NASCAR is a sport that usually garners two simply reactions: love or hate.
The same goes for video game adaptations of the sport. You either enjoy them, or you don’t. There is simply no “tolerating” a NASCAR video game.
NASCAR Heat 2 is looking to take everyone who was on the “dislike” side of the spectrum, and bring them over to the “enjoyment” side of things with a game that offers more depth than last year’s release from Monster Games, NASCAR Heat Evolution.
For the first time in a decade, a NASCAR game features more than just the top series as the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series join the Monster Energy Cup Series in the game. This means more drivers and more tracks to choose from like Road America and the incredibly fun-to-play dirt track Eldora Speedway.
The racing feels a bit more authentic than the previous installment with drafting, bump drafting and three/four-wide racing actually taking place during various stages of a race. The A.I. drivers aren’t as big of pushovers as they were in Heat Evolution, and they will actually put up a fight when jockeying for position. They’ll even make you pay if you decide to get lazy in the last lap of a race.
It’s a welcomed experience for those who felt the first game in the new series was a bit too easy. That’s not to say some races won’t be cakewalks, but there are much more examples of having to utilize different areas of the track to pass than there are simply bobbing and weaving through opponents.
But despite some quality racing that NASCAR Heat 2 has to offer, there are a few big issues that takeaway some of the fun on the course if you’re looking for a true-to-life racing experience.
It takes quite a bit to get a caution flag to be waved as cars can spin out and go into the wall without the yellow flag making an appearance. On top of that, I didn’t get a sense that vehicle wear and tear in longer races really mattered much unless you had been putting your car into the wall on turns.
Career mode was a major disappointment in Heat Evolution. Luckily it’s gotten an overhaul thanks to the inclusion of the two other circuits.
You start as a scab or “hot seat” driver in the Truck Series after Brad Keselowski tells you he likes you, but not enough to get you a spot on a team. You fill in throughout the first year, and try to provide solid finishes in order to get teams interested in signing you while earning some cash. Eventually, you’ll get a team or two or three or more that want to sign you for the next season.
After going through a 16-race season, you’ll move up to an Xfinity Series team where your results will ultimately lead you to the main Monster Energy Series. Getting through all of this can be a major grind, especially when you add practice and qualifying sessions along with longer races that require pit stops.
It would be better if there was some sense of reward from going through all of the races, but there really isn’t any. You don’t get to sign with new sponsors or upgrade your car or anything like that.
The cash you earn from each race doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the mode. It just acts more as a progress bar for your career.
There are “rivalries”, but nothing ever comes of those either as your adversaries tend to just leave you be when you’re actually on the track.
Luckily there is more to NASCAR Heat 2 than just a career mode to keep you entertained. Championship mode allows you to go through a single season of one of the three modes, or just jump to the playoffs of the Monster Energy series using either an active driver or your created racer.
Challenges provide you with different scenarios where you’ll either have to re-write history or recreate classic racing moments.
Multiplayer provides a twist on the track as vehicle setups matter much more here than they do in offline play. You can take part in any of the three series, and face any amount of human-controlled cars up to the max. The rest of the field can be filled in using A.I./ racers to give a full-race feel. Split screen multiplayer also makes a comeback for those that just want to sit and play with friends at the house.
Presentation is as bare bones as a game like this could get. There’s no TV broadcast feeling to any of the races, no replays when crashes occur, and there’s no way to look around your vehicle while driving to potentially inspect damage. There’s not even a track map that has seemingly become custom and expected in any racing game, anywhere. That being said, NASCAR Heat 2’s visuals remain a big strength of the game.
The cars and trucks look as detailed as ever all the way down to scratches on the plexiglass of a pickup. The tracks and environments around them look like what you would see on race day whether you’re there during the afternoon or at night. Even the rattling of the hood while driving at top speeds is an impressive touch from the developers.
It’s impossible to deny that NASCAR Heat 2 is an improvement over its predecessor. The racing is more fluid and enjoyable, and the added vehicles and tracks add a nice layer to the game’s replay value.
It’s just disappointing that career mode feels more like a chore rather than a fun experience where you can “live the life” of a racer trying to move up the ranks. Thankfully other modes like Challenges and Multiplayer keep the fun coming in a game that, in spite of its on-track shortcomings, represents solid progress for the series.