The problem with yearly installments of sports games is that you never know if a new year will bring an incremental update or a significant jump forward for the series. With NASCAR Heat 3
, Monster Games brings the high octane racing sport back to the consoles. There are more series to race, more cars, a new team owner role, and more challenges. Ultimately the game feels to sit between incremental update and huge leap, but that's not a bad thing.
NASCAR remains a massive sport in the US with its oval-based circuits on which cars hurtle around, racing nose-to-tail at terrifying speeds, and NASCAR Heat 3
does its best to capture this experience. The player begins their career in the Dirt Series, a fantasy series not actually a part of NASCAR, but still provides a good training ground for rookie drivers. Just like last year's installment, the career is a little stop-start with the driver waiting to be offered a hot seat with one of the racing teams and it still seems a little strange that you won't be driving in every race at the beginning. Once a seat is offered, it's in the player's best interests to achieve the race objectives set by the team in an attempt to generate interest and secure future rides. Luckily, the rookie season is short and then the real fun begins with subsequent seasons when the player begins to race on a regular basis.
There is a nice little twist to the seasons this year keeping players busier than usual. In all series, players can take on the role of owner-driver, making decisions on the cars that they will race, the race preparation of the cars and the engineers and mechanics that will work for the team. While it's not an extensive management role, it does make the season more interesting than normal and adds welcome depth to the game. During the season, the player will be racing on two or three different types of tracks. The different track types require a specialised car chassis which means the player will quickly need to build up a garage featuring the different car types. Whilst there is not a deep research and development tree that you might find in other titles, you will still need engineers that are experts in engines, aerodynamics and suspensions.
Additionally, you'll want to get the best engineers to get the best out of your cars, meaning you can pay more for experienced mechanics or pay to level up their engineering skills. You'll also need to provide your engineers with the best equipment and tools, which means gradually paying to level up each department too. If that wasn't enough, there's a final twist as to get the most out of everything, you'll need to give your engineers time, usually two race periods. This means having your mechanics work on one a car a couple of race periods ahead of the actual race, whilst you might be racing another car. And it's important to keep in mind that your engineers are prepping the car for one race. You can see it as a temporary boost, after which the car chassis returns to its base stats.
All this means that you are constantly looking at the calendar checking what circuits are coming next. You're also busy ensuring that multiple cars are ready for the different races. It's relatively simple when you're racing a single series, but when you start racing across different series, it does become a juggling act. It's not so complex, but it does require additional attention. Pick the wrong type of car for the wrong type of track, or forget to prep the car for the race and you'll find yourself struggling when you hit the racetracks. It may not be to everyone's liking and those who just want to race can simply sign up with a driver role only.
Out on the racetrack, it's pretty much as-you-were. NASCAR produces some of the closest and tightest racing in motorsport with cars bunched together, racing in a convoy, nose to tail and bumper to bumper. Just like last year, the racing experience remains largely the same. Whilst on easier settings, you can race ahead of the pack, the most fun to be had is when you're shoulder to shoulder with the other racers with little bumps and nudges triggering minor panic attacks as you race among the crowd. It's all part of the sport and something you won't find anywhere else, and that is something that really defines the sport, and something that the Nascar Heat
series captures really well. The AI plays fair but tough and the rivalry system is still in place, so if you're the cause of too many bumps and nudges, you'll find that your competitors will start acting in a less than friendly way towards you and if you want to upset them quicker you can always send an insulting reply over the fake social media feed in the game.
All three official series from NASCAR are included plus the new Xtreme Dirt Tour. The official teams and drivers are also represented and a number of them have recorded FMV clips to motivate you on your career or mentor you through your rookie season. Whilst this was a little cringeworthy last year, it does seem better presented this time out. It's another little detail that points to Monster Games listening to feedback and making subtle but worthwhile improvements.
The developers have kept the racing very accessible and very playable. There is a multitude of settings that will allow the player to tailor the experience to their own racing proficiency although even cranking the values to the highest setting, the game remains in the sim-cade genre. It is distinctly playable with a controller, possibly the target audience, and also with wheels for those who have them.
Graphically, the game engine does seem to be improved too and the cars and circuits are well-modeled. There seems to be more detail at the circuits and the skylines in the background give it a realistic feel. The sound too has been polished. The thumping soundtrack returns, as does the victory theme tune that players can choose. You can also hear the cheers of the crowd as you race past the grandstands and the spotter does an admirable job with the instructions and warnings being very audible.
Single player includes numerous game modes alongside the career. There is a quick race mode for drop-in games. It's also possible to race a single championship season outside of the career, and for those looking for something to really test themselves, the challenge mode makes a return, recreating historic events, or creating fictional events to test even the best drivers.
Multiplayer is a mixed bag. Technically, it is quite accomplished with the netcode seemingly quite robust and with no visible lag, but with increased attention on e-sports this year — and NASCAR Heat
is participating in one such series — it seems strange that there is no distinction between ranked and unranked races, and no safety license mechanism. Unfortunately, this means that your online experience depends on your fellow racers, which more often than not results in a wreckfest at some point in a race. On the plus, it does give some interesting results as the physics engine struggles to make sense of all of the mayhem. Nonetheless, online racing remains fun and a great way of letting off steam.
Whilst the title has taken steps forward, there are still a few familiar issues carried over from the previous installment. The general presentation of the title, menu screens for example, still lags behind some of the bigger racing titles. The Unity Engine still has the occasional frame-rate dip, although not as prevalent, and some textures still roll into view. Overall, though, there is little to complain about as the title is clearly improving and shows ambition.
There are 61 achievements in the title, only four of which are related to multiplayer. Most are related to career progress and winning races, but there are a few related to specific events. There aren't any that should prove too difficult for the racing community, although working through five complete seasons may well take some time.Check out our Best Racing Games article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
Racing in circles or triangles shouldn't be all that much fun and yet Monster Games have managed to make the sport just that. Building on last year's title, the team has added great new features that go deeper with the sport than ever before. A whole new unaffiliated dirt series is added, along with a rather straightforward team management owner mode. This feels more of an incremental installment which builds on the previous outing, retaining all of the key features whilst adding more content and that's not a particularly bad thing. Outside of the US, NASCAR is still seen as a niche sport, but Monster Games has managed to make a game that will appeal not only to those dedicated fans but one that should satisfy those players looking for a good sim-cade racing title. Even with some new toys that feel incremental at best, it makes for a strong foundation for the years ahead for the series.
- Great sim-cade level racing
- Wealth of content for Nascar fans
- Captures the rush of the sport
- Overall presentation still lacks behind other titles
- Management side is a little too straightforward
The reviewer spent around 10 hours happily racing in circles in the different Nascar series. 21 achievements from 61 were unlocked. The review was done on a standard Xbox One with the download code being provided by the publisher for the sake of review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.