A large part of my childhood was spent in Winder, Georgia—a NASCAR town, through and through. One of the more successful local businesses was a NASCAR-themed boutique. You could gently toss a stone and hit a car emblazoned with a “3” decked out with a little halo and wings (pour one out for Mr. Earnhardt.) But I, for the life of me, didn’t get it. Sure, I watched some by proxy, and got a passable knowledge of it—even respect for it as a sport. Yet I didn’t get the appeal. Loud cars driving in circles for hours on end, with occasional crashes? Yeah, no thanks. Yet getting behind the wheel of NASCAR Heat 2, I walked away with a greater grasp on why people like it.
Saying that I have barely any knowledge of Monster Games’ past NASCAR work would be giving myself too much credit. It’s a team I only know from Excitetrucks, a game that I dug a lot but most people don’t seem to remember. So I was basically going into NASCAR Heat 2 blind, which I almost feel was for the best. It gave me the full experience of the developers trying to pitch it to me from purely a gameplay perspective, and I have to say, it worked.
Players will have access to three different series, one of them being a collection of off-road rallies. For my demo, I got to try out a handful of standard tracks and one dirt track. Each standard track brought something new to the table, with one placing a heavy emphasis on braking and the other one actively screwing over players who try to slow down for a second. Just these two had such a contrast to each other that I could tell this wasn’t just about driving around in a circle for lap after lap—there’s a degree of strategy needed here, and a bit of track knowledge required to get the edge on your opponents. If you’re playing single player, though, your opponents will always be one step ahead thanks the game’s adaptive AI.
But personally, I don’t think I’d be spending much time in single player, despite there being a seemingly robust campaign that involves winning sponsorships and climbing the ranks of the racing world. Because what impressed me most was the online gameplay, which allows every single car you race against to be controlled by a real human. That means over forty players can be on a track at one time, whipping around at terrifying speeds and trying to wreck each other. The potential there is huge, and even as someone who doesn’t care about NASCAR, I kind of want to experience that—especially when the product Monster’s put out feels so good to play.
What struck me most, though, was how much it feels like Monster cares. The developers in the room with me spoke at great length about the painstaking effort they made to recreate the tracks, to adapt the gameplay strategies needed to actual racing tactics, and to make sure to include a variety of multiplayer modes. The studio co-founder told me that one of the major reasons they included splitscreen was because he loved playing games with his kids. None of it seemed like PR speak, or if it was, it gave the impression of genuine, heartfelt effort to make something more than an assembly line product. These are some devs that seem to really care about their players, and care about making a product that both consumers and themselves would want to play.
So while I doubt you’ll see a “3” sticker on my car or find me drafting a fantasy team anytime soon, I actually think I’ll be checking out NASCAR Heat 2 when it launches this coming September. It has the makings of a good racing game, and the capacity for such large multiplayer matches has me interested to put my (hilariously incompetent) skills to the test.