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Hasbro Interactive

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Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 20 MB hard drive space, 8X CD-ROM, Direct3D

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Sound FX




Game Review - by James Allen
For quite a while, Papyrus and Sierra have dominated the stock car computer simulation et with their line of NACAR Racing games. Recently, Electronic Arts has entered the fray with NASCAR 2000. While EA's game had nice eye candy, the game was too much of an arcade game from some stock car racers. Now, preceding Papyrus's new NASCAR Racing 4 by a couple of months, comes NASCAR Heat, a game published by Hasbro Interactive, who just enteted the "simulation" area with RollerCoaster Tycoon. Can NASCAR Heat become the new king of the mountain, or is it just a diversion until NASCAR 4 is released?

NASCAR Heat has some impressive features. First, it features 27 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup drivers and all but 2 of the 2000 tracks, excluding the elusive Pocono and Indy, which were not included in NASCAR Racing 3. But wait, that means Daytona is included! Finally, we can race around the world center of racing! The developers of the game said that actual blueprints were used to replicate the race tracks, and it shows. Also, just like all other racing games, NASCAR Heat includes single races and a championship season. The races for the championship season cannot be customized, however, outside of "short," "medium," and "long" seasons. The races themselves can be customized on several fronts.

The realism can be set to either normal or expert. Normal mode is for the beginner, while expert gives a accurate ride, with the totally 3D physics engine. It actually feels like you are driving an almost-out-of-control car, which is representative of real Winston Cup action. Either opponent strength can be set to a specific value, or the Adaptive AI can be used, which changes the strength of the computer cars based on how you are racing. This is helpful for the novice, as the AI drivers won't blow off your doors until you get really good. With these two settings, NASCAR Heat can be an arcade game or a complete simulation.

Additionally, pack size, from 16 to 43 cars, can be set, along with the length of the race. An interesting ghost mode, which shows a ghost car of your best lap while completing circuits, can be chosen to keep those lap times down. The wear factor, how quickly tires and gasoline is used, can be set from normal to 6x, if you ever have the notion of pitting every 10 laps or so. The flags used in the game can be set to none, black flags only, and all flags (including cautions). A feature I like is Caution/Pitroad Driving. After you cross the finish line to take a caution flag, or when you enter pit road, the computer takes over your driving. No worries about exceeding pit road speed limit or getting out of line on a restart. During a caution flag, stats are displayed, much like a television broadcast. On top of all this, a painfully simple paint kit can be used to create the car of your dreams, almost. All of the decals you can put on your car are fake, and not even fabricated sponsors, either. Why would I want to put a no right turn sign on my Winston Cup car? I'd be laughed out of the garage area! In addition, all of the numbers must be white in color. It seems the paint kit was thrown together at the last minute.

Redeaming the pitfalls are the two radical game modes: Beat the Heat and Race the Pro. Beat the Heat involves a scenario of driving, whether it be passing 3 cars on the last lap of a race, to an actual situation that occurred at a NASCAR track. Commonly, commentary from real Winston Cup drivers accompanies the introduction to the scenario, including Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Labonte, and Richard Petty. The Beat the Heat mode is almost worth the price of admission alone. Race the Pro involves you racing a ghost car of an actual NASCAR driver's best lap at several racetracks, using NASCAR Heat. This is a useful feature to learn the best line around that racetrack you've been having trouble with. Both of these features are innovative, and give NASCAR Heat replay ability.

The graphics are superb. With everything turned up, the tracks look like you are turning laps in the real location, and the cars are very detailed and accurate. With the 3D physics engine in use, the driving experience is exceptional. Your point of view changes while braking, accelerating, and crashing. When you brush the wall, or go in a direction other than the one intended, black s litter the walls and racing surface.

The representation of damage, however, is sub-par, and very inconsistent with the rest of the top-notch graphics. But, if you scour the options file, you find a property called "vertex damage," which gives very accurate damage graphic representation in the game (although it has no effect on the actual damage the car suffers). This is an undocumented and unsupported feature, which means that the developers did not finalize the feature by publish time. This is a cool feature (you should see some of my cars), and I am exceedingly surprised that it was not included in any form in the game or manual. A lot of the gaming public is missing this feature if they don't stumble over the command in a message board. In spite of this, the graphics are one of the best features of the game.

Sound FX:
The sound is great in parts, but not overall. The engine sounds are outstanding and sound as if you are controlling a powerful machine. Tire squeals are realistic. However, two areas of the sound fall below what is expected, and seem as though they were added at the last minute. The roaring crowd only appears twice: at the beginning and end of a race, and the spotter is not helpful at best. In several instances, I was informed of a car below well after I encountered said car, and consequently the wall and several other vehicles. The sound is capable, but does not stand out.

The gameplay is awesome, as long as you don't come in contact with any other cars. The AI is aggressive and tough, even on some lower levels. You are almost constantly on the edge of your seat while driving, and there are no dull moments, unlike some other NASCAR simulations, as keeping your car on the track in expert mode is a challenge. Now, once you meet and greet other cars, the game quality degrades quickly.

Damage is rather unrealistic. The AI cars seem glued to the track, and casual contact on a superspeedway, which should send a car spinning, send you spinning, and the other car rides on to victory. After cars wreck, a flipped car can win the race, and even flying head on into other cars leave you with minor, fixable damage. Speaking of flipped cars, cars tend to flip more often then they should, but not to the level of the flip-fest found in NASCAR 2000. By the way, all damage, no matter how severe, can be fixed during an 18 second pit stop. What a pit crew! The aerodynamic loss because of damage is unnoticeable. Plus, a feature I still am looking for, a car canoot be taken behind the wall for major damage, then come out later. If you are looking for arcade damage, here you go. For an accurate Winston Cup representation, look elsewhere.

Cautions are atrocious. A nine car pile up is needed for a flag to come out, and, if you choose auto driving during cautions, expect to have damage after the computer is done. In almost every caution flag, other cars repeatedly slam into my computer-controlled car, busting my radiator and such, costing me the race. This is very inexcusable. Why didn't the beta testers catch this? I once was hit from the back 10 times in a row by another car, causing slight damage (see the previous paragraph), but enough to affect my performance. Unless a patch comes out to fix this abhorrent problem, the gameplay is substandard.

NASCAR Heat is a good attempt at a Winston Cup simulation and arcade game all in one, and it almost succeeds. The innovative Beat the Heat and Race the Pro games are unique and fun. The physics engine is realistic, and gives for an accurate driving experience. However, until the damage and caution problems can be fixed, the general public should hold their money until NASCAR Racing 4 is released.

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