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NASCAR Heat 2002 (Xbox) Review

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Over the years the PC was about the closest thing you could get to experiencing a decent game of Nascar. The problem was playing on a 15” monitor and your computer crashing halfway into a competitive race was never too much fun. So for the most part I put up with the consoles' less than stellar graphics and physics, along with the puny 20 car fields so that I never had to worry about those PC problems. Earlier this year Nascar Heat 2002 was released for the PS2 and remedied part of the consoles' problem with realistic physics, but a less than dazzling 24-car field still left me desiring the complete experience. Then on November 15, that 2 tons of fun, that heavy as a Chevy Xbox was released along with Nascar Heat 2002 and for that I thank the heavens. You now have the best Nascar experience to date with a 43-car field and truly realistic physics. So go ahead, plop your lazy butt on the sofa and I'll fire up the big screen. Let's get down and dirty with Heat. Can things get any better with this Nascar game? Well, there might be room for a little improvement.

Presentation/Graphics : 87
I'll admit it. I'm a big time graphics whore. Hey, it's part of the complete gaming experience, right? Nowadays I expect the whole package in a game. It doesn't really feel like you're mixing it up with “Little E” or Jeff Gordon if there's just 10 Atari 2600 pixels per car. So you have to start with looks, and looks are something that Heat has done a good job with. Probably one of the first things you'll notice is the awesome use of shading and lighting effects. As you're going around certain portions of the track, your car will go in and out of shadows that are caused by the grandstands and even high light poles. Sometimes the shadows will even cover just half the asphalt on one of the straight-aways - very cool. Also when the sun is positioned just above the grandstands, you will get a face-full of glare. I'm not talking about some cheesy lens flare either. I'm talking about a cornea burning bright sun. Another great aspect of Heat is that all the tracks have their own unique look and feel to them. This really makes for non-repetitive gameplay. The tracks all are detailed according to their real life counterparts and are done with bump mapped details like infield grass or added extras such as worn concrete tracks that make the environments very true to life.

All right, let's talk about your sled a little bit. One thing that was very noticeable in the PS2 version of Heat was those darn jaggies. But the Xbox version seemed to have taken care of most of those problems. If you look at the roofline or the rear bumper on your car during a race, you'll notice very smooth edges. That goes for the top of the concrete guard wall, too. Man, what a relief. Hopefully from here on out we'll never have to worry about anti-aliasing problems again, thanks to Bill. Your car's shape, color and textures are spot on too. Clear logos and numbers on the cars are nice and so are the magnificent looking wheel welds. No more flat rims, they actually have depth to them now. One thing you might notice is that the cars' gloss and reflections aren't quite up to snuff. They are a little flat and don't match the quality of EA's Thunder. It's not something that you're going to dwell on during the heat of gameplay, but it is noteworthy and hopefully Infogrames will add a few coats of wax on the cars in next year's version of Heat. This is the main reason that Heat didn't receive a higher score in the graphics department.

Presentation/Audio : 89
The audio in Heat is fairly slim but what's there is quite good. First off you'll notice the roaring of the engines and they sound extremely realistic. Once you get into a pack of cars and start mixing it up, you'll notice the multiple engine sounds surrounding you. There's also that nice, numbing engine drone you get while racing on a super speedway when it's just you and the open road. And for you freaks, there isn't a whole lotta' things better than violently crashing into your opponent's ride and the sounds that come from that are outstanding in Heat. You can really feel the impact when you get t-boned or ram head-on into a guardrail. Then there's the metallic grinding sounds of love taps and rubbing fenders that really heat things up. When I'm playing a driving game I like things as realistic as possible. So the sounds that I want to hear are the sounds that you would hear in the real world. So what you get is a very accurate spotter letting you know if it's clear or if you're low on fuel and that's about it. It suits me fine, but it would have been nice to have the option of turning off some sort of color commentary in the game. That's the only real negative I could find with the audio.

Interface : 80
Nascar Heat does have a lot of options and are really unique to a Nascar game but it's missing the most important feature in any Nascar title and that's create-a-driver. You won't be able to create a car and paint it up how you like it with unique sponsors and logos. However, you can take over an existing Nascar driver and override their name with your own name if you'd like. Another part of Heat that's a little funky is out of the 43-car field, only 26 of them are real Nascar drivers and cars. The rest are fictitious. You'll see cars that have the Xbox logo on them or another made up company and it makes things a little unrealistic at times. All right, enough of the bad because there are a few cool features that Heat delivers. The first one is Beat the Heat. It's a series of 36 driving tests ranging from passing a certain number of cars and avoiding major pileups to pull out a top finish. The second feature is Race the Pro. Here you will be matched up against a certain driver on that driver's best course in a head to head battle for first place. Some of these match-ups can be tough.

