The real genius of NASCAR is its ability to transform a never-ending series of left-turns into bumper-to-bumper thrills and spills. Observe the overhead of any oval speedway and you’re unlikely to be impressed, but it’s when a pack of raucous race cars line up shoulder-to-shoulder, jostling for space and optimal positioning that it comes into its own.
NASCAR Heat 2, to its credit, captures the intensity of these crowded starting grids. Fighting for territory atop the sun scorched asphalt of Daytona is a white-knuckle experience – and if you’re playing on a difficulty tier higher than the easiest option, it’s a real, real challenge to fight your way to the front of the pack, too.
This is a well-intentioned racing game. While it lacks the budget of a Gran Turismo or Project CARS, you can tell that developer 704 Games has really poured its heart into the project. This is evident in the new Career mode, a rags-to-riches affair which sees you start out as a feeble Hot Seat driver attempting to make your mark on the motorsport world.
As you take on contracts, you’ll be sent full-motion video messages from real-world drivers, which are awkwardly delivered but add a little stardom to the package as a whole. It’s a pretty neat campaign, taking you from the Camping World Trucks Series to the Xfinity Series before you reach the big leagues. Unfortunately, it can also be a bit of a grind.
While it seems odd to chastise a developer for offering such a meaty campaign, the handling between the different disciplines is eerily similar, and you’re going to end up running the same tracks over and over. More to the point, while you’re awarded monetary compensation for your efforts, there’s nothing you can really do with it – you just practice, qualify, and race.
And that’s fine – it’s the main attraction of the game, after all – but we would have liked to see some form of simulation feature just to speed up the process a little at points. Thankfully, the Career is not the sole attraction, as the title also incorporates everything from standalone races to online play and a selection of challenges based on unique scenarios.
An example of one of these sees you commandeering Kevin Harvick's No. 4 car with two laps and not a lot of gas left. Essentially, you need to hold off the fast approaching pack and win the race, with your vehicle stuttering over the finish line on fumes – it’s a tough mission, but a really fun use of the mechanics to bring a puzzle-esque quality to proceedings.
NASCAR Heat 2 is a well-built racer with honest intentions and intense action. The robust Career mode conveys the toils of a real racing career – sometimes a little too accurately as it can start to drag. Nevertheless, with three disciplines and suite of offline and online modes, this is an entertaining experience – just be aware that it doesn’t have anywhere near the budget to rival the various other racing games you can buy.