I’m extremely happy to bring you this exclusive interview with a guy who could possibly breathe another ten years into the life of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season.

PRC: Alright, to start things off, you’re not a guy in the sim racing community that anybody knows a whole lot about. Like, you’re not a “name” so-to-speak, so I guess the smart place to begin is to just sort of introduce who you are, how you got into NR2003, and the basis of what you’re doing here. Because this is something a lot of people will be interested in.

Hemp: Well originally, I’m actually from the Russian Federation, but I’ve lived in America for fourteen years. I’ve been playing PC games ever since the first Pentium 133 came out. Thinking back, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season came out around the same time I landed in the United States. However, I didn’t learn of the game until 2007-ish. I got a two year degree for Automotive Technology, so around 2007 myself and a buddy of mine were working in a mechanics shop. To occupy our free time, when there was no work (it happens), I simply googled “best NASCAR racing game PC”, and I’m sure you can guess what the result was. Being familiar with PC gaming as a whole, how to install games, hunt for fixes, stuff like that, installing the game and running the default content wasn’t much of a problem.

Before I knew it, we were putting laps on a laptop at work. Even with the keyboard, the game was something special, and it was the highlight of working at that auto shop with my mates. Fast forward to signing up for Valve’s Steam platform, I made friends with a few people who were really into NASCAR, and I started talking about this killer NASCAR game I used to play at work. They were initially put off by the whole “it’s from 2003” aspect, but it was one of those “they don’t make shit like they used to” type deals. So we got the game up and running for like five different people, and all of a sudden we discovered the modding aspect of this game. Like, hundreds of cars, tracks, mods, series, you name it. My buddies and I went through everything, driving all the different cars and tracks we could find – which was a lot.

Eventually, I started really combing through the NR2003 scene, and stumbled upon a page with a physics editor. Within minutes I had the thing on my desktop. But trying to figure out how to even start the program is complicated. After three days of editing the wrong text files and trying to figure out why nothing worked, I finally got it and made my first change. From there, I started studying the numbers and the values. Lots of them are still unknown, but slowly I’m moving through them all, one by one.

My best approach was to start coloring the Excel files. I would use different colors for the different values, and their individual purposes. That helped me to visualize the differences and similarities between the game’s physics. In my opinion, the game is so solid and nicely made that having an ability to mess with the car physics is like taking chess or checkers and making your own unique rules. Discovering the physics editor made me buy a Logitech wheel within a week, because I realized I’d stumbled upon much more than just an old game with a lot of mods.

I just really enjoyed the freedom to actually feel the differences that you make within the internal numbers. It’s like a game within a game. I’m lucky to be fascinated by all this stuff, and have my work benefit the community if it gets to that point.

1963-86-castles-smallPRC: Early in the lifespan of NR2003, efforts to make substantial changes to the underlying car physics were met with legal action by the company we’ve eventually come to know as iRacing. Are you aware of the fact that what you’re currently doing – editing the EXE – was something people were once taken to court over?

Hemp: I’m aware, but I’m also informed. When I was combing through stuff about NR2003 online, sure, I read all the articles about the scary lawsuits. However, when searching in detail, you can see that those guys got sued for distributing their mod along with a full copy of the game – a stand alone mod, if you will. You could basically download, lets say the 2005 IndyCar mod, delete the 2005 IndyCar content, and you’d have a perfect vanilla version of NR2003. That’s what iRacing didn’t like and got pissy about. Opening the EXE and modifying the source code is illegal. However, physics editing is nothing more than comma separated values. It’s just like another INI file with nothing but numeric values. Editing physics has nothing to do with cracking source code.

That is why we will never have double file restarts, overtime, and all of those goodies. With the physics editor we can simply change numbers that the game uses to make calculations, but that’s about it. In my opinion, physics editing alone opens a sea of possibilities. Editing the physics Excel file is the same as tweaking settings in text files – it’s not reverse engineering the EXE, it’s a spread sheet with a bunch of numbers that the game uses.

I’m not here to create a superior product and cut down on iRacing sales, but rather start a database on how to give this old game a facelift.

nr2003ss001PRC: With many modern racing simulators available, all of which advertise themselves as highly sophisticated modding platforms, why instead continue to dig into NR2003?

Hemp: Sophisticated sounds good, but is it really better? All of those games, including rFactor, have an ability to mod by default. The NR2003 editor has been around for ages, but due to corruption within the community – egos and all that – it;s been hidden for years as a collector’s item. Now that it’s available for the public, I think someone should fill in the blanks on exactly what it is, and what it does. I wouldn’t waste my time on rFactor as there are probably hundreds of people with more knowledge in regards to that game, but with NR2003 this is all new and uncharted territory. And with those stalker sites who love to run around, power trip, and bully people who have access to this stuff into staying silent, I’m here as a third party to bust it all wide open.

On a more serious note, the reason I’m setting my sights on NR2003 is the current state of NASCAR gaming. Were the Eutechnyx titles any good? No. Is the new NASCAR Heat any good? No.Was that NASCAR Sim Racing from 2005 any good? No. Meanwhile, there are still people who love this game and play it every day. Why not try, right?

