Far closer to pole position than any previous effort, NASCAR Heat 3 shapes up to be a decent racing sim
I’ve historically been rather disappointed in the efforts of the team at Monster Games and their efforts to bring a truly great NASCAR game to the masses. I don’t think I’ve been too harsh, since the last several titles in the series have had some pretty serious issues that made them a total drag to play. The titles felt like they were serving neither a hardcore simulation audience nor an arcade casual player, and generally felt like rather unfocused titles.
I’m happy to confirm that this year’s lap around the stock car circuit isn’t quite as rough as the last few, though there’s still more than a few areas in which it could improve. The efforts of the team at Monster Games has not gone unnoticed, and changes to the physics, settings and visuals have all made the game far more palatable to more players. More modular choices in how the game operates are reminiscent of EA Sports efforts with NBA Live 19 and the controls are importantly so much tighter.
"Finally delivering on the much needed variety that can be offered by mud and dirt tracks, the physics change drastically once you’re off roading it, such as early in the career mode."
Whereas the feeling of maneuvering your vehicle at high speeds in the last entry didn’t feel remotely realistic or…fun, the driving mechanics have been improved by leaps and bounds this time. They’re still far from perfect, and using the break is still asking to be put into a tailspin, but it feels possible to make strategic maneuvers around other cars within this game, without much of a pain. Should you clip another car or go careening into a wall, you actually see some physical damage on your car now and can find your speeds crippled when a tire blows or your aerodynamics are compromised.
Finally delivering on the much needed variety that can be offered by mud and dirt tracks, the physics change drastically once you’re off roading it, such as early in the career mode. You’ll find far less traction when you’re getting dirty and have to fight the pack a bit more while you try to be more careful with your speed around corners. Since by the nature of the sport, you’re still always going to be following the same 3 act structure to a race, the difference is noticeable and greatly appreciated.
The Career mode maintains course from the previous year, with much the same structure as the rookie racer trying to make it big by playing Hotseat races for different teams to establish yourself before moving to signing on with a team and hitting major circuits. A non-official circuit created by Monster Games becomes the fourth official circuit that you’ll take on in the career mode, and is one of the best showcases for the fact that cars do have some obvious variation on their handling now. You can still dive in and tune to your liking later in the game as well, but for those who just want presets to get back to racing, the team has thoughtfully included 9 separate presets for different playstyles, which is not something I ever thought I would type for a NASCAR game. The career mode still feels a little wooden, such as early hotseat offers having no response to a player doing significantly better than their goal placement, but it’s a minor complaint.
"Probably the single best change to the game this year comes from the inclusion of an “Arcade” style and modular options to change exactly how much of the game you want to see and play."
The increased budget shines through in a few other ways as well, including the ability to pay more than one NASCAR superstar to show up during the Career mode cutscenes as your mentor. Visual fidelity and model quality has improved across the board too, with car models no longer looking like glorified hot wheels, lighting looking decent and physical damage showing up following a wreck. I did notice some issues with frame pacing during gameplay, likely a trade off of the visuals and tweaks taxing an old engine, but its much better compared to what we had before.
AI will also play more reactively, and realistically, using strategic pit stops, or pushing themselves for a last minute move. Modes such as challenge also return, highlighting and asking you to replay famous moments from the sport. It feels like the team has all of a sudden finally realized the things they’ve wanted to do since the beginning. The various modes on offer such as online tournaments, and a commitment to foster an online eSports scene are much appreciated , and they are perfect for players who choose “simulation” mode.
Probably the single best change to the game this year comes from the inclusion of an “Arcade” style and modular options to change exactly how much of the game you want to see and play. Much like Madden NFL 19, though not quite as wide ranging, the player decides just how many laps they actually care to race, how hard the AI will be, how long they practice and if they want to deal with specific systems like pitting and damage all-together. The system could use a middle difficulty that allows a few more of the simulation systems without engaging everything else, but beyond that the inclusion opens the game up to being enjoyable for more than the NASCAR hardcore.
"NASCAR Heat 3 is a fantastic display of what a bit of budget can bring to a passionate team."
Coming off of two back to back games that just felt awful to play, NASCAR Heat 3 is a fantastic display of what a bit of budget can bring to a passionate team. It’s still a NASCAR game, with all that carries with it, so it isn’t something that can be recommended for everyone even with all of the new alterations. But the changes are almost universally for the better, and I’m sure will help bridge the gap in the middle of that small ven diagram where NASCAR Fans and those with interest in racing games cross over.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Driving physics, both on pavement and dirt, are far improved over last year, and finally distinct to each other. Visually the game has better models, lighting and damage to help sell the simulation. AI enhancements make the racing more realistic and fun. Modular options make it more accessible.
Visuals are better but still not really matching contemporaries, Frame pacing issues occur, needs more modular options.
The improvements to NASCAR Heat 3 are so profound that it’s hard to believe that this is even from the same team. It’s still no Forza, or even Driveclub, but the game is moving in a decent direction that makes it easier and fun to play than previous games.