NASCAR Heat 3 (PS4) Review
Release Date: September 7, 2018
Publisher/Developer: 704Games/Monster Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Windows
I've always enjoyed the two extremes of video game racing. From the gritty simulation of Gran Turismo and tweaking every variable possible to vaulting over five cars after a jump in Ridge Racer Revolution, each style of play draws a different crowd. The NASCAR Heat series tries to straddle those lines, giving an arcadey twinge to a sports sim racer.
Please note: Heat 3 is this reviewer's first foray into the series. I've done a bit of research in the name of thorough writing, and am doing my best to compare critiques of the previous game with the new entry. NASCAR Heat adds new sections to the sim genre this season that were honestly some of the most fun parts of the game to me.
Games based on real-world sports often have the problem of monotony. There usually isn't going to be a new track or stadium unless one is built in the real world. NASCAR Heat 3 mixes this up by adding a whole new circuit based on dirt tracks that doesn't actually exist, while also including the regular circuits and seasons. Career mode starts humbly. As a rookie driver, you have to wait to see if "hot seats" open up, where the driver originally slated to race is unavailable. Gaining enough ranking there allows you to join a team the next season or start your own, which is a new addition this year. As an owner/driver you are responsible for not only the races themselves but the management of your team, including purchase and upgrade of cars and equipment. The race season has different kinds of courses which call for cars with different handling and speed. You have to buy multiple cars and hire mechanics who can work on speed, handling, and the like. Between races you assign mechanics to cars which increase those statistics as well as train your mechanics to increase their abilities. As you maintain multiple circuits and pay attention to the upcoming schedule you have to make sure each car is ready for every upcoming race. While taking base mechanics to a very simple level, it really is fun to manage this between races and you can definitely tell the difference in the performance of your vehicle.
Of course, if this is all too much for you, you can choose to join a different team and only worry about racing through the series or go even simpler by going into individual races. In career mode you can even be in multiple circuits simultaneously, being an owner in one and a driver in another, and change between seasons. NASCAR's energy thrives in the bumper-to-bumper race. While a lot of jokes get thrown at NASCAR about only turning left, the sphincter-clinching terror of going hundreds of miles an hour a quarter inch from another racer on slippery wheels is hard to replicate elsewhere. It takes a perfect run to advance, and sometimes you are excited to just get to 20th place. That's part and parcel for real NASCAR drivers: there can be only one first place winner, and a true season isn't a miracle run of first places. As you advance a fake social media runs between races. Bump into someone too many times and they may chastise you there. You can choose to be apologetic or caustic back, gaining friends and enemies who will react appropriately on the track.
Another balance between arcade and sim is the list of modifiers. You can change the length of races, pit capabilities and wear, and overall damage and how it effects your racing. There are a list of race options like single races, challenge modes, and multiplayer options for quick, arcadey fun without all the deep thought and ranking boards.
I did run across a couple of strange AI hiccups in solo mode, such as when I clipped and wrecked an opponent who simply stopped in the middle of the track, and the cars that came up and parked behind just sat there as well, allowing me to get to my required position. These kind of issues were few and far between and likely to be quashed in future updates. There is also a $30 expansion pass for further challenges that are out in upcoming months, but the career mode alone provides more than enough hours of entertainment so long as you can defend how different every single oval track technically is. NASCAR Heat's developers have taken a real-world sporting event and did more than just polish it up for another release; they have really added a lot more to make this a worthy purchase for real-world racing fans.
-Owner/Driver/Manager mode is a lot of fun with important things to do even between races
-Reflects the sphincter-clenching tension of being mid-pack
-Dirt track mode is an imaginary but welcome addition
-People not into NASCAR won't understand the intricacies between tracks
-Fans of "winning" will have to get used to being satisfied with 20th place in the beginning
-Trying to balance between sim and arcade means no big focus on either
Special thanks to 704Games and Monster Games for providing a PS4 code for review!