The PS2's menu and load times in Heat were pretty rough but that's all been taken care of in the Xbox version. Load times are quick and painless. There's all new rustic looking menus that are easy to navigate through and nice to look at. There's also a great garage menu that let's you adjust and tweak your car as much as you want. There are settings for weight, shocks, springs, tires, etc. that can be changed to suit your particular driving style. And if you don't want to deal with all of this, just keep it on the default settings and start racing. You've also got single and championship race modes that are typical to racing games. There's a race length and wear factor option within both modes that can be adjusted. So you've got quite a few things in there that will keep you busy.

Gameplay : 96
Even though I'm a graphics whore, I know the most important part of a game is the gameplay. This is where Heat rules. This might be a bold statement, but there has never been a Nascar game that has the realism and intensity that Heat delivers while you're racing. So hopefully you're saying to yourself “What makes the gameplay in Heat so good?” With one word I can answer that question and that word is “physics.” Heat's physics are so darn real that it might turn fly-by-night Nascar fans away from this game. It can be touchy and I would easily classify it as a sim and not an arcade racer. What Heat gives you is the ability to tap someone's rear quarter-panel, watch them at 190 mph do a 180 degree turn, slide all the way down to the bottom of the track, skid all the way back to the top and smash into the concrete guard rail. All of this can take place right in front your car - what a rush. Now don't forget this can also happen to you so be careful, these guys can play rough as well. If that didn't crank your engine, you've now got crashes that aren't just caused by you, but computer controlled opponents rubbing and crunching each other. It's great because you'll be chuggin' along and about a ¼ mile in front of you there's smoke and another car losing control and crashing into the guardrail. That's good stuff. The last game I played, I surprisingly came across a car that had been in a wreck. It was stopped and balancing on its side in the lower portion of the track. It's little things like that which gives this title a lot of realism.

Patience is definitely part of this game. If you've ever watched a real Nascar race or at least the last 10 laps then you know that you're not going to just whiz by everyone like they're standing still. You've got to set up your opponent, watch what line he might take, and decide when to make your move. Or maybe you're stuck in a group of 9 cars with 3 wide and your decision is to try to get behind the fastest line. If I see Rusty in the front of one of these lines, that's the line I would probably take. All this takes patience and concentration especially in this scenario. You can rub fenders with someone a little, but a big enough mistake in braking will turn the car in front of you sideways and you will become part of a messy crash. This could easily happen if you have cars on both sides of you and no place to go. This is all set up because of the enormous 43-car field and the realistic A.I. of the computer-controlled cars. Without all these cars on the track at once, none of this could take place.

About the only thing I could come up with that's a little negative about the gameplay is the control of your car is very sensitive. You can easily lose control of your car, even on the straight-aways with an aggressive turn of the wheel and getting into the crease will cause instant trouble. Adjusting the wheel lock will help a lot with the sensitive control issue but the only way not to lose it at high speeds in the crease is to stay out of the crease. So that's what I do. You also have a working pit crew helping you out. They are a pretty typical bunch. Not too many polygons and a few missing frames of animation as they run around your car changing tires and filling you up. But what do you expect from this bunch. They've always been a bit overlooked in Nascar games and these guys are no different but it's never been a big issue with me. While in the pits you can request how much fuel and how many tires you want to go along with a few other attributes. Let me stress that these few negative issues are very minor and barely detract from the best-playing Nascar game ever made.

Replay Value : 91
I consider myself a little more fanatical about Nascar than most. Now don't get me wrong I don't have the number 3 sticker on my back windshield or a number 8 flag waving off of my antenna, but I like to watch Nascar. Even more, I like to play Nascar games. So this game has tremendous replay value to me because just like any sports title, it's never the same thing twice even if you race on the same track over and over again. But realistically with 19 tracks and 26 cars to choose from, along with the Beat the Heat and Race the Pro, you've got a long way to go until you get bored. I didn't even mention the ability to link up 8 Xbox's together for a total of 32 racing at once. I understand that's a bit unlikely, but you'll always be able to get a buddy to bring his Xbox over and hook up another television so you don't have to split screen it. You can do this for the low cost of $14.95 for the official Xbox link cable.

Overall : 92
One things for sure. If you own both the Xbox and the PS2, buy the Xbox version of Heat. The 43-car field in the Xbox version compared to 25-car field in the PS2 version is by far what makes the Xbox game better. It makes the game so much more interesting. Nothing's more annoying than driving in circles all by yourself. Heck, that's what takes this game to the next level of realism. Bumping and grinding from start to finish and passing lapped cars has been something sorely missing from console Nascar games. O.K. that takes care of which version to buy so what about Heat vs. Thunder. That's an even easier one. Once again Heat wins out. Why? Well, they do both have the 43-car fields but the car physics are what make or break a Nascar game. And the physics are just way off in Thunder. Cars in Thunder, especially the A.I. cars, have unrealistic acceleration along with stop-on-a-dime braking. They also love to ram you from behind for no reason, which really sucks. Also when I tap Tony Stewart's left rear quarter-panel, I expect him to do a 180 or a 360 and smash into the wall like in Heat, not just fishtail and scrape the wall a little. So Nascar Heat 2002 for the Xbox is the game to get. It's a Nascar title that's a true racing fan's dream. Buy it now.

By: Michael Wicks 12/24/01

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