|Driving games have undergone
quite an evolution over the past few years. They have all sorts of shiny new features to
explore. Change the color of your car, add new decals. Tune your car differently on each
track to get that extra edge that will take you to victory. All of these features are well
and good of course, but they dont make a game by themselves. The real formula for
success is much more simple: Good control + pretty graphics+ lots of tracks to drive
around on = a great racing game. HardCore Heat may be the first off-road racing game out
of the blocks on the Dreamcast, but they lost sight of this formula somewhere along the
way and only managed to nail one of the three ingredients. The result is an insanely short
product that frustrates the hell out of you and looks pretty while it doing it .
HardCore Heat offers a mix of on- and off-road racing. Most of the tracks are a little bit of each. You can zoom down the freeway and then plow through sand dunes on your way to the finish line. The game's eight cars are divided into two categories. Dune buggies and big trucks. The big trucks go faster, of course, and the dune buggies corner a little better. The vehicles all had stats detailing their horsepower, torque, and weight. Presumably these affected the gameplay somehow, but I never could figure it out beyond big trucks go fast, little dune buggies go around corners better. Yep, pretty basic. You can re-tune various aspects of your car to make it excel in different areas. For example, you could re-tune your big truck to go slower but accelerate faster like a buggy. Or you could re-tune your buggy and make it go faster like a big truck, but itll accelerate slower.
The graphics on HardCore Heat are moderately neato. Theyre a cut above what you can find on other systems, but theyre nothing special on the Dreamcast. Japan is a pretty cool looking race track and the lightning storm in France is pretty sweet, and these combine for the games graphical highlights. The vehicles themselves are smooth and detailed very well, and you can even see the driver in the front seat. Unfortunately thats about all of the complimentary things I can think of.
Control on a driving game is the single most important element, and its the first area Hardcore Heat falls flat on its face. The control is just bad, and fish tailing is a way of life you just have to get used to in order to play this game. Ive been driving for a while now and when I go to make a routine right hand turn I hardly ever slip into a nine hundred and twenty degree spin and end up gunning it in the wrong direction. In HardCore Heat, you will. Learning to use the hand break helps, but not enough and it still doesnt have the consistency or the effectiveness to make the control useable. The graphics are burdened even further by the weak physics engine. Cars run into each other and generally slow each other down, but they dont react to each others momentum in any other way. Flipping your car is possible, but it wont slow you down much. Youll land on your wheels going only a little slower than before the flip. Brushing against a guard rail slows you way down when it looks like you should have gotten by with a little scraped paint. If its a close race and you have to choose between scraping the wall or flipping your car, flip the car every time. Theres a hairpin u-turn on one of the tracks where making the turn without incident is pretty much impossible, but you can slam down the gas and do ninety in a head on with the wall. Youll catch a sweet bounce around the corner as you ricochet off the wall and be off on your merry way. Its mildly amusing, but its not all that much fun.
This game has three difficulty levels. Normal, hard, and expert. In normal mode you have four races, in hard you do those four races plus one more. In expert mode you do those races plus one more. Some of the duplicated tracks will have different weather or the races take place at a different time of day, but thats it. Six tracks. Huh? What? Yep thats right, six bloody tracks. Whats up with that? Thats like eight bucks per track and the rest is just reruns. I have Pole Position II on my Atari and it has four tracks. I think we can do a little better. This game can be completed in four or five hours and it only takes that long because the control is so horrendous.
HardCore Heat does offer one innovative feature in the game. You can create and teach an AI to drive like you by saving an AI file on your VMU. It watches you race for a while and eventually emulates your driving style. You can then take your AI persona and race against it or see how it stacks up to other peoples AI. The feature works moderately well, but it takes quite a while to teach the AI to drive with any accuracy. If you have the patience to overlook the game's other flaws and want to keep driving on the same tracks over and over then enjoy. Otherwise youll probably find that its an interesting feature but it gets drowned out in the sea of inadequacies.
If you cant wait to see what Sega Rally 2 has to offer later this fall, and absolutely have to partake in some off-road action, then rent first. A weekend of casual play will take you through the game a few times and you wont want to come back for more.