NASCAR Heat 3 Review – Rubbing Is Racing

It has been a long time since I played a NASCAR game. I don’t have an aversion to turning left or anything, I just tend to spend my racing time in F1 or Forza. But growing up in the Midwest means I spent plenty of Friday nights at the local dirt track, so when I heard that developer Monster Games was adding dirt tracks to NASCAR Heat 3 I jumped at the chance to give it a try. So today we’re trading in the exotic sports cars and wings with wheels for a good ol’ stock car. Start your engines, this is our NASCAR Heat 3 review.

Just like any other racing game, the first thing I did when I loaded up NASCAR Heat 3 was jump into a quick race. I chose Talladega Motor Speedway because, well…speed. Really, though, I picked it because of how forgiving the track is and I needed to get reacquainted with driving what is basically a 3400 pound heap of steel capable of going 200+ miles per hour. Right out of the box, the game felt pretty arcade-ish. That’s pretty common for any racing game though considering default settings generally have the AI difficulty turned way down and all driving aids turned on. That being said, after trading a little paint, I easily cruised to my first victory. Don’t judge, a win is a win no matter what difficulty level, right?

Something has gone horribly wrong

Racing Fluff

With my confidence level at an all-time high after just one easy victory, the next logical step was to skip everything else and head right into the career mode. Before we get into what career mode has to offer, let’s go through the other modes in NASCAR Heat 3:

  • Quick Race – Your typical single race option.
  • Championship Series – Just like Quick Race, but you can run through a whole series
  • Challenges – In this mode, you will be put into specific scenarios, mostly based off of real-life situations, and then see if you can achieve the goal given. Fortunately, you can do these in any order, so pick one that sounds fun and see if you can repeat what the real driver did.
  • Split Screen – Grab a second controller and go side by side with a friend.
  • Multiplayer – Go online and test your mettle against other players. Leaderboards track total races, wins, and fastest lap at each track.
Career Mode

Career mode is, along with multiplayer, what really keeps players coming back for more.  Nascar Heat Evolution was light in this area, but Nascar Heat 2 beefed up the career mode by adding the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series into the fold. This year Monster Games added a fourth series to the career mode, the Xtreme Dirt Tour. You’ll still start as a Hot Seat driver, hoping to get noticed by a team as you fill in for single races, but as you tally up the wins you’ll be able to pick up a full-time ride in the XDT. Keep winning races and you’ll work your way through the truck and Xfinity series before finally making it to the big show in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

While building your career, you can focus solely on driving, but you also have the option of using your hard earned cash to buy and manage your own team. Choosing the latter means you have a lot more input on how your team progresses. Make sure you are ready for the commitment, as running a team can put a strain on your bank account.

First off, you will be responsible for hiring a crew, training them, and then putting them to work on your car between races. Next, be prepared to purchase three chassis, one for each type of track. Skipping this step will save you some cash, but don’t expect a short track car to perform at maximum levels on a super speedway. Lastly, you will be able to upgrade the different departments in your garage. Balancing all of these aspects of your team sounds pretty easy, but if you aren’t out there winning races something will have to give.

Time For A Tune Up

As I said earlier, my first race in NASCAR Heat 3 was very arcade-ish. When you dive into car setups, though, NH3 caters to all but the most demanding racing fans out there. When it comes to difficulty settings, everything you need is included: AI difficulty, race length, damage severity, even turning off yellow flags. As far as driving aids, NH3 lets you switch between auto and manual transmissions, but stability control is condensed down to a single yes/no option which makes sense considering stock cars aren’t known for being easy to drive.

To compensate for the lack of driving aids, the game does give you access to all types of tuning options. If you’ve seen a pit crew make the adjustment during a real race, you can count on having the ability in-game as well, from shock and spring settings, all the way down to the amount of grill tape. If you’re like me and don’t have the time or desire to fine-tune every single setting, don’t fret, Monster Games has included a dumbed down version where you just choose how tight or loose your car will be.

A True Simulator?

Whichever setup style you like, it will make an impact on your chances to win, but not as much as I’d like. In most racing sims, I am just a little north of average. I can bump the AI up a notch or two, turn off a few of the driving aids, and hopefully find my way onto the podium more often than not. In NH3, it was a different story. I was able to turn off stability control, turn on full damage and tire wear, and cranked the AI up to 100. Even with all that going against me, after a little practice at each track, I was able to be competitive race after race (excluding the truck series. I hate those little buggers).

This was most evident on the dirt. Dirt tracks add a whole new dynamic to racing, and they were a lot of fun. It is a blast to go full bore into a turn, dive down, and let your rear end swing wide. Unfortunately, the AI didn’t realize this was an option. Keeping their car stable, they methodically (read slowly) made their way around the turns as I lapped them over and over, even on max difficulty and AI settings.

This carried over to all of the different series. The only thing that could keep me from winning every race was my own ability to stay focused. As expected, going into a turn on a short track or speedway without letting off the gas or using the brakes is a recipe for disaster, but NH3 is just a little too forgiving. A little more variation in AI ability would go a long way in fixing this.

It’s All In The Details

I have saved the worst for last. At 200 mph everything is a blur, right? Well, it shouldn’t be. And to be very clear here, what I am talking about is the mediocre graphics quality in NH3. Even with an older graphics card I never had a problem with the frame rates, which consistently stayed above 70-80fps, even with maximum detail settings at 3440×1440. The in-car detail was pretty good, and so were any other cars in my close proximity. The detail wasn’t the same as the glorious graphics in F1 2018, but the detail was good enough that I could read individual stickers on the bumper in front of me.

Where things fell apart is when you look ahead four or five car lengths. The level of detail change is very distinct and way too close. And that detail change didn’t happen just once, but there was another drop in detail just ahead of the first. To be able to see two changes in detail, not just on superspeedways but even on quarter-mile dirt tracks, is the exact opposite of immersive. Fencing is a blurry mess, and shadows are even worse; shadows were fuzzy at long distance, then disappeared completely at mid-range, only to pop back on the track in high res just in front of your car.

Final Thoughts

Adding in a full dirt track series this year was by far the biggest improvement to the series, and the increased depth to the career mode wasn’t far behind. All but the most hardcore sim fans will be able to find a difficulty setting that is challenging yet rewarding. It is disappointing, though, that the graphics aren’t up to par with other 2018 racing sims. The level of detail pop-in was a total immersion breaker and could have been pushed out further considering the frame rates my older video card achieved even at higher resolutions.

Stock cars are not nearly as sexy as other high-performance racing machines, but that doesn't mean they aren't fun to drive. While nothing has been done to improve on last year's graphics, a full dirt track series and fleshed out career mode are welcome editions in NASCAR Heat 3. There is plenty of bumping and grinding, but gamers of all skill levels will find a difficulty setting to suit their abilities, so strap in and put the pedal to the metal!
  • Dirt tracks are a great addition to the series
  • Expanded career mode
  • More left turns than any one person deserves
  • Sub par graphics for a 2018 racing sim
  • AI is a little too easy
Written by
Old enough to have played retro games when they were still cutting edge, Mitch has been a gamer since the 70s. As his game-fu fades (did he ever really have any?), it is replaced with ever-stronger, and stranger, opinions. If that isn't the perfect recipe for a game reviewer, what is?

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