3mfiowcPRC: The NR2003 community can be a strange, hostile beast; one where aging men embark on relentless cyber stalking campaigns over the mere quality of custom car templates. Have you faced any adversity from this community over your work?

Hemp: I’ve read all about that stuff. For now, nobody is messing with me. In my opinion, what they have done in the past is far worse than trying to mod a game or repost a template. It’s rediculous to the point I can’t begin to comprehend.

Personally, I don’t belong to any online racing community or anything like that, so I couldn’t care less about my overall reputation among the established NR2003 warzones and template makers. I’m simply here as an independent guy to show everyone what happens when an already great game has even more great things in it. The fact that the physics editor has been around for years, hidden by “elites” and used as a bargaining piece, is something that disgusts me.

main-difference-picturePRC: Let’s talk about your current project, the 1963 NASCAR Grand National Series. Your goal, I guess from the view of an outsider, is to turn NR2003 into a 1963 classic stock car racing simulator. Can you tell us what you believe the mod – physics and all – will look like when everything is completed. What can sim racers expect out of your first major release?

Hemp: Well let me stop you there. GN1963 Edit is nothing more than a way to show you the changes you can make in the text file. It’s much easier to choose which way you want to increase or decrease your numbers. I’m simply going through the fields in the editor trying to figure out what they are. I document my knowledge just so if anyone asks me a question about the editor, I would have a picture to show them.

I can also teach and explain, but regarding a final release, on top of cyber stalking and everything that goes on NR2003, we are not talking about any release or anything like that. Think of it more like a Wikipedia page dedicated to the physics editor, with GN1963 being a “perfect example.” Sim racers should expect every question about the editor to be answered, so they can get to work. That’s the main goal. It’s not a mod or a physics set, but a tutorial for other people.

As you know, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season has four types of physics: Cup, Busch, Truck, and Trans-Am. Each mod uses one of those four specifications. Within the editor, there are tons of unknown values, so it’s impossible to know exactly what they mean. However, by comparing the values for different physics, we can start to guess the general approach.

The reason I chose 1963 cars is very simple. They are very different from the cars we already have. The first steps are very clear; make an engine that has less power, and represents an old 427. The chassis is longer, the weight is heavier… Point I’m trying to make is that there’s a huge difference between these cars, and the default cars. It’s easy to take a swing towards a 1963 car feel. Make “good fields” worse, make “fast fields” slower, make “light fields” heavier. If we are trying to go from 2003 spec cars to 2016, how would we know if we’re on the right track unless you actually drove both cars in real life? Well, with a 1963 stock car, it’s much easier to tell from a modding standpoint if you’re getting it right. We can all guess how an old car drives or should drive compared to a modern stock car. A lot of the values in the spread sheet are real life numbers and dimensions. So you can easily just substitute real life numbers and be 100% correct. That still gives hope for many more edits that could be claimed as correct.

Am I done with understanding what all the values mean? I’d say I’m approaching 50%. It all comes down to the scale of how many things you want to edit. My goal is to document the process of figuring out the values in the editor, and what they mean in a manner that’s understandable for big mod teams. I’m here to simply talk about the physics and show what the editor is and what it can do.

gn63-0-tiny-lundPRC: Do you intend to release a final version of the 1963 physics as a sort of “prelude” to the second coming of the NR2003 modding scene?

Hemp: Hopefully not. My ultimate goal is for other people to use my documentation for their work own work, which would undoubtedly surpass my own efforts. Whether they build a physics set for the 1963 Grand National season, or the 2012 IndyCars, I don’t really care. I’ll race anything. I just saw a situation in which there was this extremely powerful tool out there, and nobody really knew how to use it. Honestly, you have to be stupid to ignore the possibilities of this program.

A lot of knowledge in regards to NR2003 is hidden or lost, plus NR2003 is so universal in terms of adjusting different things, and making models/mods and all that, it’s impossible for one person to know and be able to do everything. We don’t just need new tracks, or new car models, or new physics, we need all three at once. That’s the real deal and it’s what I’m hoping comes of this. In a year or two, I hope there’s a renewed interest in this game because the Papyrus magic was allowed to blossom into something more than just “look at my new car livery.” I want this to become on-par with rFactor, where teams can use my guide and suddenly within NR2003 there’s this historic 1970’s Trans-Am simulator with authentic physics that everybody’s driving.

nr2003-2016-07-14-18-06-34-25PRC: A big hurdle for many sim racers to get over is the ancient Force Feedback found in NR2003 – it pales in comparison to what we see in modern simulators. Have you found anything that could potentially lead to modders re-engineering the game’s dated force feedback?

