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NASCAR may not be the most popular sport in North America but History shows us that that doesn't amount to a hill of beans in the video gaming world.

The sport of NASCAR has never been very well received here in the United States, or anywhere around the world for that matter. The thought of cars driving around a gigantic loop for 500 miles has never appealed (nor should it appeal) to the vast majority of the populous. With NASCAR Heat, Infogrames took a chance and attempted to put a realistic spin on a slightly arcade based racing engine. While the idea isn't all bad, it does present quite a challenge to the development team and sadly, the dev team masterminding NASCAR Heat didn't quite possess the know-how to make Heat a winner in the larger percentage of Xbox owners.

As with all Xbox games, the first that you'll notice is the graphics… but in NASCAR Heat, that isn't a good thing. At first glance the in game visuals an absolute treat with true to life tracks and cars, which are very nicely lit throughout the race. During the course of the game you'll have the distinct pleasure of zipping through day and night races on tons of true to life tracks that have all the same nooks and crannies as their real life counterparts. Unfortunately for Heat the beauty is only skin deep.

While racing through the game you'll have the option (the default setting is the X button) to activate a rear view mirror at your leisure. While this is a great idea in theory, the graphics engine simply cannot maintain the polygon output which is required which subsequently ends in a complete shutdown of the game's frame rate. Throw in the car damage screen which is controlled by the white button and the position meter which is controlled by the black button and you've got yourself one of the inexplicably slowest moving racing games ever made.

One of the biggest graphical touches that I was looking forward to in this game was the addition of a full 43-car field. Something that has been simply impossible on consoles of generation's past. Yet again, an excellent idea in theory, but the graphics engine of Heat simply will not allow for it. The details on the opposing cars are impressive in their own right but the inability to hold a constant frame rate is a real shame.

The gameplay department is fairly straightforward… turn left, and keep turning left until the race is over. It's a NASCAR game and the racing is fairly repetitive, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, and in some instances in the game can actually be quite fun.

The Championship Mode (a.k.a Season Mode) is where the meat of the game is found. You'll pick from one of twenty-seven all-star drivers and race through a total of 31 races in the exact order and style as your NASCAR idols. You'll have the full list of customizable options for your car, right down to the weight distribution on each tire and the gear ratios to fine tune your racing performance. The only fallback that I could find with the Championship Mode is the inability to go back and change the difficulty setting once you've begun racing. I foolishly jumped right into the Championship Mode and selected easy as my difficulty setting. Being the incredibly skilled driver that I am (that's what my friends let me believe) I breezed right through all 31 races without losing a single competition.

Despite my immediate propensity to head straight for the Championship Mode, the most fun that I had with Heat was found in the Beat the Heat mode. This mode consists of you working your way through a ton of amusing challenges set in six separate categories (basics, passing, rivals, reflex, advanced, and the king). Each category presents you with a host of challenges that rise in difficulty as you progress through the game. Another neat tidbit added in by Infogrames is the introduction of each challenge by either NASCAR announcer Allen Bestwick (don't feel bad if you don't know who he is) or some of the real superstars that we all grew up watching.

Other gameplay options include Race the Pro. Pick a setting and which professional driver you'd like to leave in the dust and you're good to go. Single race is just that, one race against a field of 43 drivers. And last but not least, the apparently forgotten, multiplayer aspect of Heat.

While it was an excellent idea to utilize the Xbox LAN capabilities by allowing for a 32 player System Link, with the only multiplayer option being Single Race, it doesn't accomplish a whole lot. The framerate seems to hold up very well with four players on the screen, and in some instances, seems to perform better than the single player mode. Obviously the detail of the single player game had to be scaled back a bit to accomodate the added stress on the system, the graphics hold up fairly well considering the lackluster frame rate of the solo portion of Heat.

Yet another blunder of NASCAR Heat is the sound aspect of the game, or lack there of. I'm not sure whether Infogrames knew about the hard drive and its ability to rip music or not, but it could have easily been utilized in the game. While racing around one of the game's plethora of tracks, there is literally NO music. Nothing, but the sound of your pit crew yelling one of four (apparently their vocabulary is limited to "You're clear!" or "Stay high!") phrases. The only saving grace of Heat's audio performance is the tires squealing and engine sounds included in the game. The sound of crunching metal is also a welcome treat, although I never got to hear it very much seeing as how I was always at the head of the pack. [Hey, you chose your own difficulty setting. - Ed.]

As much as I would have loved to find a NASCAR game that I would have enjoyed to play, NASCAR Heat just can't quite live up to my expectations. It's not really a bad game it's just not a very fun one.

Gamer X
Really shouldn't be allowed in a vehicle.

NASCAR Heat: The Scores













The Final Word:  Overall the game isn't all bad, but there just isn't a whole hell of good either. The graphics, sound, and gameplay are all dismal at best. Sorry to all those NASCAR fans out there, looks like you'll have to wait a bit longer for a safe NASCAR haven on Xbox.

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