Video games involving NASCAR were few and far between for a while due to EA having the license to make the games. Those games were mainly subpar, and NASCAR really took a back seat in terms of quality racing games. Enter developer Eutechnyx back in 2011, and a quality line of NASCAR games returned to the forefront with the NASCAR: The Game series. However, these games never quite matched the magic that were the games such as NASCAR Heat and NASCAR:Dirt to Daytona. Eutechnyx was the developer for that series until 2015, as it bounced around to different publishers. The license eventually ended up with DMRacing, which is a publisher out of Charlotte, North Carolina, the hub of NASCAR racing. DMRacing moved on from Eutechnyx as the developer for the new NASCAR Heat Evolution and assigned it to developer Monster Games, who did that great line of games back in the early 2000s.
While this series has switched hands a few times, and finally now developers, NASCAR Heat Evolution is still the follow-up to NASCAR ’15 Victory Edition. It is also the first NASCAR game on the current generation consoles. What you can expect from this fully licensed NASCAR game is all 23 tracks from the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, as well as all the drivers and their teams. The modes in the game are pretty straight forward, as you can do a quick race, a season, a career, enter the Chase for the Championship (the final 10 races of the season), or choose to rewrite history with Challenges. The career mode is pretty neat as you create a custom driver, pick a manufacturer and number, and look to earn sponsorship and improve your car. You will not start at Daytona, as you will start off as a bottom line driver randomly entering a race to simply make the field. The car starts off blank and handles atrociously and lacks speed. As you make the field and achieve the goals, you will start to see an improvement.
While it may seem there are a fair amount of modes, there is not much depth to any of them. The game lacks customization at its most basic level. Car setups are very barebones and lack any indication of how the changes affect the car. You will basically have to know exactly what a wedge adjustment does. The other variations of long term racing lack substance as the season, Chase, and career modes are straight forward. The game’s race mode does not have all the tracks unlocked as you will need to progress through tracks to unlock other tiers. Even the online racing, while allowing three difficulties, is a matter of just jumping into a race with no viewing. Not to mention, the game lacks a server chat function and even tells you to use party chat for in-game communication.
On the track is where the focus of any racing game should be, and it is where Monster Games put its focus. For anyone wanting a good, general experience in a NASCAR game that is not hunting something hardcore, Heat Evolution provides an excellent game. The cars do feel a bit tight on the track, and even with the handling turned to simulation, it should be easier to get these cars loose. Going into a corner feels like a normal car should, but not how a big and powerful stock car should. Honestly, the initial car setup in career is more close to how the car should handle. There is not a way to turn off specific assists in this game, as the car handling is pretty much geared towards a casual experience. The game features a dynamic A.I. that adjusts to your speed rating on tracks. The more you race a track, the more the A.I. will adjust to your speed. While that is a neat concept, the A.I. still doesn’t know you exist. This is especially noticeable on the career mode with a slower car. Too many times you get ran into from the back, you don’t see passing, and everyone just packs together. However, overall NASCAR Heat Evolution provides a sufficient experience on the track and has a good foundation that can be built upon in the future.
In terms of visuals, NASCAR Heat Evolution provides the best there has been in the series thanks to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. However, will the visuals blow you away? No. Lighting is the major difference as the reflections and glare look good. The car models are not superbly detailed, but look well enough that they stand out. The tracks and surrounding areas provide some positive details, and the pit crew cinematic looks really smooth. There seems to be a framerate hit when exiting a turn and a full crowd comes into play. This may be more of a rendering issue in the distance as the responsiveness of the car does not change. It is definitely noticeable and can throw you off.
You have a very helpful spotter at your disposal in Heat Evolution. This is something the series has needed, and should help you keep your position on the track and not come down or go up on anyone. It can become a bit much at times, but it is needed. However, during the new qualifying format, the spotter is missing. The cars sound fair, as do the sound effects. Again, it will not blow you away, and this seems to be a recurring theme with this game, and it comes off as good enough. The soundtrack features a generic house band that fits the mold of the game.
DMRacing and Monster Games have a very solid foundation with NASCAR Heat Evolution. It provides a positive improvement on the previous games in Eutechnyx’ series, and the fact that DMRacing is based out of Charlotte can only help with the franchise. While it does not meet the standards of the classic Dirt to Daytona, it is going in the right direction. Featuring some of the best visuals in this line of games, Evolution offers a very enjoyable experience for casual fans. For the hardcore racing fans, you might be better sticking with a simulator. While the game may lack substance in terms of modes, it provides enough content to get you by. After all, the racing is most important.