The NASCAR season is in full swing, but gamers are already looking to the future – September 7 in particular, when NASCAR Heat 3 comes out (PS4, Xbox One, PC). The game has just been announced, and I got my hands on the title and am heartened by the fact that developer Monster Games is bringing back more depth to the franchise’s career mode, a sore point in NASCAR Heat 2.
Based on my time with the game and the recent reveal, here’s what we know so far.
Career Mode Goes Back to the Garage
NASCAR Heat 2’s career mode was more about signing contacts and meeting sponsor objectives than it was about actually building an actual organization. You can still sign contracts with teams in Heat 3, but after earning enough money in the game’s early stages you can start one of your own. This, however, is a single-owner/operator company, so unfortunately you won’t be signing different drivers for multiple rides.
Unlike last year, now you’ll manage important team aspects like R&D and a cadre of employees. Departments covering engine, aero, and suspension are upgraded with team funds, and employees are hired to provide performance boosts. The game’s initial trailer demonstrates an example from an Xtreme Dirt Tour organization (more on that series later) showing a facility capable of supporting six different car bays, each with different cars sporting custom setups and employees (three per car) conferring bonuses.
This is exactly the kind of structure I expected NASCAR Heat 2 to adopt instead of regressing from the first title. It not only gives you control over how your car improves and your career progresses, but it also is a natural outlet for the money you earn – something that was a dead end in Heat 2.
Now that my appetite is whetted, I’m curious if you have any control over R&D etc. if you only sign a contract with an existing team and if you can do so if you fill the shoes of an existing driver versus a created one. What are the paint shop options? Can you own and control organizations in multiple racing series? On this last question I know you can race in multiple series at once (you have to decide which ones you’re going to participate in at the beginning of each season), but whether that’s only through contracts, owning multiple race teams, or a mix is unknown.
Finally, the career mode is getting some needed driver personality through more driver videos. This time, however, it won’t just be Brad Keselowski talking to you, but each series will have an individual mentor. Who the drivers are, however, are still to be announced. The cover features the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, so it’s a good bet they’ll be doing the honors.
Back to the Beginning
Just as NASCAR Heat 2 expanded with trucks, Heat 3 is going further back to its roots by bringing back dirt series racing via the Xtreme Dirt Tour. If you’re saying that there’s no such thing in real life, you’re right. It’s nine tracks which are a mix of real locations (like Heat 2’s Eldora), fantasy tracks (including an all-dirt road course with an asphalt drag strip), and hybrids taking advantage of parts of the geography of famous raceways like Bristol and Charlotte.
I got a small taste of the dirt cars at E3, and even after a few laps I liked it more than racing trucks in the dirt in NASCAR Heat 2 because I didn’t feel I had to carefully inch around the track – it felt comfortable racing fast and loose. Even though nine tracks isn’t a lot, if the dirt cars’ gameplay feels this different and special, it’ll make me a lot more eager to race a dirt season alongside a Cup car, for instance.
From a gameplay feel perspective, Heat 3 feels a lot like Heat 2. The difference being developer Monster Games is encouraging more setup experimentation via nine preset setups (three tight, neutral, and loose setups apiece) which are unlocked once you take the assists off. These can be tinkered with, but the general point is that you can select one and get the desired effect without having to fiddle with menu minutiae and potentially get too many variables out of whack.
I could definitely feel a difference between Tight 2 and Loose 2, for instance, and while you can be successful using any of them, you’re going to be faster on Loose 2 at the expense of stability upon contact. You’re going to want to try these out during practice sessions, during which you can also make use of the new dynamic racing line – which is only available during practices.
Speaking of lines, Monster Games is trying to do a better job of having A.I. racers use more racing grooves on the track and spreading out in general. Moreover, the studio says it’s implementing better pitting logic so that the A.I. cars pit when it’s smart to do so – as well as take some gambles in the hopes they can steal a win with good strategy. I really hope these aspects of the gameplay in Heat 3 pan out, because they could make a big difference to races’ outcomes, making them more exciting as well as realistic.
Racing Your Peers
The game’s first reveal talks about the addition of tournaments, but some of the details still have to be worked out for this feature. I did find out, however, that players will be seeded into tournament tiers based on performance in multiplayer. Players will have a certain amount of time to race in order to make it to the next tier. The rewards for winning a tournament in your tier still have to be worked out, as does how the tiering system is going to reconcile those who do or do not use stability assists.
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