Those living outside of the US could be forgiven for thinking that NASCAR is a niche sport. It is anything but that. It attracts some of biggest spectator numbers to its events. It is broadcast to over 150 countries. In its homeland, it has a massively fervent fan base that lap up the spectacle of the glitz, glamour and razzamatazz that only American sports can truly produce, so can NASCAR Heat 2 from Monster Games recreate the thrill of the hi-octane motorsport? Actually, it does it very well but not without a couple of issues; one of their own making, and one from the sport itself.
In some circles — no pun intended — there have been comments regarding how difficult it can be to turn left, turn left, turn left again, turn left one more time over the start-finish line, and repeat a further 199 times. Of course, that's oversimplifying, but NASCAR is renowned for its oval racing. Out of the 29 real-world tracks in the title, only a handful are traditional circuits such as Watkins Glen, Sonoma and Road America; all of the others are variations on the oval theme, featuring two, three, or four corners. The truth is, however, oval racing is not as straightforward as it seems.
Credit has to be given to Monster Games for cramming as much content as possible into the title for the fans, which is immediately obvious from the start. Career, championship, challenges, quick race, and multiplayer are all included. Quick Race allows players to select a car/driver combination from any of the three tiers of the sport included in the title and any circuit. Race settings can also be tweaked, with various combinations of practice, qualifying, and race length available. It's a good way to start. Championship mode features multiple seasons of racing with the player being able to select one of the stars of the sport, but it is the career mode that provides the meat within the title.
Throughout the title, it's clear that the title wants to remain as authentic as possible to the sport. In the career mode, you'll start out as a rookie vying for the hotseat. You'll be virtually sitting and waiting for the phone to ring with an offer of a racing seat in a race. Just like in real-life, that won't always happen and you'll be left watching the race results and little else for that weekend. It's a strange mechanism but it is part of the sport. Eventually, one of the lower ranked teams — indicated by a star rating — will make you an offer and as long as you perform and hit the targets, more offers will start to flow in. The goals from those lower rated teams are more achievable, on paper at least. Finishing in the top-18, but with a field of 40 cars and with a lower powered vehicle, is not always as easy as you'll expect.
This task is made a little more difficult for novices as you'll be racing trucks in the entry-level tier to the sport. Continue to hit targets and race well and you'll eventually be offered a full contract by one of the teams, when your career will really start. As usual, there will be emails from managers and engineers. There is also the usual faux social media that fans and other drivers use to let you know how you've performed and how they feel about your racing. Additionally, interspersed at different moments, there are video messages and clips from the real drivers providing welcome messages and encouragement. Fans of the sport will no doubt enjoy being greeted by the real-life track heroes.
The race weekends are fully configurable. You can select the length of the race, practice and qualifying sessions with the additional option of skipping particular sessions totally. Practice sessions are usually an hour, but you can end a session whenever you want to move on to the next stage of the race weekend. Qualifying can be single shot (one hot lap), multiple laps, or the authentic multi-stage qualification. Again, this is left to the player and can always be skipped. With the race itself, there are even more options available and, again, it depends on the level of authenticity that you want to experience. There are shorter races — a percentage of the total race — or a full-length race. With shorter races, however, you'll miss out on restarts and the multiple stages during a race. Additionally, those shorter races will miss out on penalties and flags. It's all left to the player to decide and then it's time to hit the track.
Out on the track, it is clear that this is a so-called sim-cade title, with the racing model being closer to the arcade end of the spectrum, although this doesn't make it any easier. Oval racing does demand concentration at all times and any lapse of concentration can be brutally punished. With lap-times mostly around 30 seconds, brushing the wall, or picking the wrong moment to go from high-to-low or low-to-high on the banked surface, can have catastrophic consequences and can be the difference between race day success or failure. Success will reap fame and monetary rewards, although this is just an indication of progress as there is nothing on which to spend the winnings.
Unfortunately, it's out on the track where you notice the main issues with the title. Firstly, the Unity engine that Monster Games has chosen doesn't provide the visual presentation that more recent racing titles have achieved. There are jagged edges on some objects. Shadows on the racetrack seem to roll into view, and it all looks a little last-gen when you hold it up against the Forza or Project CARS franchises. The frame rate is mostly solid, although there were occasional dips. It's all a real shame as the racing, mostly, is fun. The HUD is also minimalist and there is no circuit map, although with only three to four corners it's not a question of navigating, it's knowing where everyone else is.
In fact, racing among the pack, surrounded on all sides by cars and knowing that the odd nudge or contact with other vehicles is inevitable, is extremely tense. Trying to gently elbow your way to the front of the vehicular crowd is challenging. Get it wrong and you'll be part of or cause a very realistic and spectacular spinout or possible pileup. This racing is where the game really comes to life, especially with the AI playing fair, until you upset one of the drivers enough that a rivalry is created and they start giving you a little more unwanted attention out on the track. The AI was also fairly competent and there were no first corner pileups even at Watkins Glen with the tight right-hand first turn.
Whilst racing in the pack provides some great wheel-to-wheel and bumper-to-bumper moments, if you're not a NASCAR fan looking the full-monty experience then racing in circles does become a little monotonous and you're probably going to be looking for something more. Clearly, this is not the fault of Monster Games, it is a reflection on the sport. To be fair, the developer has done its best to make the sport as appealing as possible. The spotter is well implemented and will keep you updated with the details of the race. All of the official teams, liveries and drivers are included. The player can customise their driver's appearance facially and customise their car livery. You can even select your own victory anthem from one of the rock songs featured in the great soundtrack, and the glitz, glamour and razzamatazz are all captured.
This all applies to the multiplayer portion of the game where a PC-like server browser will allow you to select any particular lobby you wish or host a game yourself. Online supports up to 40 players with racers being supplemented by AI drivers. Whether it is down to rolling starts or perhaps the type of player, it was interesting to note that there were no corner one pileups or drivers trying to turn the game into a demolition derby. For once, multiplayer was just as much fun as single-player. Split-screen couch co-op style racing is also included for those looking for a physically closer rivalry.
There are 53 achievements in the title. Initially, four were unobtainable but the latest patch has fixed this issue. The achievements are as expected — career progress, race wins, reaching so much wealth — and are also split between online and offline play. There is also an achievement for completing one of the challenges that recreate a real-life scenario in the recent history of the sport.
SummaryNASCAR HEAT 2 is packed full of content for the fans and to get the most out of it, you really need to be a fan of the motorsport. The visuals are the weakest link and are the only thing to really complain about. Underneath, there is a solid racing title that is good fun especially when racing in the pack surrounded by other cars. Monster Games has done well to capture all of the glamour of the sport whilst keeping it authentic at the same time. For those looking for more diverse disciplines in their racing, other titles will be better suited, but for NASCAR fans it's a great title that pays homage to the sport.
- So much NASCAR based content
- Great soundtrack
- Good multiplayer
- Dated visuals
- Limited appeal for motorsport fans
EthicsThe reviewer spent around 12 hours racing around ovals, trying to stay in a high position whilst avoiding the wall, and generally trying to upset fellow racers. 13 Achievements were unlocked. The Xbox One download code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.
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