Comeback Kid: The Review of NASCAR Heat 2

The external controller configuration utility boasts a peculiar watermark; Unity Trial Version. Upon checking the schedule page in Career Mode during the introductory series of races, the game crashes to desktop for no apparent reason. Sometimes the soundtrack notification box fails to disappear, obfuscating your rear view mirror for the entire duration of the session. The framerate is inconsistent; with a lack of fluidity apparent in cockpit view and/or with the mirror enabled in hood cam. During victory celebrations, your avatar levitates about three inches off of the driver’s side door. In online races, the CPU occasionally retains control of your car for the duration of the race, forcing you to exit the multiplayer session and either wait it out, or join another. I was given a one-race deal to drive for NEMCO Motorsports during my rookie season, but upon exiting the game and coming back in, that offer had inconspicuously changed to ThorSport. The game implements a steering deadzone of 0.008 by default, which it’s absolutely necessary you disable to have complete control of your car.

704 Games’ NASCAR Heat 2 can occasionally be a very sloppy experience, but when firing on all cylinders, this is the absolute best officially licensed NASCAR console game to be released since the spring of 2002. Successfully blending the EA Sports flair of the classic NASCAR Thunder titles, with a surprisingly competent on-track experience both behind the wheel and among a field of AI cars, NASCAR Heat 2 is mostly a story of redemption when compared to last year’s atrocious offering. Though it does not boast the production quality of Formula One 2017, and could use one very focused patch to iron out the last nagging kinks, the majority of NASCAR fans both casual and hardcore are going to be extremely satisfied with this title when all is said and done.

Rather than engage in elongated message board flame wars, and lash out against their own customers in the face of the justified negativity surrounding last year’s title as so many simulator developers are prone to do, 704 Games have instead taken this criticism seriously and pushed out a product that is a tangible, robust improvement compared to their previous work. Many sim racers brag about literally throwing money at their favorite developers just to “keep the company afloat” and “show their support” – and in most cases I end up questioning their sanity – but with NASCAR Heat 2, as a customer I feel quite satisfied that the $60 I spent on last year’s disaster helped to fund something infinitely better the following year.

It’s not perfect by any means, but the sheer leap in quality from “absolutely pathetic” to “mostly decent with a few blemishes that can be fixed” is a victory unto it’s own. Last season I questioned how this had been the same Monster Games responsible for the instant classic Dirt to Daytona back in 2002, yet now I’m willing to believe the rumors about a highly limited development schedule, and that the 2017 offering would be better.

Taking a page out of the EA Sports playbook, Heat 2 doesn’t fuck around and immediately sets the overall atmosphere of the game with a solid intro video, before giving way to a user interface and soundtrack that accurately conveys the aggression, passion, and festival-like vibe of top level NASCAR events. Whereas Formula One 2017 is classy and elegant in how it depicts the sport, NASCAR Heat 2 has no problem adopting the in-your-face Monster Energy color scheme and aesthetics throughout the entire game, complimented by some great head-banging material from Inner Image and footage of cars getting destroyed in the background. From the moment you open the application and begin clicking around in the options menu, it’s night and day when pitted against Heat Evolution. Visually, I mean, let’s be real here, the graphics are still ass, but no longer do you get the vibes that you’re playing a tech demo with menus slapped together at the last minute. It might be a bit too edgy and aggressive for the older folks, but I’d rather have this over a generic rendering of a car sitting in some semi-dormant garage.

And like the Thunder games, there are a lot more extra features to dig through this time around. The driver model editor returns, but it’s not something restricted to career mode, and you can enter it at your leisure. You’re allowed to create one custom car per series, with a similar livery editor to iRacing – you receive a base scheme and the ability to select colors and sponsors that are automatically placed in the five main areas – though the relatively light list of brands and designs to select from at launch will turn this into a game of “wait and see” until additional DLC drops, which is said to include more content on this front. The create-a-car mode in NASCAR Thunder worked well because you could select from tons of preset car liveries, along with well-known brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, but here your choices are rather poor; Xfinity, Advocare, Dow, and Peak Anti-Freeze are the highlights among a list of stuff you usually see on backmarker liveries.

However, just seeing these extra little goodies appear at all, including the option to select your personal theme song to play whenever you win a race online or off, is proof that 704 Games are aware of what NASCAR fans want out of their flagship console game, and what these games have traditionally done well in years past. This is not a developer that omits beloved, almost necessary features, and then ventures to the forums to justify doing so; they actively understand the history of NASCAR games and have worked to bring back stuff the fans enjoyed from the games of old.

