As someone who grew up visiting half mile and dirt tracks weekly, NASCAR has been a pretty big part of my life. Unfortunately, I've never been as big of a fan of the official games as I wanted to. While I did spend a good chunk of my childhood hosting 24 hour AI races in NASCAR Racing 3 on the PC (yeah I was that guy), it's been a very long time since I've played a stock car racing game that felt as good as Dirt To Daytona or the half-hearted efforts in Gran Turismo. Initially at E3 I was reluctant to try out NASCAR Heat 2 because the previous game’s bare bones approach didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, but after spending a few minutes in the game, I’m glad I did.
NASCAR Heat 2 feels great behind the wheel and has something that most modern racing games these days lack: fun. Handling and drafting felt tight in both the truck and stock car I had a chance to race in, and its arcadey nature really made this the kind of racing game I could pick up frequently and have a blast dominating my favorite tracks.
Developer Monster Games listened to fan complaints about the previous title and added three new features to NASCAR Heat 2 that should drastically improve the series as a whole. The first is the inclusion of a deeper career mode with three NASCAR national series. This includes the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and my personal favorite, the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
With the inclusion of a variety of car types and tracks, NASCAR Heat 2 will play differently depending on what vehicle type you’re in and what track you’re on. Like in real racing, dirt tracks will have different physics and require you to adjust your playstyle compared to somewhere like California Speedway, and for a game like this it's a much needed feature.
Online Multiplayer will see a major improvement in NASCAR Heat 2 with the inclusion of AI opponents and rolling seasons. While this might not seem like an improvement to some, the ability to add 38 bots to a race while racing a buddy is a great inclusion to what would otherwise be a pain to find players to fill open spots. This game will also feature an adaptive AI that will adjust itself according to how you race instead of run a perfect line every lap. Because of this, the idea of online play with bots sounds more challenging and could make races more interesting for the human players involved.
The final new feature included in NASCAR Heat 2 is an uncommon feature to see in a modern game: split screen co-op. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to demo co-op at E3, so I can’t comment on how it ran or how the driving felt with half the screen, but I was assured by the 704Games rep that it runs at a stable frame rate and nothing is compromised gameplay wise. What I can say is that the idea of local co-op in a NASCAR game is absolutely what the series needs to help differentiate itself from previous efforts and keep the gameplay fun. As someone who spent many Saturday mornings running dirt tracks in the greatest game ever made with my best friends, its good to see a NASCAR game with a multiplayer focus in both on and offline capacities.
NASCAR Heat 2 looks promising and builds on the previous game in enough interesting ways that it could have a shot at becoming a major contender alongside Gran Turismo and Forza later this year for both NASCAR and race fans alike.
NASCAR Heat 2 releases for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC (Steam) September 12, 2017.
If you want to know more about this and other announcements happening at E3 then be sure to check out our E3 2017 Coverage Hub.