NASCAR Heat 2 Review – Drafting Ahead (PS4)
As a lapsed NASCAR fan, I was really looking forward to Monster Games’ NASCAR Heat Evolution last year. As you can probably figure out from the review I linked, I ended up being pretty disappointed. Despite some decent on-track racing, it felt like a rushed product that wasn’t able to live up to its potential.
A year has passed since it released (during this time they put out several significant free updates to the original), and now Monster Games is back with NASCAR Heat 2. Due to going hands-on with the racing game earlier this year, I knew that this was a definite step forward. From being able to compete locally via split-screen multiplayer to the fact that players can now race across three of NASCAR’s racing leagues instead of just the main Monster Energy sponsored series, it’s clear that a lot of work went into making this a more well-rounded experience.
Even the on-track racing, which I thought was the main redeeming quality of the original, feels better this time around. Sure, you’re still going around in ovals, but some smart design choices really bring the racing together in a satisfying way. One small touch I loved was the slight rumble that occurs in the DualShock 4 when the player is successfully drafting behind a car. It’s the perfect way to communicate how well the player is doing without cluttering up the screen any. This cleaner aesthetic allows the player to focus on the dozens of cars they’re trying to pass, and experience the thrills of going three cars wide on a tight corner.
The biggest improvement of NASCAR Heat 2, and a much needed one, is that it has a totally revamped career mode. I found last year’s campaign to be an uncompelling experience, but this time around players get to work their way up from a rookie driver that is trying to earn his way onto a truck team to driving an iconic NASCAR stock car. This adds a much needed sense of progression to the experience, and knowing that you need to perform to earn a spot on a team really puts the pressure on the player.
This is also where players get to experience one of the biggest additions to the sequel which is the ability to race trucks. While these heavier vehicles are slower, they are a lot of fun to race. The length of the trucks in particular add a new challenge, as getting around the track is a much more difficult experience. There are also some courses unique to the trucks, and getting to race on dirt rather than pavement is a nice touch of variety.
As the player continues to race, they’ll have to make a conscious decision whether or not they’ll be a clean or dirty driver. Rubbing up against other racers (and causing wrecks) will cause other drivers to dislike the player, and this all plays out in a rivalry system that NASCAR Heat 2 has. I role-played as a NASCAR “bad boy,” which meant that I was pissing off drivers with shocking regularity. As a result, several drivers were more aggressive when they were near my car and would initiate contact more often. I wish that some of these elements were better communicated during the race itself, but overall I enjoyed the new system.
While NASCAR Heat 2 is a big step forward for the series, there are some familiar flaws. While the presentation is definitely improved from last years bare-bones menus, there are enough rough edges that take away from the overall experience. Some of these are actually sort of endearing, such as having Brad Keselowski sending the player awkward video messages during the campaign, but some additional polish would go a long way.
Additionally, like the first game there are still some graphical issues that crop up pretty often. A lot of the backgrounds look pretty poor while driving (especially when you can see past the race track), and there’s some annoying quirks to the racing where the player can’t change the camera. The latter issue had me accidentally running into other racers when playing in first-person, so I eventually wound up using the hood view (which surprised me since I almost never use that camera perspective). None of these flaws are enough to really harm the experience significantly, but these are annoyances.
NASCAR Heat 2 is a definite step up from its predecessor, but it’s still lacking a layer of polish that would propel it towards appealing to a larger racing audience. Those who want an authentic NASCAR racer should be satisfied with this year’s installment, but there’s just too many minor issues that bog the racing down a level. Still, it’s clear that Monster Games listened to feedback of the original, and they’re certainly on the right track.
NASCAR Heat 2 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.