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NASCAR Heat 2

Score: 62%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: 704Games
Developer: Monster Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Sports (Racing)/ Simulation/ Arcade

Graphics & Sound:

NASCAR Heat 2 hits the pavement on Xbox One, but it comes up a length short of the finish line in many respects. When you first pop Monster Gamesí/704 Gamesí racer in, youíre greeted by some typical FMV scenes that are meant to get you pumped up, and they do a good job despite some quality issues. Entering into the menu system, however, is a sure way to immediately realize that things feel very familiar from days (and past generations) gone by. The entire setup feels like the EA games of the past, needing a modern skin and schema update to signify that this is a current generation title.

Entering into some races, itís easy to see that the visual quality falls far short of what gamers expect from a racing game these days. To be perfectly frank, the quality of the cars and environment fall somewhere between the PS2/Xbox and PS3/Xbox 360 era (closer to the latter). This doesnít necessarily detract from the gameplay, but gamers have come to expect more out of the car models, lighting, and other visuals that just arenít there in NASCAR Heat 2. Even the tracks have a very familiar feel to them, in a way that feels dated and without appeal.

From an audio standpoint, the music is pretty decent both in the menus and in-game. Beyond the music, however, the game really only has some in-game audio of your spotter very poorly telling you where cars are in your surroundings. While the visuals donít detract from the gameplay, this lack of a personal touch really does make races more boring than they need to be. NASCAR should be about speed and excitement, but NASCAR Heat 2 doesnít scream either in way of presentation.

An additional point to mention is that there are some cutscenes of real drivers giving you advice or maybe even shaming you a bit for your driving abilities, that have some really poor quality in both acting and presentation. These videos often look and sound like they were shot with webcams, once again demonstrating a lack of detail in the overall presentation of the game that will really come back to haunt the game in terms of appeal.


Gameplay:

NASCAR Heat 2 has a decent variety of modes and tracks. The available modes of play include Single, Split Screen, Championship, Challenges, Career, and Online Multiplayer. As for the vehicles, youíre basically looking at Stock Cars and Trucks that compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. With Monster Energy, you can skip the season and jump right into the playoffs, but where the entertainment value lies in the game is competing in full seasons and playing online.

The biggest part of any racing gameís gameplay is how the vehicles handle on each track. Generally speaking, it is fairly easy to control both the cars and the trucks, but it should be said that they really both handle similarly well, so there isnít a lot of variety between the two. Of course, while on dirt tracks, there is more sliding than on pavement to account for, and that was an enjoyable driving experience. The computer-controlled AI cars are pretty predictable, however, so it can be fairly easy to manipulate them as you compete. That doesnít necessarily mean itís easy, but the field doesnít stray too far from center, which I suppose is similar to what real drivers offer.

The main single-player modes of play are Championship, Challenges, and Career. Championship offers an opportunity to run through a season in the above-mentioned venues, and Challenges offers opportunity to jump into the seat of a real driver with specific requirements to complete each challenge. Career is the heart of NASCAR Heat 2 and pits you against the rest of the field by starting you in the "Hot Seat" where you fill in for drivers and try to make a name for yourself. After that, youíll be able to get signed and earn points through multiple seasons. There is one very puzzling feature, though. As you progress, you earn money for your positioning in each race, but this cash flow really isnít used for anything other than bragging rights. There are not parts or upgrades to be had, which again makes NASCAR Heat 2 feel like it could have been a lot more.

Online multiplayer offers a way to jump in and race against your buddy or take on a larger field of up to 40 human drivers. While offline play was smooth, online had a whole lot of jerky and jumping cars, in my experience. Cars seem to auto-magically recover from spinouts and, at other times, cars just popped around on the track, so it was hard to get a bead on them. While it is more fun to play against human-controlled cars, some of the quirks took their toll on the fun factor.

With NASCAR Heat 2, youíll also be able to purchase the optional "Hot Pass" add-on DLC. It supplies additional pre-rendered paint jobs, spotter voices, and additional challenges above and beyond the 29 Challenges that ship with the base game.


Difficulty:

NASCAR Heat 2 comes stock with two difficultly modes. I steered more toward the easy variety since I donít typically play racing games, and that provided enough of a challenge to keep my interest without allowing me to just win every race, at least at the default settings. The game does have the ability to set how many laps you wish to complete, and that can change the makeup of the gameplay and difficulty quite a bit. By default, one doesnít need to ever enter the pits, although I was "sucked in" on a number of unintentionally frustrating occasions. As such, when combined with a low number of laps, it is difficult to overtake a large field.

Along with adjusting the settings to force pit stops on longer races, the track makes a big difference when it comes to difficulty too. For example, some of the tracks are narrower or may race faster than others. In both cases, it is often more difficult to move up positions if you didnít start near the pole position after qualifying, because separation always occurs when the leader is able to break away from the pack that continuously slows each other down. Likewise, although both stock cars and truck feel relatively the same as far as handling goes, the dirt tracks do yield a bit more in way of sliding around, which can be both good and bad.


Game Mechanics:

Mentioned above, the default controls of NASCAR Heat 2 arenít too bad. I used a standard controller for the duration of my review as I didnít have access to a steering wheel. So, for the general gamer, itís good to know that one can control the cars relatively well. That said, there is a bit of play in the analog stick control that can cause turns to not be as smooth as (presumed) with a wheel setup. In general, anyone should be able to pick up and play NASCAR Heat 2, but it can take some practice to master.

In all, NASCAR Heat 2 is an entertaining game, but it feels like it missed the mark in a lot of ways. Losing out on in-game currency or other important factors to help build a brand and modify cars seems pretty severely overlooked for the hardcore fan. The gameplay feels like a mix of simulation and arcade styles, more leaning toward the latter, which may also discourage a section of fans of the sport. Online play can be fun, but didnít feel all that smooth. In all, Iíd suggest giving this game a test drive, if available, before purchasing, to make sure itís a good fit for you.


-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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