Hands-on With My New Favorite Racing Game: NASCAR Heat 2
I’ll be the first one to admit that I wasn’t entirely thrilled about seeing NASCAR Heat 2 at E3 this year, not because I don’t like 704Games, but more for the fact that I really haven’t been a fan of simulation racing games since Gran Turismo 3. The genre just got too real life for me, making racing more of a chore than a thrill, so I walked away from it over 10 years ago and haven’t really missed it. That all changed after racing a few matches in NASCAR Heat 2, which is releasing this September for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.
Before I get into how much fun I had playing this sequel I must first mention its noteworthy changes over the original. For the first time in 10 years racing fans can play a game that features all three of the NASCAR series. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and the NASCAR XFINITY Series will all be represented in NASCAR Heat 2, so everyone’s favorite ride and/or driver will be represented in-game.
This will also be the first NASCAR branded game to sport AI drivers in online multiplayer matches to fill the massive 40-player lineup that the game supports. This should help cut down on wait times in between matches, because now you no longer need to have 40 humans online to get a race up and running.
Finally, and this new feature definitely played into the fun factor I experienced while playing this game at the show against a developer, which is the return of local split-screen multiplayer. We squared off in a truck series match, and I found it thrilling to be racing against another human in the same room as me. It definitely got my competitive juices flowing as I made may way to the front of the pack and held onto the lead until the checkered flag dropped, and I may or may not have thrown a fist up in celebration of my victory. It was pure video game racing fun at its finest.
I also raced in the Monster series using an actual NASCAR in a single player race with AI drivers, and I had just as much fun as my race against another live human. NASCAR Heat 2 just feels familiar in terms of its controls, and while you can tweak settings to make driving a bit more simple with different assists, I found the default setting to provide a challenge, but not to the point where I felt that the AI was unbeatable. In fact, in my first race if I didn’t get silly and bump the car in front of me, which caused a spectacular crash, I would have won my first race without ever playing the game before.
It’s this comfortable and familiar racing game feeling that resulted in my time with NASCAR Heat 2 being so damn enjoyable. I wouldn’t say it’s the most advanced and detailed racing game out there. Project Cars 2 and Forza 7 are better suited for gamers looking for more intense driving controls and true-to-life physics, but that’s not to say NASCAR Heat 2 is as casual as a Mario Kart. It’s not, and it definitely eats, sleeps, and breathes the NASCAR brand, but something about how it plays just reminded me of old school racing games when the focus was more on the racing versus car management and tuning.
I may have tried to write NASCAR Heat 2 off before I played it at E3, but after doing so I’m very glad I took the appointment. It really scratched the racing game genre itch that I used to have many years ago, and made me excited for the genre as a whole again. I will definitely be picking it up on September 12 when it releases, so stay tuned for more coverage and a review as we get closer to launch.
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