And in some cases, 704 Games have actually gone above and beyond what previous NASCAR games have accomplished. This is the first NASCAR game in the sport’s history to include a full field of real, licensed drivers and liveries, across not just the Monster Energy Cup Series, but all three national touring series to boot. The only omission comes in the form of GMS Racing’s Camping World Truck Series squad – meaning 2016 champion Johnny Sauter is not in the game – but this is actually a traditional practice in looking back at the line of NASCAR products; Tony Raines was absent in 2003, Jeremy Mayfield was left out in 2004, and Bill Elliot in 2005, whereas Carl Edwards was not present for several seasons in a row. Regardless, this milestone is a massive achievement for 704 Games given the logistical nightmare of licensing over 120 drivers and countless teams, all with multiple primary sponsors that may conflict with one another, so credit should be given where credit is due.

Another major accomplishment is that the game ships with alcoholic beverage sponsors on-disc, meaning that the days of racing with fictionalized liveries in place of Miller Lite, Budweiser, or Coors Light are now officially over; the game allows you to enter your date of birth in the options menu, and provided you insert something that indicates you’re of legal drinking age, you receive Brad Keselowski’s authentic Miller Lite liveries, and not some half-assed monstrosity with BRAD K lazily written on the side of the car in it’s place. For the Formula One fans skimming through, this would be like having a legitimate Marlboro Ferrari car as vanilla content. It’s a huge deal to abolish this barrier altogether with not a post-release patch, but something on-disc at launch.

Unfortunately, despite exhibiting a very strong and composed identity off the track, the on-track experience is where Heat 2 suffers the most. It’s not exactly crippling, it just needs to be patched, and it’s something that could come in less than a week if 704 are able to identify what needs to be done to appeal to one very simple request. This is partially why I’m not relentlessly slaughtering Heat 2 as I did with last season’s offering; Heat 2 is not broken by any means, there’s just a lone element that needs a boost – and I chose my words carefully there, so you can probably figure out what I’m getting at.

So let’s start from the top. Heat 2 is not a hardcore simulator. This is a game designed for teenagers with a PlayStation or an Xbox. And out of the box, the default setups have been constructed with this audience in mind. If you have zero mechanical knowledge when it comes to how a stock car should be set up and driven, Heat 2 will always feel like you’re playing Sierra’s Viper Racing on a variety of oval tracks.  Brutal is an understatement when it comes to the default setups; they understeer to an absurd degree, cook the right front tire regardless of the type of track you’re at, and fail to put any sort of load on the right rear to use it as a pivot point, which is what you should be doing in these cars.

However, if you’re one of the aforementioned teenagers just wanting to jump in with the default setup against a field of AI cars set to the highest skill level – 105% – the AI in NASCAR Heat 2 are honestly phenomenal. Unlike last year’s game, in which they were immovable objects that sent you flying at the lightest of taps, car contact feels wonderful in that you can liberally shunt and lean on people without much in the way of consequences, and the AI are a lot more individualistic in their tendencies. They change lines, battle with other cars, attack, defend, and in general put on a very captivating show that’s arguably more exciting than the real thing. This is also some of the best offline restrictor plate racing I’ve been a part of – a title traditionally reserved for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season – and I’ve linked a short video above of an overtime restart as proof.

And for most of the game’s audience, that will be enough to keep them engaged until next year’s game drops. Not for me.

So what I’ve deduced from my playtime so far, is that the AI speed was generally configured by 704 Games to match what the player would be capable of with the shitty default setups and driving with a gamepad. Once you start unfucking the insanely tight baselines that come loaded in each car – and from what I remember I was universally adjusting the wheel lock, sway bar, track bar, ride height, brake bias, and wedge, so there’s a LOT of work to be done – the AI just cannot compete with the extra speed you’ve found. You go from hanging with them, maybe pulling away if you’re a talented sim racer, to outright anal penetration. At a track that actually takes skill, such as Bristol Motor Speedway, this discrepancy in speed is so profound I lapped the whole group only a third of the way into the race, and then twice more by the time the checkers fell.

This is disappointing, because while not a serious attempt at accurately simulating all of the microscopic elements that make up auto racing, NASCAR Heat 2 is pretty fun when driving off the right rear with a proper stock car setup – and even the force feedback is of a much higher quality than you’d expect from an outing like this. I’m not going to sit here and convince you that 704 Games somehow made a more accurate simulator than iRacing, because that’s incorrect, but for me I’d almost call it DiRT 3 with stock cars – a simplistic yet somewhat reasonable ballpark approximation of American oval racing. Below I’ve turned some laps at Richmond with a custom setup, and while the in-game steering wheel isn’t 100% matched with my personal wheel inputs, I think y’all can see that I’m wheeling the car off the corner and steering with the brakes a whole bunch. Again, it’s lighthearted fun in the same realm as DiRT 3, where it’s a tick simplistic but more or less does the things you expect a vehicle like this to do, but the trade-off is that you’re utterly decimating the AI at these speeds.

