Though oval racing certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea around these parts, and the previous NASCAR Heat game was nothing short of a dumpster fire that spat in the face of every fan who had already suffered through countless years of mediocrity, details have began to float to the surface regarding NASCAR Heat 2 over the past couple of days. With the leading company changing names yet again – now operating under the moniker of 704 Games rather than Dusenberry-Martin Interactive – and promises of proper development cycle culminating in a September launch window instead of the rushed process that undoubtedly caused last year’s game to nosedive in quality, NASCAR Heat 2 will once again release on a trio of modern gaming platforms near the end of the actual NASCAR season. A lot of you may rightly assume it’s a bit counter-intuitive for 704 Games to ship a product so late in the year, but this is the exact launch schedule EA Sports would use during their time in possession of the exclusive NASCAR license, so at least there’s a partial effort to retain that same tradition.
Aside from the sketchy name change, which raised red flags when we reported on it a few months back here at PRC, details have remained pretty sparse in regards to what the actual gameplay experience will contain when NASCAR Heat 2 drops this September. With Heat Evolution generating such a negative reaction from fans, not a lot of people are actively seeking out teaser shots or inside information, resulting in a situation where all we know is that the cover athlete will be either Martin Truex Jr. or 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch – decided upon during segment two of the all-star race at Charlotte this weekend, with the cover position going to the higher finishing driver of the two.
However, to my surprise there exists a core group of dedicated NASCAR Heat fans who have actually busted their asses to find out as much as possible about the new game despite the company’s previous releases not warranting any sort of fanbase, and though the major sim racing sites haven’t picked up on it, information is starting to leak. So to the NASCAR Heat YouTube and Twitter community, thank you so much for your dedication.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Brandon Brown heavily implied in a short Twitter video clip that all three major NASCAR national series – trucks, muscle cars, and sedans for those who can’t be assed with looking up sponsor names – will be included in NASCAR Heat 2. This is a major revelation, as once Electronic Arts and Monster Games began implementing several different NASCAR-sanctioned series into their games during the PlayStation 2 era, any developer who failed to include these support series were automatically at a disadvantage and blasted by NASCAR fans for having less content than games released a decade earlier. It’s exciting to know the lower-tier trucks and muscle cars will make a return to officially licensed NASCAR games, as it immediately indicates career mode will be exponentially more expansive than Heat Evolution and the Eutechnyx games were, presumably allowing you to climb the NASCAR ladder as an aspiring professional race car driver would.
This also indicates that all three series will have near-complete fields of real-world drivers if journeymen like Brandon Brown are talking about being in the upcoming NASCAR game, which is a major step in the right direction. Previous NASCAR titles by Eutechnyx and 704 Games – and Electronic Arts as well, though it wasn’t as big of a problem – routinely failed to acquire rights to all active drivers on the grid due to sponsorship or contract issues, leading to situations where feeder series drivers were placed in semi-fictional cars that never actually competed to ensure the 43-car fields would be populated entirely by real drivers. It was like if Codemasters could not get the rights to the Toro Rosso F1 team, so they shoehorned some random GP2 organization in it’s place – which pissed off fans who were hoping for the authenticity advertised on the box to actually be present in the software.
We’ve also learned a bit more about 704 Games, as what we originally speculated to be a questionable name change to get away from the nasty reputation the team once acquired appears to have warranted something much more beneficial – and we kind of wish we knew about this sooner, because it totally changes the atmosphere surrounding NASCAR Heat 2.
Fox 46 Charlotte have reported that the group are now located in the actual NASCAR office building residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, allowing team members in charge of licensing deals and miscellaneous authenticity quips to merely take a brief elevator ride directly to NASCAR representatives, in order to receive the green light for features, licensing approvals, and any creative freedom questions that may arise. Considering how much of the genuine NASCAR experience relies on correctly placed advertisement decals, unique car liveries, up-to-date track renovations, rule changes, and the other fine details of a racing series that many people correctly imply is this weird hybrid of professional wrestling and auto racing, it’s comforting to know that the resources to make a great game are literally two floors above them.
But it also means there’s no excuse if they fuck it all up.
It’s certainly not hard proof that NASCAR Heat 2 will be an overwhelmingly positive improvement compared to its predecessor, but so far it appears 704 Games have the tools in place to get the job done, and signs point to the return of additional series that fans have long requested to be implemented after years of being omitted despite their inclusion on inferior hardware. The key thing I’m looking at here is that on the outset, NASCAR Heat 2 will be enough of a change from the previous game to warrant a purchase and subsequent shakedown on launch day.
But if 704 Games once again release a product that is buggy, unfinished, and suffers from performance issues, their fall from grace will be even more tarnishing to the team, and most likely prompt yet another exclusivity swap. With the Eutechnyx series, at the end of the day you could blame the obvious lack of quality on a group of European game developers who obviously didn’t care about NASCAR and were pushing out a minimum viable product to generate a profit from loyal NASCAR fans. However, now that 704 Games are literally in the same building as NASCAR themselves, and have been graced with a full development cycle, there’s no excuse to ship a sub-par product. The classic Heat games of yesteryear were fantastic, with Dirt to Daytona still actively enjoyed by hardcore sim racers going through hell and back just to get Dolphin or PCSX2 running smoothly. If you can’t recapture this experience with modern technology and the full support of NASCAR, it’s a sign that more than a name change is needed.