Hemp: Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about Force Feedback. The physics editor is merely a set of numerical values; horsepower, torque, length, weight, and so on. It has nothing to do with the source code or opening EXE files to look into. You do feel the differences you make, so you’ll feel the car being heavier or less grippy in certain driving situations, but the core logic for Force Feedback has nothing to do with the editor. Someone more advanced will have to do stuff like that. Personally, the ability to have a simulated race alone or with friends with any type of car that modders will come up with will overshadow what some will call dated force feedback. NR2003’s AI and overall racing experience is that good.

Personally, I own a cheap Logitech Driving Force Pro, so any sim I play isn’t going to feel what the hardcore guys will want it to feel like.

main-pic-you-wanna-show-about-shortcutsPRC: What kind of quirks have you found while working on your project? There are rumors of the Pontiac chassis being the fastest of the four brands, and the cars gaining an extra 25 horsepower in overcast conditions. For as many accolades as the original Papyrus team received for NR2003, what kind of shortcuts were made under the hood?

Hemp: Oh man, I’ll be crucified if I talk about that. When it comes to the Pontiac rumors, I haven’t found any proof. There is only one set of values for one chassis. The track file will choose the chassis, and that’s it. There is, however, a hidden Chassis 0 that anyone can try without mods or anything. Just change your chassis type to 0 in the track.ini file. That one is very interesting, and it helped me to understand the general meaning of a few of the unknown values. That chassis has a different 450 engine with more torque and power, it has a set of tires no other chassis uses, so those are a dark horse as well. Also, it has a horrible drag coefficient of 0.82, versus the 0.53 found in the regular cup car. I wonder if that was their representation of an old muscle car? It has a drag coefficient of a brick, that’s for sure. Or it might be a hidden gem or an extra test chassis for them. Including chassis 0, and all four physics, there are close to 24 unique cars available in NR2003. I wonder if iRacing’s issues to fit new cars in have anything to do with that number.

Extra horsepower during certain weather conditions are hard-coded into the EXE, they have nothing to do with the editor. The game will take initial horespower from the editor and play with it however it was programmed to do it. I don’t doubt weather conditions have an effect on horsepower.

I don’t have a super deep knowledge of the game, but from looking at the numbers for hours I’ve indeed found a few shortcuts Papyrus took. The biggest one in my opinion is the physics themselves. Almost everything aside from the fields in the editor which depend on chassis type have been copy-pasted; meaning, the short track chassis for all four physics sets has the same value. The Craftsman Truck has different aero properties, tires, rims, and a different engine compared to the cup, but for the most part it’s a carbon copy of the Winston Cup physics. This is absurd, as if you took off the body work and lined the two vehicles up side by side in real life, they are most definitely not the same race car.

In terms of the Busch series car, the only values Papyrus changed were weight, wheelbase, and engine – although at the time this was somewhat realistic because the cars are extremely close to one another to begin with. So when the Busch series physics were first put up for download, it was actually nothing more than a few lines of code. That’s what the editor says, at least. I do not know what else goes on in the EXE itself, and I might be terribly wrong, but if I am making a 1963 physics set as an example, they didn’t try hard at all when creating the Busch series physics. I understand it is largely the same as the Winston Cup car, but the numbers say it was a very rushed job.

nr2003-2014-07-24-18-53-39-59While JJ Hemp still has an exceptionally long way to go in terms of research, curious modders intrigued by the possibility of resurrecting a Papyrus classic can sample his documentation by clicking HERE for the first edition of his Engine documentation, and HERE for the first edition of his Chassis documentation. The physics editing tool for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season can be found HERE. Hemp’s Reddit account, where he routinely updates users with progress he has made during his research, can be found HERE.

You Can Get a Refund for NASCAR Heat on the XBOX One

maxresdefaultLast Monday, our review of NASCAR Heat Evolution for the PC went live, as DMR Games released the highly-anticipated oval racing title on Steam 24 hours earlier than we expected. It didn’t take long to plow through everything the game had to offer and discover why many of the hardcore sim racing news outlets – including traditionally positive publications such as Inside Sim Racing – were not provided with a review copy; Heat needed another year in development, and was simply not ready to be placed in the hands of the general public. Framerate problems and laughably dated audio highlighted a laundry list of complaints, which combined to form a video game barely worth twenty dollars, let alone the sixty dollar asking price. It drives sort of okay with a controller – much better than the previous Eutechnyx offerings – but there’s just too many technical issues and strange design choices for this title to overcome. Unfortunately, I’m one of those poor souls who couldn’t get a refund from Steam, and I’m left to pray my $60 will go towards a much better outing next year, but everyone else should really steer clear of NASCAR Heat Evolution.

csevv1musaaolid-jpg-largeWhile I was fucking around with the PC release, eventually discovering that online sprint races could be pretty entertaining with a competent group of users, my buddy bought the game off the Microsoft Store for his Xbox One. Throughout the week we’d been shooting each other texts about our initial impressions, and it wasn’t long before his complaints echoed many owners of the console version of the title. I knew the game wasn’t very good from my own experience, but I was still able to have a bit of fun with – just not sixty dollars worth of fun. Dan, who usually is quite accepting of video games regardless of their quality, told me the game was “still in beta”, and that he dropped it after a night of play; trying to forget that he ever purchased it.