The fix, as implied earlier in the article, is to just bump up the AI speeds and presto, Heat 2 rocks. Now, in messing around with the original NASCAR Heat – which is pretty close to open source given all of the mod launchers and editors that have been created for it – the way the Heat/Viper Racing engine works is that the AI lines are literally just ghost car files, and you can import your own ghost car into the game with a special tool if you feel the default AI isn’t on pace with you, or they’re not running the right line for a third party track because the guy making it sucks at driving. So I’m under the impression that they just didn’t have anyone in the office fast enough to set some blistering times to be used as the AI path. Maybe I’m mistaken, but hey, I’m going off what I found in the NASCAR Heat mod launcher.

There’s also not enough talented drivers in the NASCAR YouTube community to obliterate the AI in this fashion on a public level with thousands of views, so maybe 704 are under the impression this isn’t a problem in the first place – but I can assure you, to anyone somewhat talented behind the wheel, it certainly is. Regardless, I would love to donate my time if possible to help re-do the AI if they’re still running off the old import ghost car AI functionality, as it’s basically the one major blemish this game has that currently prevents it from receiving two thumbs up. 

Yes, I am implying that 704 Games indeed polished a turd and Heat 2 is worth your time. In doing a few career mode races and being provided with an underpowered truck, the AI are racey as hell yet still respectful, and I’d love to have that experience when running balls out, not just when I’m handicapping myself in career mode with a shit team that’s down 35 horsepower or whatever.

The game’s career mode has eschewed the traditional NASCAR game formula of managing your own race team, and instead treats your avatar solely as a virtual journeyman driver tasked with finishing well and impressing the teams around you. There are no vehicle upgrades or sponsorships to acquire; the sole goal rather to earn a spot with one of the top Monster Energy teams by starting out in the Camping World Truck Series, and progressing up through the ladder with both one-off and season-long contracts much in the style of Milestone’s old WRC games before they lost the license. It’s an approach I personally don’t mind, as this is more or less how the real life NASCAR ecosystem operates, but from a suspension of disbelief standpoint it causes some pretty fundamental issues.

In my introductory season, in which you’re given random one-off appearances throughout the 2017 truck series schedule from an array of teams, I actually ran well enough and won a few races to the point where I’d outright qualified for NASCAR’s post-season elimination format. The game did not reward me with a short contract for the final races of the season to try and win a championship as a rookie, but instead sent me straight to season 2 with only a Steam achievement to reward me for my success. You’re also given the opportunity to replace drivers that would otherwise never give up their seats to a random – such as John Hunter Nemecheck or Austin Cindric – guys who drive for family-owned teams or are more or less locked in to their respective rides due to external factors. And when you do land a permanent ride after signing a contract, the name of the previous driver will still remain on the back of the windshield. It’s awkward, and shows poor attention to detail – as do the capacity crowds at every single track in the game despite most NASCAR broadcasts showing grandstands that are just barely over half full.

Poor attention to detail also extends to basic elements such as the scoring format and event proceedings: Monster Energy Cup drivers earn points in series they shouldn’t, despite it being a NASCAR rule that their results do not count. The yellow line rule at both Daytona and Talladega, at least in my experience, is not enforced whatsoever. Neither are restart rules, which do not allow passing to the left of the opponent before the start/finish line. If you play this game and generally understand how NASCAR works, you won’t break these rules to begin with, and it won’t actively dampen your enjoyment of the game, but for 704 Games to be located in the same building as NASCAR corporate and leave all this stuff out is… Interesting… To be fair, the EA Sports games for the longest time did not include these rules either, but you’d think with technology progressing to the extent it has, coding an out-of-bounds rule that has existed since 2001 wouldn’t be all that difficult.

But with these specific rule book omissions, suspension of disbelief issues, and an AI in need of a nitro boost, that’s not to say NASCAR Heat 2 is a bad game by any stretch of the imagination – the most prominent objective issue with the game could easily be fixed in just one patch, and we’d have a pretty robust stock car racer on consoles that NASCAR fans would be proud to call their own. The 40-car online grids, which can be filled with AI cars for an impromptu co-op session with friends, along with the extensive set of features and a reasonable career mode plant it firmly behind Dirt to Daytona as the second greatest mass-market NASCAR game of all time.

