Monster Games and 704Games decided to hop on the NASCAR bandwagon with NASCAR Heat Evolution last year. The result was a solid NASCAR title with a lot of signs of growth. Now NASCAR Heat 2 has released and on paper it has a lot to offer the racing fan. Releasing just in time for NASCAR’s playoff run, Heat 2 takes everything from the 2017 season and bundles it into a nice package. Has the game offered enough on the track to evolve from the first release?
With NASCAR Heat 2, fans get all three major NASCAR racing series. Of course it includes the top series with the Monster Energy Series, but it also includes the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series. It’s been almost fifteen years since the other series’ have been included in any NASCAR game, which adds a tremendous amount of depth. On top of this, tracks that are specific to each series are in Heat 2. This even includes the Eldora dirt track for the CWTS, which is a fun change of pace. Players have a lot of play options to choose from, but this has also become expected in racing games. Quick Race, Championship Season and a Career Mode offer single player enjoyment. Quick Race allows players to choose a series, track and car to quickly jump into a race. Meanwhile, the Championship allows players to choose a series, run different schedules or just jump right into the Playoffs.
The Career Mode offers a deep experience with some aspects not seen in any other previous NASCAR games. While players can create a custom driver and custom car to compete through a career (or other mode), there’s no option to name the character. Just seems a bit odd as it ties in to the username. The experience in the career mode is admirable to make you feel good about progression. Tweets and driver videos aim to make you feel as if you are part of the NASCAR driver community. More importantly are driver relations and this is one of the best aspects of the Career Mode. If you take someone out or race them poorly, this will have a negative impact with other drivers. This is charted in the mode, but have yet to see any retaliation on the track. After finishing creating your driver, players will begin in the Camping World Truck Series. You will start as a part time driver and will get rewarded seats for lower-tier cars based on performance. If you do well enough, you will be rewarded a contract for a full season. Cars and teams are not even in terms of performance. Each team has a speed rating which makes them more competitive. The better the contract, the better the car and team. Meeting goals throughout the season allow more contracts with the goal of moving up to the next series.
Much like the 2017 drivers and teams, NASCAR Heat 2 features the rule changes for the season. This includes stage racing. For fans who are not a fan of this format, you’re in luck. The option to disable this format exists, including the option to choose the qualifying format. Using the stage format, especially in the playoffs, involves a little bit of strategy. Mainly trying to finish a stage off for points rather than pitting. Overall, it allows for planning of pit stops for the amount of tires to take or the amount of gas to use. This can shorten your pit stops. While having all these options to play are a plus, it matters with what goes down on the track. As mentioned above, stage racing exists. The racing offers an excellent casual experience, but the handling of the cars are far from difficult even with stability off. Players can customize their setups for practice, qualifying and the race, and even save them for each track. Stock cars have a lot of power so with stability off, the cars should be more difficult to drive and there isn’t much of a difference between the choices in terms of the handling. This could sway some hardcore simulation fans. Lastly, drafting can be felt from the rumble of the controller and this is a cool aspect.
Tires and aerodynamics affect the speed of the car. Wearied tires don’t necessarily affect the handling, but there’s a noticeable change in speed when a car is on four fresh tires. The most admirable aspect of the racing is actually the impressive A.I. Cars will not stick to a line the entire time, instead consistently spread out on the track. They even recognize that you are there and just don’t come over on you. This allows for the best race flow seen in a NASCAR game possibly ever. To help you, you have a spotter who is clear, concise and to the point. With the A.I. being on point in NASCAR Heat 2, it makes the racing that much better. If you are the type to put this game on the easiest difficulty and just cut laps, it may get boring. The most addicting aspect of the racing is grinding through traffic, especially when starting your career. It can be highly tense and difficult to maintain your lane, but it fuels you to get better. Working a few laps to pass cars and work your way up the grid is satisfying, even if you finish 20th. You truly feel like you pushed your car the best you could and it feels well-earned and keeps you coming back for more.
Heat 2 isn’t without its faults. In fact, there is something truly race-breaking that needs to be mended ASAP. Once noticing this, it begins to dawn that the game feels incomplete. Randomly, the game will hiccup in the middle of the race. It’s not a bog in the frame rate, it literally locks up for a second. To add to this problem, the flow of the race continues. The issue with this is that when you are focused and trying to make a pass, if something is close, the whole race can be ruined. Add to this, cautions seem to only come during big, multi-car accidents. As much as NASCAR loves to throw cautions for someone farting on the track, it takes a lot to get that yellow flag in Heat 2. One car spinning out or hitting the wall gets shrugged off. Lastly, during heat racing, my position gets determined prior to crossing the finish line. These are all things that felt like corners were cut to make sure the game released in time for the playoffs. The hiccup truly needs to be patched and this was reviewed on a PS4 Pro.
The lighting engine that is used in Heat 2 really brings the cars to life. The glare off the cars makes them look showroom ready. The overall tracks themselves pop with color, as well. All of these aspects look even better under the night lights. Racing can be done in three views including an in-car. The frame rate was smooth and the draw distance on the track was consistent. Any type of broadcasting or television feel is completely absent from the game, and it would have been nice to have something in there to bring you closer to race day. NASCAR: Inside Line added this element and F1 2017 excelled at it. Other than a short overlay of your drive leaning on your car, the game lacks any type of emotional attachment to race day.
The game takes a step backwards in the sound department. The roar of the V8s feel held back and don’t excel. Tire squealing and car contact all sound adequate, but limited. The soundtrack screams modern day NASCAR with a mix of modern rock and radio metal. There is, however, a noticeable issue with the sound quality of the music. It seems the bitrate of the music is extremely low and that may have been to save space. Either way, this adds to the rushed feel of the game.
Multiplayer consists of local split-screen racing and up to 40-player online racing. If you can find 39 other online friends to race with online, then kudos to you. Online racing can be filled with A.I. drivers or just the drivers in the lobby. The game does feature hosted servers if you have a good connection. Speed Ratings are given out to dictate if you’re part-time or full-time online. Much like being a part-time driver, you won’t be as competitive as this could become a balancing issue in the future. There’s no matchmaking to further back that up. The connection was perfect, however, and no lag was experienced. Overall, the experience online was smooth.
NASCAR Heat 2 offers a lot to do for players. It might feel a bit rushed, but it’s extremely addicting and fun. The racing is a consistent experience and Career Mode features aspects that haven’t been seen before. While it may lack the options of true simulation racers, the admirable A.I. should make up for that. Top that off with some excellent visuals and a coupon for a real race ticket, and Heat 2 continues to trend in the right direction.