I got to try the Xbox One version of NASCAR Heat Evolution for myself at his place this morning, and it immediately became apparent why he had yet to complete a single race; NASCAR Heat Evolution for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is dangerously close to being a scam. The only reason there is not some sort of class action lawsuit occurring, is because consumer product laws haven’t caught up to how people play and enjoy video games.

Brad Keselowski may be my favorite NASCAR driver, but I’m extremely disappointed with how he has handled the promotional aspect of NASCAR Heat Evolution. DMR Games have shipped an unfinished product which does not respect the customers who have paid full price for it, and it’s pathetic to see someone in his position blatantly mislead customers with carefully worded social media posts dancing around the fact that NASCAR Heat is awful. The game’s performance on the Xbox One is downright unacceptable; the only reason you’re not hearing more about it due to the fact that it’s not a Batman game. Now Monster Games claimed NASCAR Heat Evolution would be capped at 30 FPS on consoles, but the reality is that frequent framerate drops and miscellaneous stuttering fits call this value into question – a big deal when you consider how much precision is required for any kind of realistic racing game.

On the PC, these performance woes can easily be rectified by a trip to Memory Express, but Xbox One owners can’t currently do that because… well… it’s a console. A lot of aspects about modern video games are 100% subjective, but application performance is objective. Project CARS on the Wii U was cancelled entirely because it couldn’t achieve a steady 30 frames per second; NASCAR Heat Evolution performs about the same on far superior hardware, but yet it’s on the shelves for sixty dollars.

darlingtonVisually, I think DMR Games are extremely lucky no consumer laws have been put into place that establish an acceptable base level of quality for any modern video game. All preview pictures you see of NASCAR Heat Evolution have been taken from the Steam release, as the Xbox One version of the title does not resemble any images of the game you see posted online. There is no anti-aliasing to speak of, and as someone who still puts time into PlayStation 2 games on a regular basis, the visual fidelity of Heat falls somewhere between EA’s NASCAR 09 for the PS2, and 2005’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted for the Xbox 360. If the gameplay is good, I can overlook certain visual elements that aren’t up to par with other products, but Heat is almost eleven years behind the curve, while replicating the performance instability of an original PlayStation offering. It is genuinely surprising just how bad this game performs on consoles from a technical standpoint, and that’s before we address the issues found in the 4,000 word review published last Monday.

But on a positive note, Microsoft will let you get a refund for this game.

4myxboxWith fifteen minutes to kill before NFL Sunday began, and our illegal stream of NFL Redzone running in the background, I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to just ring up Microsoft and ask for a refund – he was just a tad too stoned to articulate himself correctly. There had been rumors… of sorts… that Microsoft allows one full refund per year of a digital purchase, and even if we couldn’t get one, at least we’d receive some kind of definite answer by talking to a live customer service rep. Again, Dan’s complaints of this game weren’t petty; NASCAR Heat Evolution on consoles is something I have no problem saying is dangerously close to a scam after trying it myself. This game is in such a despicable state, it should not have been allowed to reach store shelves.

originalWhile I didn’t catch the name of the guy that helped us out on this one, the Microsoft Support rep that took the call for Xbox Live user FeebleBarbecue today deserves a solid pat on the back. We were connected to a customer service rep in less than ninety seconds, and I gave an incredibly basic rundown of the situation:

“My buddy bought NASCAR Heat from the Microsoft Store, the game’s framerate is all over the place, and it’s several years behind visually. We looked online for a fix or news on potential updates, and messages boards are full of awful reviews saying they’ve taken the physical copy back to the store because it’s so bad. Is there any chance my buddy can get a full refund on his Microsoft Store purchase?”

The call lasted less than five minutes, and our anonymous Microsoft rep asked some extremely basic account info questions just to confirm the situation and enter it into their database. There was no fighting with some Indian guy whose name clearly wasn’t “Mike”, or an older woman who was moonlighting as an escort; our boy instead compared it to the issues seen in the Battlefield 1 beta, and immediately sympathized with the numerous technical gremlins when he saw the game’s release date was last Tuesday.

“It sounds almost the game’s still in beta, cause some of the guys around here are Twitch streamers and they ran into the same things with Battlefield 1 a few weeks back. Now your options are to try and contact the developers directly and alert them of all the bugs you’ve found, or I can just refund the purchase to the credit card…”

Boom, done. It’s obviously not something you can do with just any game that you aren’t fond of, but if you dial 1-800-469-9269 after purchasing an especially monumental pile of shit from the Microsoft Store with a growing list of negative feedback online, the five minutes out of your day to physically call up the Microsoft support line is a surefire way to receive a refund for an unsatisfactory product.

martinsville

 