I would obviously like the AI to go a bit quicker, but to be fair, I was in a late model three days ago, and the target audience for this is mostly gonna be kids who won’t jack the difficulty to 105% and bang off the rev limiter at Richmond with a custom setup. The majority of teenagers who buy this game, and that includes the NASCAR YouTube community, are actually going to have a lot of fun with this title because it’s very, very close to what I remember the EA Sports games being like through nostalgia goggles. In fact, I’d actually give the advantage to Heat 2, as the EA Sports games drove like dogshit. You just put up with it because there was so much to see, do, and unlock.

Where Heat 2 may fail to captivate an audience has little to do with the game itself, but instead the series 704 Games have been tasked with depicting. Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and many others that made NASCAR into the household name of the early 2000’s all no longer race; the Monster Energy Cup Series field now being a hodgepodge of pay drivers and fan-favorites on the cusp of retiring – all of which drive largely unattractive cars with forgettable liveries. The challenging, crazy tracks that used to populate the schedules of the three series featured within the game – Rockingham, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Milwaukee, and Montreal to name a few – are long gone, replaced with near-identically constructed facilities intended to be spec playing fields for a traveling motorsports circus. Stage racing ruins the flow and rhythm of a long green-flag portion, with 704 Games graciously providing the option to turn it off as a nod to the NASCAR purists.

The magic of being able to boot up a NASCAR game and take Jeff Gordon’s iconic #24 DuPont Chevrolet for a spin at Daytona International Speedway, the superstretch grandstands towering over the cars on the exit of turn two, just isn’t there. Instead you get Cody Ware in the ECU Butt Pirates car slugging it out with an obscure Danica Patrick livery she ran precisely once, which just doesn’t have the same allure. Sure, there are some cool trade-offs; the trucks at Eldora are a blast despite being able to full-throttle an entire lap, same with the Xfinity cars at Mid-Ohio, but seeing the countless plain black trucks with a simple sponsor logo on the grid is really disappointing when you can remember a time where even the minor series had quasi-factory teams.

NASCAR as a sport just isn’t a compelling product right now, and it shows in NASCAR Heat 2. Through no fault of their own, just picking a driver and trying to determine which track to race is difficult, because there’s no Goodwrench, no Budweiser, no Tide, no DuPont, no Dodge Charger, and regardless of whether you go to Chicagoland, Kansas, or Las Vegas, it’s basically the same track.

But three thousand words later, the question you want answers is “should I buy NASCAR Heat 2?”

It’s tricky.

Straight up, I think it’s a good console game, the best since Dirt to Daytona. It’s unbelievable that the same team that shat out Evolution last year returned with something exponentially more coherent and focused – this is much more in line with what we thought was coming when it was first announced Monster Games, the Monster Games, would be given the official NASCAR license once again. This is an absolute stellar offering for the thousands of teenagers across North America who love NASCAR, they’ve got a bunch of friends who also love NASCAR, and they want a good, solid NASCAR game to call their own – whether it be slugging it out through career mode, or beating the shit out of each other online. They’ll get a lot of hours out of this one; the same can’t be said for last year’s offering.

But if you possess any sort of skill behind the wheel, I’d wait for confirmation that the AI has been given a shot of NOS. Not that the AI are retarded, or ignore the player’s position, or mindlessly smash into each other, or cause track-blocking wrecks, or do anything ridiculous that you usually see in hardcore simulators – that is absolutely not the case – they’re just slow when pitted against a human player that understands stock car racing and is proficient behind the wheel.

NASCAR Heat 2 is DiRT 3 with stock cars; it’s semi-simplistic on-track with a lot of flashy, edgy presentation bits to nail the atmospheric qualities that other NASCAR games have been lacking for several years now. Provided 704 Games can get the AI up to where they need to be, which isn’t all that difficult, Heat 2 is generally a decent game overall, and after nearly a decade is finally a NASCAR title we can sit back and enjoy rather than rag on.

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For 13.8 Seconds, Question What You’re Paying For

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You’d think for a piece of software that prides itself on being the most authentic & accurate simulation consumers can buy, massive discrepancies between real world car performance and the virtual counterpart wouldn’t exist to begin with, and simulation enthusiasts wouldn’t actively work to brigade someone drawing attention to what’s a completely reasonable talking point.

