You know something is getting old when it references companies that no longer exist. Like the Pan Am advertisements in Blade Runner. Or a game with TNN in the title. Which leads us to TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat. This was known as Buggy Heat in Japan, and was a Sega Dreamcast Launch title in North America.
Hardcore Heat is an off road racing game. You can pilot one of 8 different vehicle/drivers ranging from a small dune buggies to giant American trucks. Each vehicle offers a trade-off between weight and power. Generally speaking, they are all fairly evenly matched, though I did prefer the acceleration of the buggies.
The game tries to add some flair to the game by giving each vehicle a distinct driver. During the race, the HUD (head-up display) shows the top 4 positions, represented by avatars. The avatars facial expressions each change as they jockey around for position. Additionally, your driver will shout out in joy or frustration as the race goes on. It’s a nice touch. You can turn off the voices in the option menu if you find them annoying.
There are 6 tracks in total: U.S.A., France, Egypt, Russia, Peru, and Japan. They each feature a different driving surface, from pavement to desert sand. The courses are all interesting enough, featuring the correct background scenery. Depending on which mode you are in, there are also weather effects (rain, snow, fog, sand storm) which add to the variety.
There are 4 game modes, Championship, Time Attack, VS (2-player split screen), and Practice. The Championship is the main meat of the game. Beat the Normal championship (3 races) to unlock the Hard championship (4 races). Beating the Hard championship unlocks the Expert championship (6 races). Beating the Expert championship unlocks a new color scheme (for the vehicles) and a bonus vehicle.
While TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat hits all of the right notes with game play options, it stumbles in the handling department. The physics and handling are broken. There appears to be no correlation between the tires on the vehicles to the road surface. It feels very disconnected. Your vehicle barely responds to your joystick commands (accompanied by an awful tire screech noise) and then instantly breaks grip and starts drifting towards the wall.
I think the developers were trying to simulate having a massive amount of torque being applied at the rear wheels. This is very obvious on the snow course (Russia) as you vehicle sways side-to-side without any forward motion. But the developers missed the mark. Hardcore Heat is still playable, but is often more tedious than fun.
There is some limited car tuning present as well (suspension, etc). But I didn’t find it necessary to fiddle with it to beat the game. You can also select from 16 decals (and add 5 characters of text) to the side of your car for some poor-mans customization. There are also unlockable alternate paint schemes. None of this really adds to the game, and feels more like an after thought.
Where TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat breaks some new ground is with an innovative A.I. (artificial intelligence) feature. You can create your own A.I. driver. To train your A.I. you must run dozens of laps on each track in the Time Attack mode. The game will slowly learn your driving style and habits. You can then use this trained A.I. file to race for you in multi-player and championship modes. This is an interesting addition to the game, and offers some replay value as you want your A.I. to get good enough to decimate the competition.
Graphically, Hardcore Heat is above average. The car models are detailed, the textures are sharp, the frame rate rarely drops below 60 FPS, and the draw-distance is excellent. While Hardcore Heat can’t compete with the upper echelon of Dreamcast racers (F355 Challenge and Test Drive Le Mans) it’s fairly good for a launch title.
The soundtrack is the normal American Rock that seemed to be in all Japanese developed arcade games of the late 90’s. It fits the game well enough, and is of high quality. The engine noises, announcer voices, and collision sounds are also well done. Other than the annoying tire screech sounds mentioned earlier, this is pretty solid stuff.
Being a fan of racing games, it’s easy for me to forgive TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat for it’s broken control scheme. I imagine most fans of the genre will easily adapt and find some fun here. If you are not a fan of the genre, steer clear. I also like the simple arcade nature of the game. You don’t have to invest dozens of hours into this one to see all the sights and sounds. There are just 6 tracks and 3 championships. This is great for retro-gamers.
Overall, TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat is an average game. The broken controls take some getting used to, but the graphics and music are serviceable. The developers also incorporated a neat A.I. training feature that I have yet to see duplicated. Despite this, TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat rarely rises above mediocrity. There are much better off roaders on the Sega Dreamcast.
Game play 4/10 - Broken controls hamper an otherwise playable game
Graphics 6/10 - Smooth frame rate and long draw distances
Sound 6/10 - Decent rock soundtrack
Overall 5/10 - Very very mediocre