It’s Not Very Good: The Review of NASCAR Heat Evolution

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-19-18-28-17It’s nowhere near the evolution that was advertised. In fact, I feel lied to, cheated, and misled about what I could expect from the final product. Dusenberry Martin Racing and Monster Games didn’t have to do a whole lot to improve on the horrid line of Eutechnyx NASCAR games that we’ve been subjected to since the spring of 2011, yet somehow they’ve still managed to royally fuck it all up. Despite dusting off the classic NASCAR Heat engine that once won over the virtual oval racing community over a decade ago with NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona, and repackaging everything in a much prettier product – complete with all the drivers, liveries, and locations of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, NASCAR Heat Evolution for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 is a racing simulator you’ll want to skip out on this year. To give credit where credit is due, the game looks fantastic and drives quite well with a gamepad after minimal tweaks, but this game simply wasn’t finished, and forcing consumers to pay $66 for something that would barely classify as an Early Access title after five years of mediocrity is inexcusable. Do not buy NASCAR Heat Evolution.

My review may be loaded with a significantly higher level of salt compared to other sim racing outlets, but there’s a method to this madness. I’ve been following NASCAR since 2001, invested a ridiculous amount of time into oval racing console games dating back to the time when franchises like NASCAR Thunder and NASCAR Heat were brand new, and on weekends, I race 4-cylinder hornets at my local track – in fact I’m actually the points leader with two races left in the season.When a release like NASCAR Heat Evolution comes up on the calendar, it’s not just a yearly NASCAR game to dissect and bitch about as an angry sim racer – this is a game that holds a bit more weight to it, and it’s supposed to carry a whole lot of people through the off-season. I didn’t look forward to Evolution solely for the lengthy hostile review that would inevitably boost traffic on PRC.net for a day; this is what my buddy and I were supposed to spend all night playing after getting stoned on New Years. To North American NASCAR fans, these games were once the perfect remedy for late nights and rainy afternoons. Resurrecting the Heat franchise from the dead was intended to recapture some of that magic.

Monster Games have failed in spectacular fashion. This is a fucking joke.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-19-52-43-55My rude awakening came at the title screen, when I was promptly informed that my multiple input setup would not be compatible with NASCAR Heat Evolution. The team haven’t done the greatest job of alerting the public as to what wheels would be compatible with the PC version, so here’s the big surprise – if you have any sort of mix & match sim racing setup, where your pedals are from one brand, and your wheel is from another, and you’ve gotta use a couple of USB inputs for all of your shit, you’re fucked. However, Monster Games have made things even worse by not outright telling you in the main menu that multiple inputs aren’t supported; they instead direct you to this bizarre fucking text file inside a barely-used folder on your PC that forces you to configure your wheel by hand, and only then will you realize by combing through the configuration file that the game probably won’t allow you to frankenfudge two inputs into a single text document.

That’s right, we’re nearing the end of 2016, you’ve got a 1080p High Definition camera in your pocket at all times, but Monster Games point you towards a text file just to configure a sim setup that isn’t compatible with their game anyway, and they just sort of hope you figure that out.

dfgtThis wouldn’t be such a big deal if the original NASCAR Heat didn’t support multiple inputs flawlessly, but we’re already at 650-ish words, so I’ll just drop a screenshot of my Thunder2Heat install perfectly recognizing both my wheel and pedals despite using 2 USB inputs to connect to my PC, so y’all shouldn’t have to spend much time contemplating why I’m so pissy at the moment. Monster Games literally re-used this exact engine seen in the screenshot below, yet somehow can’t support controller functionality that they’d included back in 2000. Good fucking job guys.

heat-2016-09-12-20-09-27-92

But, and this is a massive but, the NASCAR Heat console games of yesteryear didn’t drive all that poorly with a traditional gamepad. In fact, while the EA Sports games could be hit or miss from year to year, the three Heat games (I count Eve of Destruction as part of the Heat series) had phenomenally tight controls. Now considering 2016’s Heat Evolution is running on the exact same driving model and physics engine, I can’t say I’m too disappointed I’m forced to bust out the Xbox pad on launch day. If the game built around the classic engine provides a satisfactory experience, I’ll still be able to enjoy myself to some extent, rather than pouting in a corner believing I’d wasted $60 CDN on another shitty NASCAR title.

I figured I’d head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and run some shakedown laps just to get a handle on things, and dial in the pad controls to ensure I’d give the title a fair shot, wheel or no wheel.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-15-04-42-18Whatever asswipe made the decision to lock more than half of the tracks away from the user at the start of the game deserves to get the boot from the development team. Unlike Formula One 2016 or every other officially licensed racing game, where you can fire up the executable after it installs on Steam and just sort of drive wherever you feel comfortable, Heat Evolution  purposely withholds two thirds of the game’s 20+ NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tracks behind a padlock until you’ve reached the appropriate driver level. That’s right, if you live a couple miles from Phoenix International Raceway and it’s a ritual of sorts for you to turn laps at Phoenix on each new NASCAR game, or you fancy some road course action at Watkins Glen, you won’t touch these facilities until at least four hours of playtime. You’re handed Experience Points for finishing well in each race regardless of whether you’re online or offline, but rather than using these points to unlock goodies such as alternate liveries or spotter packs, you literally aren’t allowed to drive more than half of the tracks on the NASCAR schedule unless you grind away for XP in Single Race.