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series is set to visit Bristol Motor Speedway this upcoming weekend, one of the oldest circuits on the schedule despite it’s modern coliseum atmosphere, for the second of its two 2017 dates: one in the spring, taking place during the day, with this weekend’s being a night race that’s known for chaos and destruction akin to a local short track event. Despite being just a half mile in length, Bristol’s 25+ degrees in banking generate a very unique vibe; insanely high speeds and close quarter combat is the auto racing equivalent to flying fighter jets within the confines of a high school gymnasium. The Monaco Grand Prix may send Formula One entries blazing past elaborate casinos, and V8 Supercars can get a little hairy in the resort town of Surfer’s Paradise, but there’s nothing in the motorsports kingdom quite like Bristol Motor Speedway – a track that actively encourages mangled heaps of automotive wreckage..

In keeping with the standard formula of how iRacing operates, all major stock car series within the popular online racing simulator will mirror the real world NASCAR Cup series schedule and also visit the concrete jungle throughout the week. The top simulator drivers on the service have spent the past few days preparing for a multitude of high-profile events, whether it be the standard top Class A open run-offs that dictate the drivers eligible to compete for $10,000 USD next year, or the significantly longer NASCAR iRacing Series contests, which are more in line with the simulator’s origins. However, in testing for these events, one YouTube user flying under the name of GeneticJD has made a pretty startling discovery – and it’s one that all iRacers should be taking a close look at, if only to understand where their money is actually going.

In a single car qualifying run under realistic weather and track conditions – which he actually addresses directly to dispel the fanboys’ claims before they can arise – GeneticJD, who isn’t a prominent face in the Peak Anti-Freeze Series, but just another somewhat talented sim racer on the service, has clocked in with a time of 13.8 seconds in his virtual #31 Kraft Velveeta Chevrolet SS. To provide some context as to why this might be an issue, qualifying for the 2016 night race at Bristol saw now-retired ace Car Edwards snatch the pole with an elapsed time of 14.6. Drop down the results list to see how other talented drivers performed, and racers such as the inevitable 2016 champion Jimmie Johnson registered a 14.91, while three time series winner & short track veteran Tony Stewart clocked in with a 15.02.

GeneticJD’s lap by comparison is so absurdly beyond what these cars are capable of in real life, it actually matches the World of Outlaws Sprint Car track record set by Sammy Swindell back in the early 2000’s, when the series used to temporarily convert the half mile oval into a dirt track. Those cars have a power-to-weight ratio more ridiculous than a modern Formula One car, and aided by a giant wing that essentially allows them to turn an entire lap at full power while sideways – yet iRacing says a 3200 pound stock car is just as fast. Drawing natural conclusions from the car’s performance, GeneticJD comments that iRacing absolutely need to slow the cup cars down. How iRacing’s stock cars are going upwards of a full second faster than their real life counterpart in a track this short, is absolutely inexcusable.

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Of course, the iRacing defense force have already appeared to downvote the post into oblivion on the simulator’s official subreddit, with comments conveniently dancing around how bizarre this performance is is – instead wanting to see pedal inputs, the setup used, or claiming that the video was “less interesting than I expected.” And sure, to them, maybe it really isn’t a big deal that some guy with infinitely more driving talent than they have somehow cracked a barrier that’s virtually impossible.

But to myself, and others as well, it’s pretty hilarious. iRacing isn’t just a boxed game you buy from Wal-Mart for anywhere from $60 to $80, and put up with the bad in exchange for the positive things the software accomplishes. This is a game that demands you fork out several times more than you’d traditionally find yourself paying for virtual race cars, and then thrives on a concept called post-purchase rationalization plus an admittedly exceptional marketing campaign, one which makes deluded motor racing enthusiasts believe they’ve acquired the very best in consumer-grade race car simulators. Usually this would be the part of the article where I would take aim at hardcore sim racers roped in by the cult-like mentality of iRacing’s finest to perpetuate such bullshit, but instead I will take a different approach.

When I browse YouTube videos of either NASCAR: The Game, or the current iteration of NASCAR Heat – two console offerings that admittedly aren’t up to par with what we should expect from video games in 2017 – I always see the same comments from miscellaneous users: “Why are you playing this trash when iRacing exists; it’s the best and most realistic racing simulator money can buy.” Sometimes it’s worded a lot nicer than that, but the overall theme remains the same.

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I have to ask, what weight does this argument hold now? It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a genuinely good oval racing game, but acting like iRacing is this be-all, end-all solution for dedicated NASCAR fans, only for the most popular cars on the service to generate performance figures that are significantly less accurate than these supposed “arcade games” everyone has no problems shitting on, is pretty comical.  In no way am I defending the horrid dumpster fire that was NASCAR Heat – not by a long shot – but seeing the average person parrot claims of iRacing’s alleged realism, when this is demonstrably false just by comparing virtual lap times to the real thing, definitely raises the question as to what sort of brainwashing has been taking place.

