NASCAR Heat Evolution: The Worst NASCAR Game Ever Made
Even after decades of highs and lows within the gaming world, NASCAR would fall to the lowest level it ever had.
You may remember a small article I did not too long ago addressing NASCAR The Game: Inside Line. In that article, I praised the severely underrated game quite heavily, as it was a welcomed change from NASCAR The Game 2011, and even from some of the closing EA titles. Following Eutechnyx's tenure with the licensing, which ended with the release of NASCAR '15, the long-running series of games would go on hiatus. Much like what happened after EA ceased production of the games, speculation began to swirl. Who will take over? Will they help reinvigorate the series, or will they make it worse? Well, the gaming world would soon find out.
Monster Games and Dusenberry Martin Racing
In January of 2015, it was announced that Eutechnyx would hand the production reins over to Dusenberry Martin Racing (DMR). This was a brand new publishing entity, comprised of two key figures that stood out to former players of the NASCAR franchise. Ed Martin, the president of DMR, had formerly worked with Papyrus, Hasbro Interactive, EA Sports, and the aforementioned Eutechnyx. He had worked closely with other NASCAR gaming projects, some of which are held in very high regard to this very day. This gave fans hope for the future of the series, aided by the CEO of Tom Dusenberry, who was the president and founder of Hasbro Interactive. NASCAR '15, which was wholly developed by Eutechnyx, was the first game ever published by DMR. As mentioned, they had little to no effect on the final product. Around the time of the release of NASCAR '15, they were beginning development on a brand new game, a spiritual successor to one of the most beloved NASCAR games of all time: NASCAR Heat. The original NASCAR Heat, released in September of 2000 by Hasbro Interactive and Monster Games, was widely praised when it came out. Its follow-up game, NASCAR Heat 2002, was also pleasantly received when it was released around a year later for the PS2 and Xbox. Now, over a decade and a half later, could this all-new team, behind the wheel of one of the most recognizable racing games ever made, recapture the magic from the glory days?
NASCAR Heat Evolution and its Overwhelming Failure
Another lackluster screenshot from NASCAR Heat Evolution.
Alongside DSM, they would team up with a game developer who was well known by tenured NASCAR game players: Monster Games. In the past, they had created three of the most well-received NASCAR games ever made. The aforementioned pair of NASCAR Heat and Heat 2002, as well as the iconic Dirt to Daytona, was developed under the careful craftsmanship of Monster Games. However, as the fanbase would soon find out, achievements of the past, don't necessarily guarantee achievements in the future. In September of 2016, after a decent bit of hype during the build-up, NASCAR Heat Evolution was released to the public. Those who preordered the game, myself included, were met with an incredible wave of disappointment and anger. Pro tip: never preorder unless you know for certain that the game won't suck. Even before the game's release, it was apparent that the game would be a step-down, at least in graphical quality. Compare these screenshots, which were from the next-gen PS4 and Xbox One consoles to the screenshots from Inside Line, which were taken on the Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2012. To many, the underwhelming trailer was a harbinger of things to come, whilst some, like myself, held steadfast in the hope that it was just Alpha footage. How wrong we were. After getting past the lackluster main menu, then came the modes... or lack thereof. The game was bare-bones, in comparison to previous entries in the series. The game modes that were featured, ranged from unimpressive to pure garbage. The two modes that failed the most were, arguably, the ones that the game should have relied on. Career and multiplayer mode.
The Nonexistent Career and Multiplayer Modes
A screenshot of the career mode menu... Yep.
When someone thinks of a perfect NASCAR career mode, many think of two games in particular: NASCAR Thunder 2004 and Dirt to Daytona. Did NASCAR Heat Evolution come close to recapturing the magic of those games? Take a wild guess. No depth. No deep customization. No climb to the top to keep players interested. Nothing. If you choose to start a race, you are in store for one of the worst racing experiences in gaming history. Bugs plagued the game early on (and still do). Some of these bugs include AI cars consistently crashing at Texas for no reason, rapidly pausing and unpausing the game resulting in super speed, cautions not coming out during a massive pileup, terrible AI rubberbanding, severe framerate drops because the game was built to run on a toaster, etc. The worst of all... the physics, by god the physics. You could ram a car at Daytona at full speed and they would stay completely straight. However, touch the side of another car and you'll become Apollo 18. The car handled like an ocean liner and sounded like a lawnmower. The damage modeling was nearly nonexistent as well. Multiplayer, probably the most important feature aside from career mode in modern racing games, was also a heaping pile of junk. Awful servers, terrible netcoding, the list goes on. Many fans completely abandoned the game after figuring out that they wasted $60 of their hard-earned money. Some, even though time has progressed, have yet to come back to the series, myself included.
The Fallout of the Flop
A screenshot from NASCAR Heat 5.
In the wake of the abysmal failure that was NASCAR Heat Evolution, MDR (now 704 Games) had to do something to save what was left of the NASCAR gaming fanbase. By the time NASCAR Heat 2 came out the following year, changes had been made. The graphics looked better, but still were subpar to their fellow racing titles, and unfortunately, still are today. For the first time since NASCAR '09, you could also race in all three premier series on the NASCAR calendar, with all of their respective circuits added as well, but the main issues still remained. For NASCAR Heat 2 and 3, a redeemable $50 NASCAR race ticket was added, along with a drop in price from $60 to $50. Essentially, they were trying to make up for the lack of quality, by literally bribing the player base. With the Heat series seemingly over following the 5th installment this past year, it will be interesting to see where the game will go from here. Each game has improved on the last but still lacks in crucial departments. With an all-new publisher, Motorsport Games, vowing to make drastic changes to the series in the future, it is an exciting (or worrying) time for NASCAR games once again. Will we see a masterpiece along the lines of the classic Thunder series, or will we see another giant egg laid upon the asphalt? Similar to the utter failure that was NASCAR Heat Evolution. Only time will tell.