NASCAR Heat 3 Review: Finding Its Line

Driving in circles is a great metaphor for what the NASCAR video games have felt like for the better part of the last decade.

While there have been nice strides forward at times, there was just too much of the same to really make the games feel fun and different year over year. It often felt like you were doing the same thing over and over and over again.

Get it? Like driving in circles.

NASCAR Heat 3 takes the foundation set in place by last year’s installment, and attempts to get stock car racing to the front line for gamers. But are the additions and changes enough to justify a purchase by fans, or is this a year worth taking a pit stop?

Let’s go Racing, Boys!

The absolute best part of NASCAR Heat 3 is — as it should be — the racing. After all, without great racing, the game is pretty much heading for a DNF.

It really doesn’t matter what type of racing experience you’re looking for. Whether you prefer an arcade-like style or you want it as realistic as possible, Heat 3 has something to offer every type of player. You can choose to make your experience as difficult or easy as you’d like. From the vehicle setups to the assists available, racing has never felt more accessible in a NASCAR game than NASCAR Heat 3.

Monster Games has done a great job of capturing the look and experience that dirt racing presents drivers…

There’s a nice sense of strategy when on the various tracks. Do you decide to hook up, bumper to bumper, with another driver to move up the field at Daytona? What about finding the best line possible to make a solo run into the Top 10?

You also get a sense of each vehicle feeling different from the others. You can tell the difference between trucks and stock cars.

In addition, the AI logic has seen some improvements with how they race. You won’t see the AI all pit at the same time anymore, as different drivers address their cars at different times. You will also see cars pair up to make runs depending on the race.

The one AI criticism I still have is that they will sometimes ignore you on the course. Instead of getting out of your way when you clearly have the faster car, they will be stubborn and stick to their line, thus taking damaging instead of driving smart.

The addition of the Xtreme Dirt Tour — and, in turn, more dirt tracks — adds to the racing in a great way solely because of how different it feels. Monster Games has done a great job of capturing the look and experience that dirt racing presents drivers, forcing players to attack each race differently compared to how they would a race on an asphalt track.

Asleep at the Wheel

Overall, the presentation and look of NASCAR Heat 3 isn’t what I would consider a strong point of the game. The vehicles don’t look terrible, per say, but they certainly don’t look as polished and detailed as they could at this stage of a console generation.

The tracks resemble their real-life counterparts quite nicely, but there are some texture issues that stand out and take away from the game a bit. Luckily, the gameplay is so good that it’s pretty easy to forget about the sub-par visuals.

What isn’t easy to forget is the complete lack of presentation that NASCAR Heat 3 offers. Or, should I say doesn’t offer.

The game doesn’t have any sort of announcers to talk about the action on the track either before, during, or after races. There’s no sense of any actually rivalry between drivers that you would expect based on your interactions on and off the track. There just really seems to be no human element to the game’s action at all, which is really disappointing to see in the third installment.

Now, I don’t need the FOX or NBC crew calling each and every race, but what about having them talk about the field during a given race? Maybe show some stats on the screen for a few drivers? Something…hell, anything would be better than what we have now.

A Deeper Experience

One of the biggest faults of NASCAR Heat 2 was the lack of purpose of the game’s career mode. Sure, you started out in the Camping World Truck Series with the goal of making it to the Monster Energy Cup Series, but that was the only thing you did. The money you earned didn’t matter, and there was nothing to really do outside of racing.

It’s nice to see that NASCAR Heat 3 does a great job of bolstering the mode, making it worth more than just a one-time play.

First, you start in the previously mentioned Xtreme Dirt Tour rather than on an actual NASCAR circuit. After taking some Hot Seat offers during the first season, you’re then offered a contract with a team that you impressed on the track. That said, you don’t actually have to accept an offer as a driver this time around.

Should you have earned enough money during your limited races, NASCAR Heat 3 allows players to just create their own team.

As expected, you have a lot more on your plate when you’re a team owner compared to being just a driver. In one of the more in-depth features of a NASCAR game in quite some time, owners are tasked with using the money they’ve earned to build a team of drivers, buy chassis for various series and tracks, upgraded cars, and hire the best staff possible. All of this is done with the sole goal of winning a championship.

The best part of it is that it’s not an overwhelming experience. Even the newest players to the NASCAR Heat series can have success as a team owner off the track.

As an owner — as well as a driver, after you make it that far — you can compete in all four series at once. In fact, if you wanted, you could be a driver in one or two series while being an owner in the others. It’s all about how you feel like playing.

One area of the career mode that does fall flat is the introduction of “stories”. From video pieces that don’t flow to a boring social media feed, every story is pretty forgettable. It’s also pretty boring only having the ability to “complement” or “insult” fellow drivers on social media.

Just like the game’s presentation offering, the personality within the career mode takes away from overall experience of NASCAR Heat 3.

Verdict

Three years into its run, it’s clear that NASCAR Heat is a series continuing to make a move to the front of the racing pack.

Career mode is deeper than it’s been since Monster and 704 games took over the license, and is a great foundation for what’s to come in the future.

Each installment has offered something more that fans have been hoping for while giving players something fun that they weren’t expecting. With the joy that comes from becoming a success in your career to the fun that racing on dirt tracks offers, NASCAR Heat 3 is easily the best stock car racer we’ve seen in years.


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  • Gameplay
  • Game Modes
  • Presentation
  • Longevity

Summary

Three years into its run, it’s clear that NASCAR Heat is a series continuing to make a move to the front of the racing pack.

Overall
3.5
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Michael Straw
Michael Straw is a gamer who just happens to be an experienced journalist. In his near decade-long career, Mike has traveled across the United States to cover some of the biggest events in gaming and sports, including E3, PAX, as well as the NFL and NHL Drafts. His work covering gaming and sports led his content being featured on Fox Sports 1, SI.com and others. He was once the second-ranked player in the world in NHL 09 on Xbox Live, and is a huge pro wrestling junkie.