The goodies that should be unlocked after reaching a new driver level? They’ve been taken out of the game and sold as downloadable content. I’ve tried downloading a couple of the free livery packs currently available on the Steam marketplace, and they still don’t show up in my game.

The whole concept is just awful.

ss_cbc37149ebef5f03a7d9fbde91f081ece3ba6a21-1920x1080So a lot of people probably want me to stop bitching and would like me to elaborate on how this thing drives, because eventually I did calm down enough to turn some practice laps at Kansas.

To my surprise, it’s actually quite good. In fact, it’s better than I remember Heat being back in the day on the GameCube. The underlying physics engine, tire model, and overall vehicle dynamics haven’t changed one bit, but they didn’t need to. It’s not an arcade racer by any means, not quite simulation to the extent the classic Hardcore Mode cheat would allow for, but it’s also not quite the simcade bullshit like you’d see from Forza Horizon or the earlier Codemasters F1 games, which had all sorts of handling oddities. Heat feels really natural to drive after you drop the sensitivity slider to the minimum value in the options menu, and drop the wheel lock setting in the garage menu to six or seven degrees. Most of the trailers appeared to have been played on the Normal handling model, but anyone reading PRC.net should be smart enough to switch that shit to Simulation if they’re dumb enough to pick this up.

What the game does well, and it’s something that really impressed me, was how force feedback is handled. There isn’t a whole lot of vibration going through the controller to begin with; vibration only occurs during understeer or oversteer, and that might piss some folks off. It could be personal preference, but I find this to be awesome. When the car starts pushing on the exit of the corner, and the front tires are struggling to hold grip, you get that little bit of buzz in the controller and instinctively you know to back off. Maybe I just know what to look for when driving a virtual stock car, but the way they’ve done force feedback really lets me manage wear on the right front to an extent I’ve never been able to do previously. Especially when it comes to the mile and a half circuits on the cup schedule, I found myself being able to really wheel the car and drive at 95% or even 98% attack when previous NASCAR console games had me sitting around 85% with a pad just to keep things from going haywire.

Yet when you try to play NASCAR Heat 2016, not just hotlap to check basic vehicle dynamics, that’s when things start to fall apart in quite unique and almost inspiring ways. I’m truly impressed in that Heat Evolution is just as useless as the Eutechnyx titles, but Monster Games have found different ways to achieve the same result as those abominations. The game is beautiful in that you never know when or where it’s going to fall short of expectations next, and better yet, when it’s going to impress you with elements of the game that could be good, but aren’t.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-15-05-47-78So let’s start with the most obscure, petty shit you can find.

A big part of the ad campaign behind NASCAR Heat Evolution was the fact that real drivers were involved in the development of the game as legitimate stakeholders and not just paid shills. Dusenberry-Martin paraded the likes of Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, and Brad Keselowski around by saying that not only did they endorse the game, they actively helped suggest improvements and were every bit as essential to the development of the game as the developers themselves. Brad Keselowski even went the extra mile to write a blog post about how he was part of the first generation of race car drivers to really “get” video games, and that he couldn’t wait for NASCAR Heat Evolution to hit the shelves.

No less than five Sprint Cup drivers had a hand in the development of this title, and none of them pointed out to developer Monster Games that Generation 6 Sprint Cup entries don’t feature a rear sway bar. So in Heat Evolution, you can essentially hit the track with a car setup that’s been illegal for four seasons of competition and run circles around the AI cars.

Oh yeah, about that…

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-15-51-45-25Another big selling point of NASCAR Heat Evolution was supposed to be this dynamic artificial intelligence that adapted to your driving skill and got faster as you got faster. This is complete horseshit. It’s a slider that goes from 80% to 105%, just like the original NASCAR Heat from 2000, though it auto-detects your lap times on the fly and merely suggests the skill level you should be racing at when the post-race screen pops up. There is nothing new or revolutionary about this at all.

ai1Now I have two distinct opinions in regards to the artificial intelligence found in Heat Evolution, and there’s a reason I’m split down the middle on the matter. The AI cars are extremely competent and some of the best AI I’ve ever seen in a racing game. They respect your position, race you hard, don’t dump you at random times, and in general are a pleasure to compete against. If you get into them, they aren’t granted super-human grip, and they’ve made some extremely nice, realistic looking saves that will slowly be making the rounds on YouTube as the NASCAR console community start recording their offline sessions. Honestly, they’re very nicely done.

