NASCAR Heat 2 brings the spectacle of bumper to bumper oval racing to our screens, allowing us to take the seat of a thunderous V8 stock car and scream around at 200mph, touching doors with the car beside before you stuff the poor sod into the wall.
NASCAR Heat 2 features an expansive career mode, taking you from spot duty, to leading the pack at Daytona. Featuring the return of the Camping World Truck Series, you start your career as a spot driver, filling in on various teams for your first season of career. If you meet your requirements, you’ll be offered a full time seat for the next season. Following success in the Camping World Truck Series you’ll be promoted to drive in the Xfinity Series, getting your first taste of racing in the stock car field. After that you’ll take your seat in the big leagues, racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Series for the ultimate in stock car glory.
All of this adds up to what is a rather lengthy career mode, with the CWT Series and Xfinity Series both consisting of 16 races a season, of which none can be simulated, leading to a fairly lengthy rigid career before you even get into the top flight of the game. Up in the Monster Energy NASCAR Series you’ll be running 26 events not counting the playoffs, lending itself to a very, very drawn-out career mode.
The game boosts itself with some immersive personality in the form of messages from drivers, for which there are full videos from some of the sports top drivers. Aside from this however, the game offers little else in career mode than progression to the next race. With no upgrade system, a key off track component of other licenced racers such as F1 2017, and something like the animated engineer/agent to driver interaction would have been very welcome in NASCAR Heat, as I felt that the recorded video messages just felt dated.
The game institutes a momentum system, which offers a race to race boost for strong race finishes and clean driving. Each team is also graded within a star system, helping players to judge the quality of the car they are about to take control of. This rating gives the player a desire to work towards trading up to a higher team, and further extends the career mode possibilities.
The final feature of career mode is the rivalry system, allowing the player to check up on which drivers have beef with you, and the system is graded race to race based on your actions. Cause a rival driver enough problems and you’ll notice them being more and more aggressive towards you, and also links to the driver messages, with messages complimenting you on clean racing and aggro alike.
NASCAR Heat 2’s career mode is a very rigidly structured affair, with the practice, qualify, race, model becoming somewhat stale over time, especially after moving up to the Xfinity series, to drive the same tracks all again. I would love to see a simulation option, allowing the player to simulate some of the smaller races at tracks they dislike, allowing them to focus on races they prefer. Die hard NASCAR fans will find no problem in this, but I found myself turning down the race length to get myself to the ‘bigger’ events faster.
Career mode is not all that NASCAR Heat 2 has to offer however, in fact, the game has numerous game modes, all offering their own unique take on stock car racing. Featuring the obvious single race modes that are a staple of all modern racers, the game also sees the return of split-screen multiplayer, meaning that all of the circuits featured in the game (all ovals, apart from Watkins Glen and Sonoma) are unlocked from the start and not hidden behind any progression walls, which is a definite plus.
The title also features up to 40 car multiplayer, with the option to fill out the remainder of the grid with AI, allowing for some truly competitive pack racing. Also unlocked are the Challenges, shorter race scenarios involving some of the sports’ most popular drivers.
The numerous modes are however, let down by the presentation of the game. Overall it just feels so dated. The grainy introduction slides appear to be done for visual effect, but just end up making the game look a little cheap. The in-game pause screen is a simple 3 option affair, determined by button presses with no real function, and just feels like something taken from a title 10 years older. Titles such as Forza and Dirt have done this much better, with a much more lively appearance, the dark coloured nature of the menus in NASCAR Heat 2 make the game feel somewhat unwelcoming.
Another area that the game seems to be lacking is in the customisation of the games controls, while the in depth adjustment of throttle and brake sensitivity is very much welcomed, the inability to rebind the buttons on a controller really threw me, having to use the bumpers to change gears is a far cry from any other racer, and while not so much of an issue on the ovals, this became tedious on road courses and lets be honest, customisable controls should be present in a title released in 2017.
When racing, the graphics do begin to win back some credit, with nice car models, with great details such as scratched plexi-glass in car windows, and nicely varied surfaces across all the tracks in the game. The lighting of the game really helps to sell the time of day, with night races under the lights becoming a real visual spectacle.
The game features some nice AI, that will really race you and hold their own in the pack, but also have the responsiveness to give space when filtering though the track 3 wide. The player will really need to develop a good understanding of the track to race and qualify well above the lowest difficulty, and that’s where I feel that some form of driving line, to at least illustrate the ideal lines and lift-off points for all tracks would really help those without the more advanced knowledge of oval racing.
This is a recurring theme with the car setup screen featuring no real explanation, which meant I found myself running purely base setups, while I understand the main elements of car setup from countless other titles, some explanation of the more NASCAR specific elements of the setups would be greatly welcomed and make the game more accessible to those outside the hardcore fan base.
Overall, NASCAR Heat 2 is a good experience for those with a vested interest in the NASCAR series’, and with a full line-up of drivers and tracks, is a great place for fans to run their own campaign for fame and glory. The game’s career mode can feel like a slog and would greatly benefit from some more immersive elements, be it commentary, more between races elements, or some of the true race-weekend feel that Codemasters has been capturing in its recent F1 titles, would really bring the NASCAR universe to life.
NASCAR is sold to the public as a spectacle, and I would like to see the game replicate that. While the cars and tracks look great, the games lacklustre presentation in all other areas really lets down the game, and takes the shine off of the greater elements of the game like its vast multiplayer and challenge modes. While the lack of controller customisation is almost inexcusable, I had fun racing in tight packs, and really enjoyed the precision required to maintain a good pace with the pack. There’s potential in here for a really, really good racing title. Here’s hoping that the next release can iron out the kinks to create a stellar racing title.
A review code of NASCAR Heat 2 was provided to us by 704Games.