It also makes me wonder how more people aren’t genuinely questioning where their money is going when renting the content on iRacing, and how there’s not a more widespread level of criticism surrounding the biggest name on the market today. Sure, I got screwed over by DiRT 4’s decline in quality – as did many others – but at the end of the day it was a one-time, $60 purchase, not a long-term investment that continuously asked for my money just to explore a fraction of the content available on top of annual subscription fees. And though Codemasters did parade around a couple of real world drivers to vouch for the authenticity of some of the vehicles available in DiRT 4, their promotional efforts were nowhere near as extensive as those carried out by iRacing, who for years upon years upon years have touted close working relationships with a multitude of real world teams and engineers to ensure the utmost of accuracy out on the virtual race track.

Let me ask a simple question: Where is this accuracy customers have been promised?  Because there seems to be a pretty major disconnect between what the marketing team would have you believe, and what actually occurs within the game world. For a development team to supposedly be in touch with Monster Energy Cup teams on a regular basis and actively employing individuals within the Cup series garage area, how in the fuck do we reach a scenario where Cup cars are blasting around Bristol at World of Outlaws speeds? No, it’s not a case for false advertisement, but I’m genuinely surprised that so many people have no problem parting with their hard-earned cash primarily due to the game’s self-proclaimed status as the most accurate and thoroughly researched simulator on the market, with some members even being blissfully unaware that other racing simulators exist altogether because they’ve bought into the iRacing or bust mentality themselves, yet are suddenly silent or apathetic when this authenticity is objectively proven to be false?

I’m also a bit surprised in regards to how on top of the demonstrable lapses in authenticity, sim racers are unable to read between the lines and notice something is amiss when it comes to how iRacing advertise themselves as the pinnacle of realism, when real teams aren’t actually using it.

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I’m not a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, I’m actually in the Kevin Harvick camp that believes his lack of on-track success has kind of hurt the sport – usually the most popular athlete is also the most successful, and in this case he’s not – but one thing Dale has done a good job at is being an ambassador for sim racing on a global platform, and he’s been doing this basically since the start of his career, which we all very much appreciate. However, in his weekly podcast, #186 at the 42 minute mark if you’re looking for something to get you through your workout routine, Dale mentions that the Chevrolet simulator uses “old gaming technology”, and though iRacing as a company don’t currently provide simulators for any of the teams (which in itself should be a red flag), it’s something they have an interest in – and he’d prefer for them to enter the realm of professional simulators as well.

Yet this “old” gaming technology, which Dale refuses to name – though we all know from pictures it’s clearly a variant of rFactor – helped his own Hendrick teammate tie his father’s NASCAR record by notching his seventh championship last season. In the meantime, average Joe’s on the iRacing service are blowing the doors off real world qualification charts, running times that would put them in an entirely different vehicle class. With this tidbit alone, you’d think people would figure out that maybe they’re not getting the experience that they’re paying for.

Another tidbit worth noting, would be Dale’s own career statistics. Earnhardt Jr. advocates for iRacing to enter the professional simulator realm, as he was a very active driver during the service’s early years, believes the software has the potential to go above and beyond what rFactor Pro provides, and obviously has a great relationship with the people in Massachussetts, but these years spent diving deep into sim racing – moreso than his Windows XP years – also happen to ironically coincide with a disastrous four-year slump that has defined the final half of his career.  From June of 2008 to July of 2012, NASCAR’s most popular driver failed to win a single race – a slump so crippling, his own teammate posting similar statistics lost his job. As you can see from the video above, Earnhardt Jr. was most active on iRacing starting from it’s beta period, until about late 2011 or early 2012, during the initial stages of the new tire model when a lot of people thought it was quite good.

Look, if there’s this top level NASCAR driver going around telling people about how helpful this one piece of software is compared to all the others, but while doing so he’s actually putting up results that would be job-threatening to anyone not named Earnhardt, how is anyone not asking questions about the accuracy of the software, but instead just sort of going along with it and using it as a reason to spend even more money on the game? The North Carolina rumor mill has obviously lit a fire under claims that Dale was asked to stop iRacing until his on-track results improved, because supposedly people figured out it was messing with his driving style, but that’s not really something we can confirm as 100% fact.

