NASCAR Heat 3 review: A welcome standout in the Sim Racing genre

Good physics and a comprehensive NASCAR experience make this a must-have title for casual and serious gamers.

NASCAR Heat 3 review: A welcome standout in the Sim Racing genre
NASCAR Heat 3 video game screenshot
NASCAR Heat 3 video game screenshot
Esports
NASCAR Heat 3 video game screenshot

There is no shortage of racing titles in the world of video games. Furthermore, titles that connect in some manner to real-world racing bodies have a reputation for placing the brand over the gaming experience. In other words, it can be very difficult to stand out in this segment, or worse, stand out for the wrong reasons. NASCAR Heat 3 from Monster and 704 Games does indeed stand out, but we’re happy to say it’s for the right reasons. In fact, it’s so good we suspect its appeal could spread beyond NASCAR fans to sim racers in general.

Try NASCAR Heat 3 for FREE on Xbox One and PlayStation 4!

Here’s what you need to know right off the bat. There’s far more to this title than racing at America’s network of oval and tri-oval superspeedways, and we’re not just talking about the road courses included in the track selection. NH3 offers up a wonderfully comprehensive career mode where you can create your driver and work through the ranks just like the pros did, starting with dirt track racing. Dirt track? Yes, sideways-loving dirt-track racing is part of the package.

There’s another cool aspect to career mode, however. Instead of just being a driver in search of a full-time ride, you can start your own team with the money you earn. In that role you can be the driver, owner, and manager, hiring other drivers and crew to build progressively better cars. With better cars you win more races, which lets you build a bigger team, so you can build better cars – you get the idea. And there’s even some significant creative liberty in designing your cars, from color and graphics to sponsor logos, wheels, and numbers. We suspect die-hard NASCAR fans will love career mode.

This is, however, a racing game first and foremost. If you want to skip details and start trading paint in the big leagues, NH3 will make it happen without delay. Setting up a quick race in the Monster Energy series is accomplished with just a few steps, and broader sim racing fans will feel right at home with the on-track action. The physics lean more towards the arcade side of the spectrum, but there’s plenty of sim feel to make it challenging, especially on higher difficulty levels with assists turned off. Even if you’re just lapping in a practice session, you’ll quickly find yourself testing different lines to pick up hundredths of a second. That’s a testament to the time Monster spent on finding the right balance of fun and function.

We spent much of our time racing on the Xbox One with a Logitech G920 wheel, and feedback through the system was excellent. The game doesn’t support the same depth of feedback adjustment as you’ll find in titles like Forza 7 or Project Cars 2, but those titles lean closer to the simulation world. NH3 doesn’t need that kind of functionality, which is actually refreshing for this level of entertainment. Spend a couple minutes adjusting sensitivity and dead zones to your liking and you’ll be drafting and passing with the best of them. We also turned many laps with the standard controller and found the functions to be comfortably intuitive and easily managed. Best of all, fine steering adjustment with the stick is easy to master in no time, and that's important here because the key to being good at this sim is to be patient. Make subtle moves and look far ahead on the track – just like in real racing – and you'll see the checkered flag.

As for realism to NASCAR as a sport, the sky’s the limit in NH3. Whether in career mode or setting up quick races, you can make things as simple or complex as you want. That includes hour-long practice sessions, qualifying, and full-length races that require legit pit strategies for tires, fuel, and if you’re unlucky, repairing damage. On the flip side, you can run a five-minute sprint with no rules – basically your own green-white-checker finish – all day, every day. The same goes for dialing in your car, with in-depth adjustability for tech-savvy racers, or a simplified scale that will automatically set up your car for tight (understeer) or loose (oversteer) handling.

Perhaps the best part of NH3 is its comprehensive online multiplayer capability. Having only been out for approximately a month there’s already a rich community of racers to join in head-to-head battles, and Esports tournaments are cropping up on a regular basis. Sure, the AI makes for enjoyable offline racing, but running in a pack of 36 digital cars at Daytona with human hands directing the action is really where this title shines.

