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TNN Hardcore Heat (DC) Review

Background Info


With a Dreamcast launch lineup dominated by racing titles, it's taken a while to separate the wheat from the chaff. TNN Hardcore Heat (formerly Buggy Heat in Japan) was considered one of the early favorites to drive away with the DC racing crown. So, does Hardcore Heat live up to expectations and blow the doors off the competition? Not even close. Instead, the game spins out on the first turn and earns a DNF.

Presentation/Graphics : 83
The advent of a new and more powerful console like the Dreamcast sets a new graphical standard against which all games on that platform must be measured. Games like Soul Calibur, NFL 2K, Sonic, and Hydro Thunder (to name just a few) are first-generation titles that have given us a glimpse at the power of the system and, in the process, have established the benchmark. That said, Hardcore Heat's graphics, while impressive enough compared to what we're accustomed to seeing on the Playstation and N64, pale badly in comparison to other Dreamcast games.

First, the good. The off-road vehicles that populate Hardcore Heat are creatively designed and intricately detailed. They run the gamut from dune buggies to pickup trucks to hopped-up 4x4's. Each vehicle has a driver associated with it who is visible during the race. Pulling up behind an opponent shows off just how much detail has been lavished on the vehicles. You can literally see every spring. The movement of the vehicles is also realistically modeled in the way that they react to the bumps and grinds of the uneven terrain.

Where Hardcore Heat really falls short graphically is in the track graphics. For all the detail that the vehicles exhibit, it's conspicuously absent from the tracks. The result is that most of them look positively bland. You've seen much more impressive and creative backgrounds in any number of Playstation and N64 racing games. In fact, at times the overall look is reminiscent of something you'd expect to see on the PSX or N64. If it weren't for the great looking vehicles, you'd be hard pressed to believe that this game was running on the Dreamcast.

Environmental effects are a mixed bag. Your vehicle will pick up dirt over the course of the race, which is very cool and adds to the realism. However, dirt kicked up by your wheels, water, and tire tracks don't look the least bit convincing. And when was the last time you saw rubber skid marks on a dirt road? Rain and snow effects are nothing we haven't seen done much better elsewhere, but the lightning you'll see when driving during a thunderstorm looks awesome.

Presentation/Audio : 82
There's nothing remarkable about Hardcore Heat's audio package. The sound quality is loud, clear and fairly dynamic. The music is of the generic rock variety. It sounds okay over the menus, but it's nothing to get pumped up about while racing. Likewise, the engine sounds are good but not particularly noteworthy. The sound of skidding tires is reasonably realistic, but one vehicle I drove sounded like I was running over a cat every time I hit the brakes. Screech!!!

Interface/Options : 85
Hardcore Heat's menu system is sparse but easy to find your way around. Load times while navigating the menus are quick, and more than tolerable when moving in and out of races. The game isn't especially deep in options, but what is here is easy to get to and adjust. The only complaints here are that there seem to be an awful lot of prompts to load "AI data" (which we'll discuss shortly). And vehicles that you've customized don't seem to load automatically with the game (perhaps they do and I'm just not looking in the right place).

The control interface is the now standard Dreamcast setup of using the analog triggers for gas and brake. There's also a handbrake control, but it doesn't kick the back end of your car out as dramatically as it should (which may be a good thing depending upon your perspective of the game's control). There are three preset controller configurations but, inexplicably, the default doesn't include a look back function. You'll have to select one of the other two if you want to see what's going on behind you. That's because there's no rear-view mirror. Note to developers: Now that you have more than ample graphics processing power available to you, there is no excuse not to include an actual, working rear-view mirror in all future racing titles.

Your vehicle can be customized with various paint jobs and decals, but you can't change the gender of the driver. The driver is fixed for each vehicle. There's also the option to tune your vehicle's performance, though why it's included is anybody's guess. It's really not necessary in a game like this. The only option I wished it had, the ability to change tire type, isn't offered (though you can adjust grip). Why is it that developers of every racing game since Gran Turismo have felt compelled to include this level of customization? In the case of most arcade style racing games, Hardcore Heat included, it's nothing more than window dressing.

Gameplay : 70
Hardcore Heat offers the typical assortment of play modes that we've become accustomed to in racing games over the years, with the exception that there is no single race option. The "Practice" mode has to be one of the lamest inclusions ever in a video game. You're sent out into the middle of a desert with the vehicle of your choice, a series of ramps, and some sand dunes. What's the point? There is none. Trust me, if you want to practice go to the time attack mode and pick whatever track you feel like driving. There's no ghost car to challenge yourself with (again, why not?), but you'll be much further ahead in the long run.

Naturally, the meat of the game is the Championship mode. However, in the case of Hardcore Heat, there's very little meat on the bone. The championship series is divided into three levels, Normal, Hard, and Expert, consisting of 3, 4, and 6 races respectively. Finish in 3rd place overall in each series of races to qualify for the next class. When you've finished doing that, well, basically you're done. There are a couple of carrots to keep you playing beyond that, but they're baby carrots.

Hardcore Heat includes an innovative "AI Checker." The CPU measures your driving characteristics and creates a virtual representation of you as a driver. You feed the CPU the data by driving the tracks over and over in Time Attack mode (and we're talking about a fair bit of driving here). What's the point, you say? Exactly. Here's a quote from the manual that explains it: "…after enough practice in Time Attack Mode, (your car) will drive exactly as you do without you having to play. At this point, you can have a friend challenge your "AI" car in a 2 player VS game, and sit back and watch your virtual self compete." That's right folks, the first video game ever that you don't actually play! Doesn't that subvert the whole idea of video gaming? I'm partly kidding here. This is an interesting concept that may have some potential. If you could e-mail your "AI car" to a buddy on the other side of the continent, then we might have something.

One area that is bound to turn many gamers off of Hardcore Heat is the combination of its physics model and control. In some ways, the vehicle physics feel quite realistic. Driving powerful vehicles like these, often over soft and slippery surfaces, requires a light touch on the steering and careful modulation of the throttle. Gamers who like to race with the accelerator matted at all times will quickly become frustrated by frequent spinouts. And once you do spinout, some pretty shoddy steering control takes over and makes it difficult to get turned around and back into the race.

As racing games go these days, Hardcore Heat is light on both vehicles (8), and tracks (6). The vehicles not only differ in design but, as you might expect, handle differently as well. The tracks, for the most part, are quite short and unimaginatively designed. They get old in a hurry, and racing them at night or inclement weather does nothing to change that.

Replay Value : 50
Gamers are likely to fall into one of two camps when it comes to Hardcore Heat: those who are completely frustrated by it, and those who find it too easy. If you can deal with the sensitive control, you could easily finish the entire game in an evening. I was halfway through it myself within the first hour. And when you're done, there's really no compelling reason to keep playing, save for maybe two player. Even then, there's absolutely nothing about these tracks that would make me want to revisit them in head to head play. A time attack mode that included a ghost car would have helped some, but instead we get an AI mode that is designed to ultimately turn you into a spectator. I suppose you could always race yourself in split screen if you were so inclined.

Overall : 74
For all that Hardcore Heat lacks, it can be fun to simply rip around the tracks and try out all the vehicles. They are truly well done. However, with so few tracks and such shallow gameplay, the thrill is very short-lived indeed. For all but the most ardent fans of off-road racing, the game is an evening rental at best. There are some pretty decent racing games available for the Dreamcast. Hardcore Heat is not among them.

By: Pete Anderson 10/19/99

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