The embargo has finally lifted on NASCAR Heat 3, which is being published by 704Games and developed by Monster Games, the same outfits who have worked on the first two iterations of this NACAR video game franchise. I got the chance to go hands-on with it at E3, but up until now I have had to keep quiet about my experience due to the now lifted embargo. Now that it is gone, it’s time to talk about what I played and saw, and if you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll want to stick around, because this may be the most complete video game NASCAR sim experience to-date.
In NASCAR Heat 3 the biggest new addition to the gameplay formula is a brand new eight track dirt-racing circuit called the Xtreme Dirt Tour. Here players, like real-life NASCAR drivers, can experience what it’s like to start out as a local dirt-track racer looking to gain fame in the mud with the hopes of getting the nod to join the big leagues in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The real fun in this new mode though is in trying to figure out how to race on the extremely loose dirt tracks. I got to try out a few dirt tracks after racing on the standard lineup of NASCAR tracks and holy moly was it a completely different feeling experience. Thanks to the dirt surface, every aspect of your racing has to change to succeed on this very slippery courses. Your backend wants to swing out from under you constantly, so even when playing with most of the driving assists on you will have to completely relearn how to navigate the dirt track races. At first the learning curve was a bit hairy, but after a few races I really started to appreciate the more precision-based racing that I had to perform in this circuit versus the standard road-based ones.
I do believe gear-heads and hardcore NASCAR fans will love this mode though, especially thanks to the very deep tuning system featured in NASCAR Heat 3. This system be toggled using general slider settings such as loose or tight, or individually on a menu that takes up the full screen thanks to all of the tuning options you can mess with if you really want to play gear head and tweak every aspect of your vehicle’s performance. I for one preferred the basic toggles, and really leaned towards a tight assist setup, because quite frankly I just like to drive while playing racing games without having to worry about much outside of hitting the gas and making turns, but I did appreciate the option to toggle every little nuanced aspect of a race car, so those who are more mechanically inclined will surely be able to tweak their cars to their heart’s content.
While the new Xtreme Dirt Tour is the flashiest addition to NASCAR Heat 3 there are other new features to get excited about, such as the deeper career mode, which now features the ability to be an owner/driver of your own race team. We didn’t have time in my hands-on demo to go over the career mode, but in a nutshell once gamers hit the Truck Series they will have opportunities to join teams or run their own and will then build upon their career as they advance from Trucks to Xfinity to the Monster Energy Cup series.
I did get to race in the Monster Energy Series though, and I had a blast taking on another media member, as well as the A.I.. Like NASCAR Heat 2 I found the driving controls to be very precise, and depending on tuning, as authentic as you want them to feel. Like I said earlier I prefer to have the dumbed down assists on because it just makes racing more fun for me, but if you want to feel as if you were really in control of a NASCAR, then you can turn these assists off and go for a pure feel approach. There’s just something therapeutic about driving in NASCAR Heat 3, maybe it’s the relatively circular tracks and hum of the engines, but outside of some tight passing moments, I felt very relaxed and in tune with my car and driver, so the racing gameplay is just as solid as I remember from Heat 2.
Visually the game looks great too, but I wouldn’t say the graphics stand out. They’re not the most recent Forza-quality is what I’m saying, but for a pure NASCAR-centric game I’m not sure if that matters. To me, this type of racing game is more about the true-to-life NASCAR experience of being a driver and/or an owner, so if it doesn’t have cutting edge rain visuals or some sort of super-duper 4K graphics engine, I don’t think the core fan base will really care as long as it races well, and that I can confirm it does.
NASCAR Heat 3 is scheduled to hit the PS4, Xbox One, and PC on September 7, 2018, and it will features a $50 race-ticket coupon to use for a real life NASCAR racing event. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.
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