There are a couple downers, but neither is enough to dampen our enthusiasm. NH3 doesn’t look bad by any means, but it doesn’t have the visual pop of other titles, especially when it comes to 4K playback. The graphics almost have a previous-gen console feel at times, but it's not particularly noticeable at speed on the track. More noticeable are occasional framerate stutters that don't slow down the action as much as give it a mildly choppy feel at times. It isn't prevalent online at all, perhaps because there will always be lag issues that crop up so it's not noticed. Point being, these are fussy quips that don't detract from racing action.

Our conclusion? With the holidays around the corner, NASCAR Heat 3 certainly wouldn’t be a bad gift for any gaming aficionado who enjoys racing at home. The title is available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and on PC.

Take a lap around Martinsville Speedway where the NASCAR Cup and Truck Series will compete this weekend:

shares
NASCAR Roundtable: Will tempers flare at Martinsville again?
Previous article

NASCAR Roundtable: Will tempers flare at Martinsville again?

Next article

Brad Keselowski tops two playoffs drivers in Saturday's first practice

Brad Keselowski tops two playoffs drivers in Saturday's first practice
How an unlikely tie-up won sim racing's biggest prize Prime

How an unlikely tie-up won sim racing's biggest prize

An unlikely partnership between World Endurance Championship LMP1 privateers Rebellion Racing and Williams Formula 1's highly-successful sim racing team yielded victory in the inaugural 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual. Here's how it triumphed in the biggest sim race ever staged

Esports
Jun 15, 2020
How seriously should Esports be taken? Prime

How seriously should Esports be taken?

As interest in Esports has increased during the coronavirus lockdown, the lines have become blurred between what's real and what's virtual - especially when some high-profile participants seem to be playing for laughs, says Luke Smith

Esports
Jun 10, 2020
Why Abt's deception left Audi with no choice Prime

Why Abt's deception left Audi with no choice

Daniel Abt's suspension by the Audi Formula E team - and possible loss of his drive - for fielding a ringer in an Esports event could be considered an overreaction. But in a wider context, his employers had little other alternative

Esports
May 26, 2020
How Leclerc is embracing his new mission Prime

How Leclerc is embracing his new mission

The emergence of Ferrari F1 driver Charles Leclerc as a Twitch streaming star has been one of the pleasant surprises of lockdown so far. He says it is giving fans a greater insight into his nature, but that's not his primary purpose

Formula 1
Apr 23, 2020
Leclerc's Virtual GP annihilation deserves great credit Prime

Leclerc's Virtual GP annihilation deserves great credit

The introduction of Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi to Formula 1's Virtual GP last weekend meant it was a step above the franchise's debut two weeks ago. But a dominant performance from Esports newcomer Leclerc stole the show

Esports
Apr 6, 2020
How the hidden side of being fast has been exposed Prime

How the hidden side of being fast has been exposed

The lack of real track action so far this year hasn't stop drivers from keeping their racing brains 'fresh', as former F1 star Stoffel Vandoorne suggested last weekend.

Esports
Apr 2, 2020
Why entertainment isn't Esports greatest virtue right now Prime

Why entertainment isn't Esports greatest virtue right now

MotoGP's virtual #StayAtHomeGP was a sad reminder of some of the storylines that could be unfolding had the real-life season not been delayed indefinitely by the coronavirus pandemic. While we can bemoan Esports as being a poor relation of the real thing, it has an even more important function to perform

MotoGP
Mar 30, 2020
F1’s pantomime Virtual GP is fun but unsustainable Prime

F1’s pantomime Virtual GP is fun but unsustainable

F1 Esports' inaugural Virtual Grand Prix last weekend provided brilliant entertainment to those tuning in to watch a mix of F1 drivers and celebrities battle on track, but was a missed opportunity for marketing its own Esports stars. A change of approach is needed if it is to successfully fill the void until the resumption of proper racing

Esports
Mar 24, 2020