That is, if you’re slow.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-19-37-02-30This is not a problem most people will run into when playing NASCAR Heat Evolution, but if you’ve got years of sim racing experience under your belt, and/or you happen to drive some sort of amateur oval racing car on the side, you can run circles around these fucking guys on the highest difficulty. Again, they’re not terrible to race against, and if you stuff up a qualifying run, navigating through the pack is genuinely enjoyable. However, in one of my first races, I made two basic setup adjustments and put the car on pole by three tenths of a second. After a short twenty lap event at Kansas, I was ahead of the car behind me by over eleven seconds, and had lapped about half of the field. This is after less than twenty minutes of driving, piloting the car with an Xbox 360 controller on the hardest difficulty.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-15-52-41-68To demonstrate that the AI is indeed slow as fuck, I took things to Bristol Motor Speedway, what many would consider to be the absolute hardest oval on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Not only is driving the ideal line quite difficult considering the extremely steep banking and overall claustrophobic environment, racing thirty nine other opponents here is equivalent to flying fighter jets in your high school gymnasium.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-19-12-20-59I’m not sure whether it’s a testament to just how well the gamepad controls function, or if it proves how genuinely slow the artificial intelligence is, but regardless of what spin I put on it, I proceed to lap the entire grid within about forty minutes of driving. I’ve included the shot above as proof that I wasn’t knocking people around or exploiting some little-known AI glitch. I was literally running circles around the AI. They were doing a great job of racing me clean; I was just that much faster.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-19-19-45-80And while plate racing is simply phenomenal compared to basically every other NASCAR console game in the past decade, again your car is simply faster, and you can breeze by guys on the outside without the help of the draft. I think a fair argument someone could make in defense of the AI as a whole is “maybe you’re really good and need to stick to hardcore simulators”, but let’s be real here – it’s NASCAR, and some of these tracks don’t take a whole lot of talent to drive properly. Hell, at Daytona, you just hold it wide open and keep the wheel steady; therefore I can envision a scenario where a competent driver picks up this game, and within a week or so gets to my level on one or two tracks, slowly losing interest in the game because well, I can’t race Kansas or Texas because I just smoke the AI and there’s no way to handicap myself to the point where it’s fair for them.”

For that reason, I’ve decided to ignore discussing Career Mode in this review. The AI are just too slow to invest any meaningful time into an offline campaign mode.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-17-01-55-24Online? Oh boy, let’s talk about online for a bit here.

There are no caution flags. There are no car setups. You can’t vote on what track you race at next. There is no way to chat with other players, at least not that I’ve seen. To select your car, you have to pre-select your car in the Single Player menu before jumping online; there’s no way to do it like in the EA Sports games where you pick your driver before entering a server. There’s no way to boot wreckers mid-race, no practice, no qualifying, and no way to change the handling model to simulation, so you’re stuck with a driving model that feels like an iPhone game.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-15-59-52-69Now don’t get me wrong, online in this game can easily produce some cheap thrills when among the right group of people. I was extremely lucky to get in a few rooms with dedicated drivers who were focused on participating in a clean race, and I’m happy to report that not only were the races enjoyable, the experience was virtually lag free. Being serious here for a second, the netcode was phenomenal for this type of game. The experience can be good, but there’s basically no functionality for any sort of league racing aside from 40 lap sprints where heats and mains are the way to do things. I’m sure the hardcore guys on the PS4 and Xbox One will organize their own shit to work around the shortcomings regardless of the lack of options or features, because the actual racing isn’t as terrible as many predicted, but Monster Games certainly haven’t thrown anybody a bone.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-16-39-14-73But as is the case with NASCAR games online, for every room with a couple of chill guys, you’ll run into rooms where little kids can’t keep their car pointed straight for more than a few seconds, and this is where Heat Evolution really fucks things up. Anyone who gets in a wreck is kept in the race by a mysterious force that propels their car forward as a sort of anti-trolling measure, even if they’re sliding sideways or trying to slow the car down with the brakes. So what happens is a couple of non-drivers will junk their cars in turn one, and rather than being parked on the infield grass with heavy damage, the game will shoot them up to the rest of the pack at light speed and magically point their nose in the proper direction. It’s completely nonsensical to watch in motion. I genuinely thought it was lag at first, until I noticed it only happened after a massive wreck. My prediction is that online racing will be ruined when someone figures out how to trigger this force without wrecking.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-16-31-53-73Now that we’ve gone over the main bulk of the game, I think it’s time to talk about some of the miscellaneous grievances I’ve got with Heat Evolution. To recap so far, the raw driving experience is fairly impressive for a mass market game, even with a gamepad, but the AI can’t match my own personal driving skill, and online lacks any sort of meaningful functionality, so as a whole the game is on pace for a decidedly average review. At this point I’d fall back on rehashing the ridiculous downloadable content plan and bitch about locking tracks away, but there’s so much more to discuss.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-17-43-55-86Heat Evolution has memory leaks. Lots of them. I personally believe this game looks fantastic in motion, and the track models are a sheer work of art that in some cases (such as Bristol) surpass what iRacing can produce. However, while Heat starts off holding a steady 60 FPS for about ten minutes or so, there’s some sort of bizarre memory leak that hasn’t been quite ironed out before release. First it starts dipping to 50, then down to 40, and eventually the framerate goes all over the fucking place. I’m not just taking about during heavy contact moments where half the field has been thrown into the catch fence; the screen will literally freeze on me and drop to 3 FPS when I’m driving all by myself, forcing me to mash the pause button in the hopes that I’m not sent into the wall because the picture has stopped moving.After a second or two, it will recover back into a playable range of 45 to 55, maybe holding 60 for ten to twenty seconds at a time.

