NASCAR Heat Evolution is the first fully licensed NASCAR game to be released on the Xbox One. It features four offline game modes and an online multiplayer mode. Produced by the people at Monster Games, those behind the original NASCAR Heat, NASCAR Heat Evolution seeks to “evolve” its former self and throw NASCAR into the limelight. But how well does it do?
Not very is the short answer. From the start the entire game has a very low-quality feel to it. The menus, the music and the graphics are all below-par. The kind of quality you’d expect from a low end indie game, and definitely not what we have come to expect from this generation’s full retail releases.
The gameplay itself is repetitive due to speed level grinds before you unlock new tracks. That being said, playing the game is good fun, so long as you play with arcade settings on. With the more realistic simulation settings, the game becomes annoying and the poor physics engine rears its ugly head – throwing you off track for the slightest of bumps. It’s satisfying to split the pack and thread the needle through to a higher position though.
The arcade gameplay resonates throughout all game modes. Career mode in particular, should be about your own journey through the season, you should be able to alter your car and tune to your heart’s content, but the game doesn’t trust you with this. There’s very little simulation in this game, and the most effective strategy appears to be bashing people out of the way. There are no penalties for cutting corners, or any debris on track from previous crashes. It’s missing a lot for it to be a simulation of any true NASCAR experience. If you can ignore all this and wish to participate in a demolition-derby-esque race… you’ll probably enjoy this game.
Your spotter, the advisor in your ear during races, is annoyingly repetitive and seems to have verbal diarrhoea – constantly asking whether you are “still there” or adding other useless feedback. The audio quality overall, but specifically for the spotters, is poor and unclear. The physics engine and collisions are weird – sometimes a bump will send you flying off track leaving nothing but smoke and debris behind, whereas other times you can survive a big hit and recover just fine. The collisions seem inconsistent as well as the handling of the cars. I played around with the settings a little and the car went from being on a rail with steering limited to about 30 degrees to having very little control whatsoever.
Overall this inconsistency in handling and also in the AI leads to the game being incredibly confusing, especially now that I’m trying to write about it. There is just so much missing in the fine tuning of the collision and handling elements of this game – and all the rest of it, come to that.
The menu design hasn’t been thought about too extensively either. For example, in a Qualifying Session in Career Mode, if you pause, B will not resume the game, rather, it will Exit Qualifying. This almost caught me out a few times, though luckily there is a confirmation screen.
The game is also rather unstable. You’d expect by now that we’d be able to handle high octane action of 40 cars, however the frame rate of the game frequently drops – sometimes to zero. This is even more disappointing when you realise that this game should not be intensive on the Xbox One system at all. It is not a graphical masterpiece by a long shot and frankly it’s not very nice to look at.
For some reason you are completely blinkered at all stages in this game. The only way you can see behind you is by checking your rear-view mirror, which isn’t even shown by default. You can’t do the classic “rotate the right stick to view around your car”. There’s no guide to the buttons anywhere in the actual game either – so you have to experiment to find out what exactly does what. By the way, the mirror is toggled with Y. Change camera angles with X, and A and B will provide Lap Info and Car Info for you.
The Car Information is particularly handy, as there is no visual cosmetic damage to your car whatsoever. In fact, I was testing this out as I had crashed previously and noticed nothing – I managed to completely wreck my engine and there was still no sign of any damage and my car looked pristine. I couldn’t move due to the damage to the engine and the speedometer was still clocking 8mph. The lack of a visual display of damage – other than the car information, completely ruins the experience for me. If I’ve wrecked my engine, I want to see smoke billowing out from the bonnet, I want to see a crumpled, mangled, wreck of a car on the track. If this was an indie game, then sure, I could let this issue go, but for a full retail release? This is a must. Considering you can buy games like Forza Horizon 3 or F1 2016 for the same price… NASCAR Heat Evolution misses the mark by such a distance, it can’t even see the mark.
Speaking of visuals, the graphics for this game are absolutely woeful. They look as though they could be from the early Xbox 360 days, perhaps even going as far back as to the late end of the Xbox Original console. Sound-wise, the car’s engine sounds tinny, and in general the audio in the game is of an awful quality. After a little research, I discovered that the engine sounds were actually recycled from NASCAR HEAT 2002, a twelve year old game. For an attempt to launch NASCAR games back into the limelight in the first ever current generation game, this screams mediocrity and laziness. Did no-one think to say that maybe twelve year old audio assets might need updating for a full retail release?
The main menu is however easy to navigate, and while there are five game modes, each mode has very little depth.
Race, Challenges, Championship, Career, and Multiplayer are all ready to go should you so wish, but don’t expect too much. Race is… well, it’s a race; you get to select your driver, the track – provided you’ve unlocked it, that is, and all the standard race settings you’ve come to expect from track racers such as race length and AI Difficulty. A fairly standard game mode, suited for when you just want to have a bit of fun. If you’re super quick, you’ll advance your Track Rating and unlock more of the game’s content.
Championship is honestly a little bit redundant. Career mode has all of the appeal of Championship mode along with the extra bonus of building your fame and reputation from the ground up. Championship mode has you take an existing driver and challenge for the title across the season. Career Mode is the most in depth of all of the modes, but that being said, I’ve trodden in deeper puddles. It’s all linear with arbitrary objectives and no real difference from just racing via the Race game mode.
The Multiplayer option offers three lobby types: Hosted, Normal, and No Rules. At time of writing, Normal and No Rules have zero lobbies available. Hosted, which gives lobby owners the power to kick other players from the race, had just six lobbies available. No Rules offers the players the opportunity to “race however they want”, without the pressure of being kicked. Normal Lobbies are for clean races. I have no idea how normal lobbies are moderated or policed, since not a single person was participating in one. None of the multiplayer lobby options have voice chat enabled. Party chat via Xbox Live is required for voice communication with your fellow racers. This isn’t particularly a bad thing, but it would’ve been nice to have the option for in-game chat too.
Challenges are unlocked once you’ve met certain criteria such as achieving a specific track rating or speed rating. Alternatively, you can unlock more challenges by purchasing them as downloadable content. Challenges build upon past events in the NASCAR world and ask you to perform the same feats as the professionals. There are 23 challenges in total, one for each track. There are, I’m assured, 23 tracks but if truth be told, I wouldn’t know. The game only allows you access to six tracks of the licensed tracks to begin with. To unlock more, you have to increase your player level, which you do by performing well and progressing through the game by beating the other tracks over and over, grinding xp and levelling up. Something which I’m afraid isn’t going to happen in a hurry.
The fact that the developers decided that the tracks should be locked away until the player is deemed worthy should be bad enough, but in addition, the rewards the player you will be getting for levelling up such as new liveries, new challenges and the like, are available only as paid DLC. So, not only are 17 of the tracks – which is roughly 75% of the game’s content – locked away, the rewards that should come with progression will cost you money. In addition to this is the whopping $59.99 price tag of the base game – which, by the way, isn’t justified in the slightest.
Multiplayer lobbies were a quarter full at best on release day, so take from that what you will. One positive is that the multiplayer server seems solid, but for an attempt at relaunching a brand onto the next generation of consoles, Heat Evolution falls way, way short of the mark. The game can’t even hold a steady framerate and looks as though it would be well at home on the original Xbox or Xbox 360.
Do not be fooled by flashy trailers and the marketing spiel, this is not an Xbox One game you want to play. Even if you’re a diehard NASCAR fan, invest your gaming time in something worthwhile and polished.