In just over a few short weeks, we’ll hit the three-year mark for the current generation of consoles (PlayStation 4 & Xbox One). NASCAR Heat Evolution marks the first officially licensed NASCAR game developed by the team behind the both the Heat and Dirt to Daytona series. Although it has been 14 years since Monster Games has teamed with Dusenberry Martin Racing (DMR), Heat Evolution proves that they haven’t lost their touch. Arguably one of the better NASCAR titles of recent memory, Heat Evolution includes 40-player online multiplayer modes and adaptive AI that gives the feel of real-life stock car racing.
A unique aspect in Heat Evolution is the way that the AI controlled cars drive around each of the faithfully rendered and licensed tracks. Cars no longer follow predetermined paths on each and every lap, but instead, they adapt to the player’s skill level, and to the other cars on the track. After completing your first race, the first thing you’ll notice is you won’t be blowing the AI drivers out of the race on the first lap. The computer controlled drivers will compete against each other, trying to push their way through small openings and possibly trading paint or causing a massive crash in the process.
Without on-screen indicators to help guide players around the 23 sanctioned NASCAR tracks, you must either have knowledge of the track or focus your efforts on following the darker parts of the asphalt. This signifies higher tire density, and it would be a safe bet it's the best racing line to follow for that section of the race. I’d call myself an amateur when it comes to watching the sport, so I tried to stay high up on the tracks on straightaways and turned inside for the turns. I still recall the first time I tried to pass on the inside, and instead spun out after tapping someone's bumper and causing almost a half dozen other cars to collide in the process.
If you are looking to start from the bottom and truly earn your first place finishes, you’ll want to check out the career mode. You begin your journey as a no name rookie without sponsors, so your stock car is quite barren compared to the notable drivers that are chock full of sponsor stickers. You must prove you’re a winner in the eyes of the sponsors by clawing your way up the standings. Don’t feel disheartened after the first dozen races, as you're going to finish the majority of your first season near the bottom. If you finish within the top 30, consider that a win. Eventually, you’ll earn enough cash to spend on much-needed upgrades, such as improving your car’s horsepower and tire grip.
By default, you will only race 2% of the total number of laps for each track, but you can increase this based on your preference. If you want to race the full 400 laps at Dover International Speedway, go right ahead. In my career mode I am currently racing at 4%, so races last twice as long. You won’t be getting far starting races in the 40th slot on the starting grid, so you should take advantage of both your practice session and your qualifying lap.
Once you acquire a handful of upgrades, you’ll be placing higher in the standings, pending any disaster that sends your car spinning out of control. After the mid-way point in the season, you’ll be earning enough money to upgrade your car enough to improve your standings. By your second and third season, expect to be threatening to win every race.
The only commentary in Heat Evolution comes before the race, introducing each of the tracks and the various locations around the US. During the race, you’ll regularly hear chatter from your pit crew about other drivers near your vicinity. The options are severely limited once a race begins, only letting you exit or restart the race. As you get close to the pit location, you’ll be automated guided into it allowing you to set the amount of work needed on the car. During one race, I had a driver push me into the pit purposely in a tight race. As you can’t cancel out of entering pit row, that ended my chance at winning the race.
I’ve only been able to complete a few full online 40 person multiplayer races. Lately, I’ve been seeing fewer people online, but enough for a few ten person race to be running. The developers knew random players crashing into everyone may be an issue and feature three different lobby types, one specifically setup for no rules, while the other two are for competitive racing. The Hosted game mode even allows for the host to boot players, hopefully only if they aren’t racing clean, but I could never trust someone with complete power. Although you earn speed points, just like when playing through the career, there are no online leaderboards or seasons.
I was surprised at how much fun the career mode could be for someone who doesn’t follow the sport religiously. Monster Games has reinvigorated the series they began, and it is a solid product for someone looking for authentic NASCAR racing. It’s a shame the online multiplayer is lacking, and I would want to see what the developers could do with a more robust game engine.
Note: The review for NASCAR Heat Evolution is based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.