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For 13.8 seconds, you should question what you’re paying for. A team supposedly this in-tune with the current motorsports climate, hiring engineers directly from the industry, and working closely with individuals to ensure their software is the absolute pinnacle of sim racing, should not be producing virtual vehicles this far off the mark from their real world counterparts. Yes, maybe DriveClub’s version of a Ferrari Enzo will drive as more of a ballpark guess than anything else, and sure DiRT 4’s R5 rally cars are pretty fucked up, but that’s almost to be expected with those pieces of software. But with such a heavy marketing campaign surrounding it, one which swears up and down that iRacing is the last simulator you’ll ever need, these claims shouldn’t be getting blown the fuck out by a random YouTube personality who somehow figured out how to break the sim in such a way, Cup cars are as fast as World of Outlaws 410 deathtraps. No, just stop, that’s fucked up. You’ve failed at your goal. Go back to the drawing board.

You should also question why real drivers, the same that can be seen on iRacing’s testimonial pages bragging about how great the software is, are accidentally admitting in their podcasts that iRacing to their knowledge isn’t actually used by any professional race teams whatsoever, yet they’re still advocating for the use of iRacing despite this “old” software winning their teammate his record-tying seventh championship.

I don’t think there is a simulator out there that uses iRacing software. – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jr. Download Podcast #186

Lastly, you should question why this professional driver coincidentally suffered from a career-defining slump during the exact time frame he was actively helping out with the development of the game.

But, of course, the country club members won’t want to ask these questions, because bringing iRacing into disrepute is against the sporting code, and can therefore warrant a suspension or outright ban for those who dare to rock the boat.

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704 Games Achieve Small Victory with NASCAR Heat 2’s Driver Roster

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Though the moving gameplay footage released over the past few weeks has objectively left a lot to be desired, showcasing little in the way of physics improvements while boasting new tracks, series, and graphics above all else, 704 Games have managed to notch themselves a small victory with their upcoming oval racer NASCAR Heat 2.

Yes, as we leaked not too long ago, the Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Grand National Series will both be featured in the sequel to last year’s horrendously disappointing rush job, but it’s in precisely how these two feeder series will appear that has actually set a new milestone for NASCAR games as a whole, and should give even the harshest critics – that includes myself – a slight amount of hope for the sequel, if not the mindset that 704 & Monster are at least acting in good faith with the franchise. Unlike past NASCAR titles, regardless of whether they were developed by Monster Games, EA Sports, Image Space Incorporated, Eutechnyx, or the almighty Papyrus, NASCAR Heat 2 will include a complete field of real life drivers across all major series featured within the game. Officially licensed NASCAR titles have been appearing on store shelves dating back to the era of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, but surprisingly this will mark the first time in the 20+ year history of NASCAR games to boast a 100% authentic starting grid, right out of the box.

Because NASCAR is not under an all-encompassing concorde agreement like our European readers are familiar with in Formula One, allowing developers to obtain a blanket license that automatically ensures rights to all eleven teams, video game developers looking to re-create America’s most popular auto racing series in a virtual environment must individually track down every individual driver, sponsor, and team owner participating in NASCAR-sanctioned events to secure their appearance within their piece of software.

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This has traditionally resulted in very awkward situations in years past, as NASCAR’s notorious silly season, coupled with sponsorship feuds and tight schedules to secure the field of drivers for the upcoming video game, has seen pretty prominent drivers omitted from the roster of opponents in favor of generic fictional cars, much to the dismay of even the most casual of fans. Some of these cases are quite laughable considering the caliber of drivers they involve; despite winning the fall Richmond race in 2004 and securing a spot in NASCAR’s inaugural playoff race, Jeremy Mayfield did not appear in NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, whereas Roush Racing phenom Carl Edwards, who had won three times in 2007, was nowhere to be seen when the series made the jump to the Xbox 360 later that summer with NASCAR 08. For NASCAR fans, it was akin to booting up Formula One 2016, and discovering Red Bull had been replaced by a fictional racing team, dubbed “Codemasters F1,” with Ricciardo and Verstappen replaced by the names and mugshots of two interns who “looked the part.”

And of course, with developers knowing full well that the two major support series would not be as popular as the Sunday Cup series, several teams had no problem filling a vast portion of the grids with bogus fantasy drivers – killing any sense of immersion in the process. If this sounds outlandish to those not familiar with NASCAR games, that’s because it was, and on the PC, this is exactly what led to such an extensive modding and add-on livery community; Papyrus left out Chip Ganassi Racing in it’s entirety for their final release, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, instead bundling the game with a selection of 20-odd fantasy drivers that all seemed to promote other products affiliated with Vivendi Universal at the time – such as a World of Warcraft car.

