NASCAR Heat 2 comes out September 12 and it has some promises but will the new features be enough for fans is yet to be determined.

We’re less than two weeks away from the release of NASCAR Heat 2 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows and there’s no denying the mixed reaction fans has had about 704Games’ sequel to last year’s NASCAR Heat Evolution.

Some have given up any hope of the game due to examples such as subpar graphics, problematic physics and Kyle Busch being on the cover. Others still have hope that it’ll be better than its predecessor after several gameplay footages and features have been introduced.

For starters, it’s not Forza or Gran Turismo with its state-of-the-art graphics which can be improved in the future but graphics doesn’t make or break a game for me. Features and gameplay matters and should be prioritized.

Compare sixth-generation (PS2, Xbox, GameCube) video games to today (eighth-generation)? Gamers have praised the older games because of its high-quality replay ability and content, graphics aren’t really factored into the discussion. NASCAR games are no exception.

Instead, NASCAR Heat 2’s selling point is the return of the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series having its own roster and a revamped career mode similar to EA Sports’ NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup’s “Fight to the Top” mode.

The inclusion of all three national touring series was last featured in NASCAR 09 (2008), the last NASCAR game made by EA Sports. However—for the first time ever—no fantasy drivers will fill the starting grid as 704Games were able to obtain almost every team that’s competed in the series this season. Key word, almost.

Some race teams aren’t included due to licensing. Notably, GMS Racing—the team defending Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter drives for—will not be in NASCAR Heat 2. That alone is unfortunate because it makes the series a bit incomplete without having one of its top drivers in the game.

It’s just a minor complaint because I’m impressed 704Games acquired a legit lineup that features the underdog teams like TriStar Motorsports, B.J. McLeod Motorsports and FDNY Racing. In other words, you can make those teams into championship contenders. Leading to the game’s other selling point, career mode.

NASCAR Heat Evolution’s career mode was underwhelming with its limited options such as what number you can race, not having the freedom to customize your car and spending money left and right on upgrades that left players a lot to be desired.

Now, it’s about the player’s performance that determines their career path in NASCAR Heat 2. Any moves done at the track are crucial as drivers and teams will notice if you’re a clean racer or a rubbin’s racing kind of driver.

Sounds familiar? NASCAR Thunder 2004 to NASCAR 07 anyone?

Fans rejoiced the return of rivalries because it adds realism to the game that was missing last year. If you take out Kevin Harvick on purpose, expect him to respond on the track and may lead to a rude awakening on your race result.

I’m glad the feature is back for the first time since the EA Sports days. Sure, there was a rivalry feature in Eutechnyx’s NASCAR The Game: 2011 but it was just an indicator of where your opponent was on the track, not based on how raced your competitor.

Another addition I’m pleased they included was forcing a player to start from the bottom of the NASCAR totem pole. It’ll give the fans something to be excited about when they purchase NASCAR Heat 2 and it has been the case since the announcement early August.

Players have the option of working their way up the ladder by starting with an underfunded team and get “hot seat” opportunities to run for a high-caliber team. If you run well, you may end up racing that team on a full-time basis.

It’s up to you to make the team from back markers to elite overnight. Yes, if you perform well for B.J. McLeod, the team becomes better.

There’s also an option of customizing your car or truck and become teammates with the likes of Matt Crafton, William Byron or Martin Truex, Jr. However, don’t get your hopes up and expect a revolutionary paint booth like NASCAR ’15, the customization still needs improvement.

You’ll only have a couple of templates to choose from but I’ve heard through social media more car templates will be added in a patch. Like NASCAR Thunder 2004, you can change the colors of your car but that’s about it for templates.

On the bright side, you can change the look of your car unlike last year but it’s taking time for them to make those changes as this is only their second game since 2002.

Based on several videos, numbers are still limited so if you wanted to run No. 25 in career mode, No. 28 is the closest option. I’m not sure why the game can’t use numbers that aren’t being used by actual teams.

For example, in NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, if you wanted to drive the No. 19 (driven by Jeremy Mayfield but wasn’t included in Chase for the Cup), there wasn’t any restrictions. Instead—like NASCAR Heat Evolution—the only numbers available in NASCAR Heat 2 appeared to be car numbers 8, 28, 36 and 99.

This must be fixed in the future to give players a chance to drive any number they want and have full creative freedom. It’s not too hard to have vacant numbers available, look at F1 2017 for example. Customization is still a bit of a problem in NASCAR Heat 2 but it has positive outlooks.

Now to the bread and butter, does the gameplay look promising? Thus far, it’s a slight improvement.

Damage model still needs some work to do as the best damage models were NASCAR Thunder 2003, NASCAR Dirt to Daytona and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. When you contact another driver, it creates tire smoke at an excessive level despite making the slightest contact.

Rubber banding appears to be an issue as they’ll adapt to your pace. In other words, if you’re running 175 mph at Atlanta in career mode, the AI will run your pace instead of reaching over 190 mph and feeling like a back marker.

This isn’t a good thing because it does take away the challenge of working your way up the hard way. NASCAR Thunder 2003 was notorious for a driver starting off slow as the top drivers will put you a lap down on regular basis in the first couple of seasons. It doesn’t hurt to have those challenges available and make the struggles worthwhile.

I don’t mind 704Games catering towards a specific audience but there’s got to be a challenge for the players instead of just being an easy game with little to no replay ability.

What I’ve noticed was the changes they’ve done in how the cars react to your driving. Last year, ramming into a driver results your car to spin or crash. Now, there’s minimal harm when you collide with another car that hurts you rather than the AI. It’ll make racing tolerable which is a huge improvement because one of the fan’s main complaints was the game punishing your driving style.

Bump drafting at Daytona and Talladega has potential as cars made progress in the pack like in real life. Also, the dirt track physics at Eldora (Camping World Truck Series only) has shown some resemblance of the actual races but again, a work in progress as it’s the first NASCAR game to feature a dirt track since Dirt to Daytona 15 years ago.

Overall, I’m impressed with the features and improvements they’ve made to its gameplay but is it enough for fans to forgive 704Games from last season’s disappointment?

For casual gamers, it should be a fun game with some features keeping them interested. Those who were angry about last year’s game, they’ll see it as a modest improvement.

Personally, once I watch gameplay footage from the likes of Joseph Lombard (N2SC4R)—who’ll have content on his YouTube channel days before its release—I’ll have more thoughts about NASCAR Heat 2.

There’s so much a publisher can showcase where watching other NASCAR gamers is as important to judge gameplay.

Based on what I’ve read and seen from 704Games videos, it’s in the step in the right direction but I feel it may not be enough for them to buy the game because of missing features, same flaws such as rubber banding and slight improvements being done on its physics.

704Games’ selling point are the features and it’s hard to judge if the game is functional without getting my hands on the game first. Once it comes out, I’ll give it a go and see if I’m impressed with the game itself.

I’ve had some frustrations with NASCAR Heat Evolution but I don’t despise the game like others. It’s game that had its limitations and NASCAR Heat 2 is building on making the game better than the year before.

September 12 is coming soon and these next couple of days will be crucial for those who have a chance to play the game like Lombard to give fans an overall impression before we start playing the game ourselves.

Flaws and early impressions aside, I’m looking forward to the final product 704Games gives us and see if those problems I’ve seen the past few months were changed.

Published by Luis Torres

University of Idaho graduate that's currently pursuing the dream of becoming a motorsports media personnel.

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