In one instance, the framerate problems were so bad, they continued back into the menu – which is a fully rendered 3D scene – and I had to completely restart the game because the menu was unresponsive. The only reason I don’t have video, is because by the time I got my cellphone out and hit record, the game stopped having a Hillary Clinton-like seizure and went right back to 60. That kind of performance flaw is unacceptable in a $66 video game.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-17-34-50-74Next, it’s time we have a bit of a discussion on car physics in Heat Evolution. I’m not saying the driving model is bad; far from it, but the individual car performance is all sorts of wrong. Look, these may appear to be 2016 Sprint Cup entries, but they’re actually 2002 Winston Cup stock cars under the hood. Coupled with the presence of a rear sway bar, I don’t believe Monster Games even threw the new engine numbers into Heat Evolution.

The insane speeds modern NASCAR Cup cars are hitting in 2016 just aren’t present in NASCAR Heat Evolution, and as someone who’s got a copy of Dirt to Daytona sitting on the shelf, I can say with confidence that the developers literally just inserted new 3D models into the old set of car physics and called it a day. It’s difficult to touch 200 MPH at Daytona or Las Vegas, the cars are two whole seconds off pace at Bristol (17 seconds in game, 15 in real life) and Texas (29 seconds in game, 27 seconds in real life), and by some act of God I can hold the thing nearly wide-open around Atlanta Motor Speedway, touching 181 mph through the center of the corner when they’re down to the low 160’s in real life thanks to a notoriously difficult track surface and low downforce aerodynamics package. None of this shit exists in Heat Evolution, and it basically feels like I’m driving a 2002 Winston Cup car – because I probably am.

And it sure sounds like one, too. All major sound samples have been recycled from the original NASCAR Heat, and no, they haven’t been given a facelift. Most people won’t catch this because they either weren’t around for the original games or are too young to remember, but this is arguably the most pathetic aspect of the whole package. I can’t believe someone gave the thumbs up to just recycle a set of engine sounds that are this dated.

I get that this is not a hardcore simulator and I shouldn’t be expecting 100% unprecedented authenticity, but the developers did parade around all these real world Sprint Cup drivers, bragging about how much they helped contribute to the game and pumping out all these lame little developer diaries showing that they were committed to excellence or some shit. Meanwhile I’m sitting here looking at my lap times from places like Charlotte or Texas and thinking “that’s exactly what I was running in Dirt to Daytona when I was playing it on the GameCube emulator last summer.”

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-18-17-52-07Almost 4,000 words later, and I think y’all have got the message that NASCAR Heat Evolution is a brutal stock car game. To my surprise, it drives really well with a pad, and the artificial intelligence will certainly be satisfying for inexperienced drivers – though not much of a challenge for veteran stock car guys. However, the satisfactory elements of Heat Evolution are grossly overshadowed by a whole bunch of issues that are simply unacceptable after half a decade spent begging Eutechnyx to give up the official NASCAR license to a more competent developer.

Hardcore sim racing wheel setups aren’t supported thanks to lackluster input device functionality, multiplayer events only caters to the most casual of NASCAR gamers, memory leaks cause massive application stability problems, boneheaded design decisions lock tracks away from the player for no useful purpose, intrusive downloadable content plans force users to pay for liveries that were once bonus unlockable content, and little effort was made to hide the fact that Monster Games literally slapped 2016 car models on 2002 performance specifications – even though the cars are fundamentally different both inside and out. These are just some of the problems with Heat Evolution, and I’m fairly certain the dedicated console racing crowd will discover many more along the way.

NASCAR games may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but after several years of mediocrity there was a genuine chance to put oval racing games back on the map with Monster Games taking over the development of officially licensed NASCAR products. The scenario was something many virtual stock car fans had been dreaming about since the days of NASCAR Nation on Speed Channel and EA’s acquisition of the official license in 2004, and it was incredible to see this fantasy finally come to fruition. Unfortunately, what we received over a decade after doesn’t just fail to live up to our expectations of what a NASCAR console release could be, should be, and has been in the past, NASCAR Heat Evolution desperately needed another year in development. It’s not done, it’s not worth the $60 asking price, and it’s not worth the extra $20+ in downloadable content. It’s using sound files from 2000, car specifications from 2002, and can’t even hold a steady framerate. Do not buy this game.

Not the Right Way to Evolve…

14047299_593566650816977_469688396720046812_oChalk 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.

13963000_592947057545603_379234381914428065_oWithout 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.

cockpitAesthetically, 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.
1472745778-mediaBut 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.

DLCAs 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.

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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?

spAway 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…
14053905_596035207236788_8506858886923311974_oAnd 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?

Steam ListI’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.