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On the contrary, 704 Games have published the full list of all 32 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers who will appear in NASCAR Heat 2 this fall, with their Facebook page showing off high-resolution renders for those who want a closer look, though Facebook has obviously murdered their quality. After multiple generations of NASCAR games in which developers shamelessly inserted themselves, friends, and co-workers into major NASCAR release to compensate for a lack of real-world drivers, it’s obviously a fantastic change of pace. Most NASCAR fans thought this would simply never happen, as the complexity of acquiring individual rights to the exact liveries and sponsor packages of over 110 professional drivers seems pretty astronomical for any major dev team to achieve, let alone a team as small and unproven as 704.

Is this one of the benefits of their new location, working directly underneath NASCAR’s corporate offices in Charlotte, North Carolina? Quite possibly, though as I’ve mentioned in the title of this post, this doesn’t exactly mean the rest of the game will receive this level of dedication. Recent gameplay trailers for NASCAR Heat 2 have been fairly lackluster, failing to show any prolific revisions to the game’s handling model and making a very poor display of the truck series at Eldora, so while it’s certainly a cause for celebration that we’ll have a full field of drivers in a NASCAR console game without the need for third party mods, there’s still a lot 704 need to do in an effort to ensure NASCAR Heat 2 is worth your time and money.

First NASCAR Heat 2 Details Surface

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.

New Company Name, Same Horrid NASCAR Game

So the NASCAR license did change hands. Sort of.

The downfall of NASCAR games started with an European shovelware publisher known as Eutechnyx acquiring the right’s to America’s most prominent auto racing series, a bizarre decision considering the team’s lack of any reasonable proximity to the reference material, as well as NASCAR’s non-existent popularity across the Atlantic ocean. After a predictable string of horrible releases that quite frankly embarrassed both casual and hardcore NASCAR fans alike, key staff members jumped ship from the eternal dumpster fire responsible for Ride to Hell: Retribution and Auto Club Revolution, promptly rebranded themselves as Dusenberry-Martin Interactive, promised a substantial increase in the overall quality of future products, yet slapped NASCAR fans in the face by re-releasing NASCAR ’14 with an updated driver roster, calling it NASCAR ’15, and still crediting development of the game to Eutechnyx, at least according to Wikipedia.

With critical reception consistently falling below 50% with each yearly release, Dusenberry-Martin Interactive then hastily went out and recruited Monster Games, developers of the critically acclaimed NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona over a decade ago on significantly different hardware – supposedly giving them just six months to slap a game together. The result was a complete disaster; NASCAR Heat Evolution used engine sounds and car performance attributes from 2000, did not feature caution flags in online play, and in the end was a product so horribly unfinished, you’re unable to crash out and retire from a race. I have been sent over the catchfence at Daytona, only to head into the pits and regain the lead eighteen laps later. I’ve tried several times to enjoy Heat Evolution for what it is – a lighthearted NASCAR games with authentic liveries and tracks – and it’s just not possible. I always find myself heading back to the EA Sports offerings of the early 2000’s.

Unfortunately, what I’m about to write is not a poor April Fool’s joke. Once again, key staff members have jumped ship from the eternal dumpster fire responsible for NASCAR The Game: 2013 and NASCAR Heat Evolution, and rebranded themselves as 704 Games. Under the new moniker, a sequel to NASCAR Heat Evolution will be released this fall – the sequel to a game where the car is sent barrel-rolling if you do so much as brush the wall.

Seething rage does not begin to describe how I feel about this announcement; what appears to be largely the same group of individuals responsible for the officially licensed NASCAR abominations dating back to 2011 have basically taken to re-naming their company every couple of years to continue churning out garbage NASCAR products under the guise of “next year’s game will be different, we promise, see, we have a new company name and a totally different mentality”, a line of games no fans have ever been satisfied with and openly blast on the game’s official subreddit by comparing it to games released a decade ago – which has sinced moved to a new subreddit to reflect the change in the company’s name.

There is no long-winded rant to follow this news. This is silly, and it needs to stop. The NASCAR license needed to change hands, and this wasn’t the way to do it. Obviously I can’t sit here and label these guys as scam artists or anything, but as a consumer, what I’m seeing is the same company changing their name every few years to retain the license through what I assume must be some sort of loophole, only to push out horrid video games that upset fans and tarnish the image of the brand. NASCAR console games used to be absolutely awesome time-killers with compelling on-track action and an insane amount of shit to do after the festivities in victory lane – unfortunately, this is now no longer the case. Don’t give these guys your money for the sequel to Heat Evolution, and maybe NASCAR will figure it out for themselves that shit needs to change.

It used to be so much better; there’s really no reason for NASCAR games to go backwards despite extreme advances in technology.