NASCAR Heat 3 (PS4) Review
New dirt track racing adds variety
Wealth of modes
Career mode has a lot of depth
Some framerate and resolution issues
No qualifying in online modes
What’s the biggest sport in America? Is it football? Soccer? Basketball? Asking ten different people is likely to get you a few different answers. For a relatively small but very passionate subset of the population, their answer is always going to be NASCAR. While I may not be one of those people, admittedly, I will say that racing games are far and away one of the most consistently entertaining genres in gaming history, if titles like Forza and Need for Speed, or hell, even Mario Kart are any indication. Now in the third year of Monster Games’ revival of the NASCAR franchise, the question stands: is this a race worth qualifying for?
Right off the bat, I was struck by the wealth of options available at the main menu. There are six game modes: quick race, splitscreen, championship, challenges, career, and multiplayer. Each offered its own approach to the NASCAR formula, and I’ll break down the differences between them.
Quick race and splitscreen offer the easiest way to dive in for a quick couple of laps on the course of your choosing, single-player for the former and local multiplayer for the latter. In an age where splitscreen gameplay is becoming less and less expected, it was a pleasant surprise to be able to race against a real-life friend (which I totally have, guys, don’t worry). Championship mode offers something most akin to a grand prix in a game like Mario Kart, where your goal is to place the highest you can in a certain cup. I found this mode to be a nice balance between the no-strings attached quick race and the pretty involved career mode.
Challenge mode was one of the most interesting out of the bunch, in this reviewer’s humble opinion. In this mode, you are tasked with recreating famous NASCAR moments, and we’ve seen modes like this in titles like Madden, where you’re running a specific Super Bowl-winning play, or in the WWE 2K series, where you’re wrestling in famous Wrestlemania matches. While there may not be a ton of replayability in this mode, the white-knuckle snapshots from NASCAR history are definitely enjoyable while they last.
Career mode has been expanded from previous iterations of the game, and it’s all for the better. The most substantial addition is the ability to either take contracts and races as a driver, or start your own racing company. The latter option is the more involved of the two, and it allows you to hire mechanics and design colors for your car and things like that, though interestingly you’re somehow the only driver for your team, no matter how much money or staff you accrue. Either way, career is a great mode for anyone looking to sink their teeth into the depth this game has to offer.
The last mode to discuss is online multiplayer. This is a mode that many people will spend a lot of time in, as the CPU drivers have a tendency to behave the same way each race. I found in my experience that the online matches were mostly stable, with a few bouts of lag here and there. It thankfully never became too much of a hindrance, though, and my single biggest gripe with the online modes was the fact that there was no qualifying in the races.
Qualifying is definitely something that I took for granted in the offline modes, but grew to love the fact that it let me edge out an advantage before the race even began. Not having it in online mode is an oversight, for sure, and something that I hope gets patched in at some point in the future.
The presentation was a mixed bag. The music selection was a nice mix of genres, and the ability to choose a victory song snippet was a fun addition that I hope sticks around for the next game. Visually, the game is adequate, but nothing to write home about (or write the, uh, internet about). The framerate buckled on a few courses, and the visual fidelity on models other than the cars and the road were noticeably lower quality, presumably to lighten the load on the game’s engine. The dirt tracks, interestingly, were gorgeous by comparison.
Which reminds me. The dirt tracks are new to the series, and I most definitely think that they should become a staple of the series from now on, as they offered a welcome variety in terms of course design and handling. While the dirt track circuits are fictional, they stay true to the feel of the NASCAR Heat series, and overall are one of the most positive additions to the series.
Overall, the game offers a lot of options for anyone trying to throw down some rubber on the road. What NASCAR Heat 3 does well, it does extraordinarily well. The career mode offers two distinct ways to play, there is splitscreen play available for offline modes, and the new dirt track circuits offer welcome variety. For many people, that will be enough to offset any of the negative aspects, myself included. If you’re ready to climb behind the wheel, pick up NASCAR Heat 3 now on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam for $49.99.