As the NASCAR playoffs approach, so does the release of 704 Games second incarnation of the revived NASCAR Heat series, NASCAR Heat 2. While most would agree the first release had a nice foundation, there just wasn’t enough depth or immersion to be excited about. So the challenge in front of 704 games/Monster Games was to add that depth, smooth out the rough edges, and give the fans as much of what they wanted, all in 10 short months. That’s a tall order for any development team, so let’s see how they did.
The good news for the development team is the foundation strength I spoke of earlier was the driving model and the AI behavior, and while not perfect, the gameplay was solid enough to see that something pretty darn nice could come from what was created. The moment you fire up NASCAR Heat 2, you should notice the refinement of the controls and driving physics almost instantly. You feel attached to the track, and the little nuances of each track come through because of that. The controls are so well done that it allows you to navigate the pack, and plan the next move (or two) without worrying about losing control of the car. There is a very fine line between creating an outstanding control scheme and replicating what a true cup car feels like, and Monster Games nailed it perfectly.
This year’s title offers up a new set of challenges, the ability to run a deep career mode, race with split-screen, and also includes a revamped online experience. For those that struggled to find any longevity with NASCAR Heat Evolution, NH2 will fill the void left by that shallowness rather well. Monster Games knows what they are doing when it comes to making a NASCAR game, and all they really needed was more time. The gameplay in NH2 is refined and fun, and caters to all levels of skill.
Although not as high on the priority list as it once was to most developers, a strong and deep career mode can add a lot to depth of any sports title, and thankfully NH2 gives the user plenty to enjoy. The mode starts you out as a driver just looking (and hoping) for a seat to fill on the Camping World Truck series on a week to week basis. Once you have secured a weekly offer, it is incumbent upon you to deliver the desired results the team is looking for. Do so, and another chance may be just around the corner. The goal here is to find a team that wants you driving their truck on a weekly basis, and giving you the ability to show your talent on the track. If you can deliver a strong consistent finish most weeks and show what you have, there may be an occasional seat on the Xfinity series that will open up. The ultimate goal here is to reach the Monster Energy Cup series, and battle it out on a weekly basis with some of the most talented drivers in the world.
In NASCAR Heat 2 the development team has included a new “momentum” system. What the system tries to accomplish is rewarding the team and driver for strong, but fair driving. If you can keep your vehicle undamaged from the current race, that momentum can carry over. So instead of pouring funds into repairs and rebuilds, the team can allocate the funds back into research and development. Now, while the momentum idea is great in theory, it’s mostly done behind the scenes, and you will not witness any of the R&D that is being done. Also new to career mode is the “rivalry” system. This new system will update weekly, and graphically depict how the other drivers feel about your driving style and execution. Put your nose of the vehicle into the quarter-panel of an opponent, and you will see a friendly rivalry go south pretty quickly. I tested the system out, and it works rather well, but it still allows for a few knucklehead moves to be made from the user without warranting a full retaliation from the other drivers.
While career mode definitely offers up a strong “replayability” factor to the user, it could have gone deeper. Unlike last year’s title, there is no physical research and development, and no use for the money that is earned during your career. Your goal is simply to progress from one level to the next, and while that carries a lot of excitement, it could have gone further for a deeper career experience. With that said, just because certain aspects of career mode have gone missing does not mean it should stop you from enjoying what Monster Games has provided here. The grind is real, the fun is real, and the journey is a lengthy one.
This is an area where the NASCAR Heat developers really stepped up their game. On top of retooling the game lobbies, they have also included the ability to race online with a few friends and a field filled with AI opponents. While this nothing new to the genre, it is to this title, and a huge addition at that. In last year’s title, one was either trying to find a group of 20 friends to race against or with, or a public room with a solid bunch of people to race — either way, it was a daunting task. This year Monster Games has included the ability to create a private lobby and invite just a few friends, and fill out the rest with AI drivers. This single addition will add months of longevity to this title, and gives people who are considered fringe racing fans a chance to have some real fun with the title online.
When setting up an online lobby, one can choose a single race, or a series of races. The game doesn’t record stats that will carry over from one session to the next, but it does allocate points based on the performance of each individual. With that said, a group of friends can do an actual league/season over time and record the points themselves. On top of and AI/user mixed field, Monster has also provided in-game race chat. Obviously each system allows a party chat, but for those that race in leagues and need instant communication ability, this a hidden treasure.
While NASCAR Heat 2 isn’t the title that is going to stop some people from playing iRacing or NASCAR 2003, it will open a lot of eyes to what this company is capable of creating. There is a lot of content to like in this year’s game, and should make a large contingency of the community very happy. Yes, the title still needs some further depth and immersion, but there is enough here to make many keep playing and racing until the next version drops in 2018. The driving model and physics are as strong as we have seen on a console, and the rest of the title’s inclusions are finally catching up to and building off the foundation that was created in the first game. If you are a NASCAR fan, this title is a must have. If you’re an occasional viewer, there is still plenty to be excited about.