NASCAR racing, for those readers that are unfamiliar with it, is an American racing series where most of the races take place on oval (or close to oval) circuits and involve turning left at 200mph for 500 miles. NASCAR Heat 2 from Monster Games lets you too experience the excitement of turning left for 500 miles.
Thankfully the realism is fully customisable in NASCAR Heat 2 with the game asking you to setup your driver profile upon first play, where it asks you if you want a normal or expert experience. This sets up some defaults which you can then fine tune, with options for AI difficulty, race length, tire wear/fuel consumption, damage, stability help, auto/manual transmission, and so on.
The three largest racing series, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the Xfinity Series, and the Camping World Truck Series, are all featured and you can jump straight into whatever you want with the quick race mode, or you can choose to grind your way up from the very bottom by choosing the career mode. In the first season of your career you don’t have a place on a particular team but are instead asked to drive for different teams in different weeks, with a goal for each race that, if you succeed with, will boost your chances of being offered a full time place on that team next season. Career mode also has an interesting rivalry system which is based on your driving style – be constantly aggressive towards a particular driver and they’ll return the favour.
Challenge mode is an interesting addition to the game that uses real moments from NASCAR history as the basis for each individual challenge, of which there are 29 in total. Upon successful completion of a challenge you are rewarded with a video of a NASCAR driver providing tips on how to negotiate the circuit you’ve just been racing on.
There is also an online multiplayer mode for those who aren’t happy with racing alongside the sensible AI drivers! Two player split screen racing is another option that I didn’t have an opportunity to try but could imagine this being a lot of fun.
As you navigate your way through the menus and options you are accompanied by rock music, which might be a good thing as it distracts you a bit from the basic, dated, visuals of the menu system that might not have looked out of place in 2007, but in 2017 it needs to do better to keep up with the competition.
Once you’ve chosen your race, you are dumped in your car where you have a choice of traditional outside chase cam, cockpit view, or bonnet view. I was playing with a Logitech G920 wheel and in most racing games I prefer the cockpit view but in NASCAR Heat 2 the cockpit view is like looking through a letter box, so I settled for the wider field of view provided by the bonnet cam.
In a world of games such as Forza 7 and Project Cars 2, the graphics in NASCAR Heat 2 look a little dated, with basic textures and trackside objects, but the cars themselves look good enough and once you’re hurtling along at 200mph bumper to bumper with other cars, those basic textures no longer matter in the slightest.
One of the things that can make or break a racing game is the AI, and in this case NASCAR Heat 2 holds its head high, with AI drivers that seem as realistic as any I’ve come across. While you’re racing your spotter will give you information as to the position of the cars around you, advising you if it’s “clear low” or “clear high” and so on. This is invaluable information since there’s no way of looking directly left or right. This brings up the issue of the rear view mirror which, frustratingly, can’t be set to be permanently visible, it seems to need to be turned on (by pressing Y on XB1) every time you start a race.
I can’t comment too much on the realism, or physics, of the car handling, due to having never driven a NASCAR at 200mph personally, but even with the stability help option turned off, the car never gets too difficult to control. As with most racing games, using a steering wheel and pedals provides a more authentic experience and allows more fine control, which is important in a game like this where speeds are high and one wrong move can result in things going very bad very quickly. That said, I tried it with the standard Xbox One controller and didn’t encounter any difficulties.
Various parts of the car can be altered when in the pits to improve performance, suspension, tyre pressures and so on, but there’s no help from the game in understanding what effect any of the changes will make to the car, which makes this feature a little redundant unless you take the time to go and find out what it all means for yourself. I’m not a car racing expert so I stuck with the default settings every time but it’s frustrating knowing that it might be possible to improve the car’s performance, if only I knew how.
One of the things that defines NASCAR races is the sound of all those V8 engines roaring by. Sadly, NASCAR Heat 2 doesn’t replicate that well at all, and the artificial, arcade style engine note produced by the game really lets it down.
There are a few other bugs present including the rather major one of a stutter, or pause, occasionally during a race, which can really cause problems if you were in the middle of an important manoeuvre. Other less important, but no less annoying issues exist such as the “Get Ready!” text remaining on screen for the entire duration of your race.
NASCAR Heat 2 is a real mixed bag – basic graphics, poor sound, generally substandard presentation, and buggy, but if you can overlook these aspects then there is great racing to be had with some great AI drivers. If you’re a NASCAR fan you’ll probably enjoy the game but if not then there is better racing to be had elsewhere.