With the delay of Sega Rally 2, ASC Games has the honor of being the first off-road racing game to hit the States. However, with the exception of a couple interesting options, TNN Motorsports HardCore Heat lacks any real punch and comes off as one of the few throwaway titles available at launch.
In the features department, HardCore Heat is pretty standard. All your basic modes are present, including championship mode, time attack, and practice mode. You can modify your car's brakes and suspension, as well as modify the decals that appear on the car. Four tracks are available at the start of the game, and there are two more to unlock as you progress through the game's three championships. The track design is split between short stretches of pavement and long areas filled with sand, snow, dirt, mud, or some other slippery substance. The vehicles fall into two categories: dune-buggy-style rally vehicles and trucks.
The game's most interesting feature is the AI mode, where you build up a car that drives similarly to the way you take the turns. Basically, you just pick a car and enter the time-attack mode. The more laps you complete, the more the machine learns. An AI check section grades your AI and lets you know which tracks your car can't quite handle yet. The AI starts out incredibly stupid, getting caught on all sorts of obstacles and taking upward of five minutes to complete a lap that any novice could finish in two minutes. Once it's learned enough to be competitive, you can race against your AI driver.
The analog control is good enough, but the game's physics model makes the game feel like one big powerslide - you never feel truly in control of your car, no matter how good you get at countersteering and working the handbrake. The computer cars in the championship mode don't seem too bright on any of the three difficulty settings, and it shouldn't take anyone more than a day or two to win the final championship. Building up a good AI vehicle will take a bit longer, due to the sheer number of laps you must complete to teach the game how to drive. It would have been a neat idea to include championship-mode races in the AI calculations, so the drivers would learn how to compete against other's cars rather than just how to navigate the tracks. The game's music is an exercise in generic guitar rock. With the Nashville Network license, it might have been nice to see some licensed music in this department. The sound effects are OK, but the whole game has an echo to it, making it sound as though each race is taking place in a parking garage. Also on the annoying audio front are the weak little platitudes that drivers spit out when passing each other or crashing into a stationary object.
HardCore Heat does a good job in the graphics department, but it doesn't really go out of its way to impress. There's not much pop-up, and you can see drivers inside their cars. One of the camera views puts an inset shot of the interior of the cockpit in the corner of your screen so you can watch your driver shift and steer. It takes up far too much of the screen to be interesting for long, though. Little effects like the spraying up of gravel, dirt, and mud look pretty bad, and the car shadows are a bit on the odd side, as well. The two-player split screen doesn't add much pop-up to the equation, and the frame rate remains pretty solid.
You can sum up TNN Motorsports HardCore Heat with one simple phrase: Wait for Sega Rally 2. HH may be the first on the block, but it can be completed within one rental period, and it doesn't have the replay value to warrant more than a three-day rental.