In the past, NASCAR racing games have been hard-core simulations like NASCAR 2001, featuring tons of customizable features and options, or more arcade-style games like NASCAR Rumble. NASCAR Heat, however, is a game that tries to meld the two styles, featuring fun and innovative game modes and the more in-depth simulation features seen in other racing sims.
Whichever style of NASCAR racing you enjoy, fans will undoubtedly agree that a NASCAR racing game has to have the basics, which NASCAR Heat certainly offers. The game is an officially licensed product of NASCAR, featuring the cars, sponsors, and tracks of the 2000 season. The game also has various modes of play, including single race, season, and a "take on the pro" mode. The take on the pro feature is simply a time-attack mode that lets you pick the track of your choice and try to beat the course's actual record time. The most innovative feature of the game, however, is called beat the heat mode. This mode lets you tackle individual challenges, such as taking a specific turn on a specific track as quickly and cleanly as possible. You're graded on your execution of completing these tasks with a gold, silver, or bronze rating. In order to advance through these tests, you must complete the trial with at least a bronze rating. This system is extremely similar to the license tests featured in the Gran Turismo series.
The control and physics in NASCAR Heat are really quite impressive. The cars accurately rock back and forth, accelerate, and decelerate, and they even react to collisions properly. In addition, the game's draft meter, which is similar to the one featured in Electronic Arts' NASCAR 2000, allows you to see how your driving techniques are flawed, and adjust them accordingly.. That is, of course, if you're able to beat the game's surprisingly tough AI, which actually tries to match your performance on the normal setting. On the expert setting, however, the game is incredibly tough, even for seasoned NASCAR game fans.
Visually, NASCAR Heat has some graphical flaws that unfortunately detract from the game's overall experience. The worst of these problems is the game's horrible amount of pop-up. Combined with the game's unstable frame rate, these graphical flaws actually affect your ability to control the car at times, since the slowdown makes it hard to judge the timing required to make key moves on the track. The models used for the game's environments and vehicles look fairly decent, although the textures used in the game look downright blurry. In the audio department, the game features some fast-paced rock tunes that are fairly entertaining. The game's sound effects, including the voices from the pit crew, aren't the greatest ever, but they do deliver an experience that's fairly realistic.
In the end, NASCAR Heat isn't quite the all-encompassing racing simulation that Electronic Arts' NASCAR 2001 is, but features like the beat the heat mode make the game worthwhile for any NASCAR fan.