NASCAR Heat 2002
That jerk Jeff Gordon managed to pass you in the final straightaway of the Daytona 500, costing you not only the checkered flag, but also the race. If this were a fighting game, you'd slap his skinny butt silly. Instead, you will have to settle for ramming the side of his car and pushing him into the wall. So what if he won the race? Your car kicked his car's butt.
Welcome to the world of simulationracing. Literally every facet of driving is covered, including a beat-the-heat mode and race the pros challenge. If you like your racing games authentic, then this one's for you. If you like your racing games 'left turn only,'? then this one is also for you.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
All right, I'll admit it, I'm not the world's biggest fan of racing games, so I somewhat surprised my editor when I chose this title to review. As in all things, I think every once in a while you must take another look, whether it's a video game genre or a piece of fruit. Either way, I remember seeing those early game shots of the track and it really had me stoked. So, was the end product everything I had hoped?
NASCAR Heat 2002 (NH2002) is a traditional racing style game. There are several different views on which to race, including in the car, front bumper and two third-person perspectives. Driving involves using the right and left triggers as the gas and brakes with either the left thumbstick or d-pad as the steering wheel. For you gear shifters, the right thumb buttons control the gear shifting up and down as well as the rear view mirror and camera views.
But who wants to hear all this, right? How does it play? Well, there are several different modes in which you can race: Beat the Heat, Race the Pro, Single Race, Multiplayer race and Championship. Now, I'd be willing to bet that you understand at least two of these modes, so let's concentrate on the other three.
First,features a Beat the Heat mode. Basically it's a tiered challenge where you are prompted by Allen Bestwick (some sportscaster-type whom I didn't recognize) to complete a series of progressively harder challenges. Some involve passing cars and reaching the checkered flag first, while others are more difficult, like hitting a perfect pit stop. In this mode, you must get a Bronze, Silver or Gold trophy in order to continue on. Now this mode provided both glee and frustration for me, as I found some of the challenges too easy while others were damn near impossible, and after a while I found myself eventually bored with the whole idea.
Next, the Race the Pro section involved throwing down the gauntlet, so to speak. Essentially, you challenge one of many real pro stock-car drivers on their favorite tracks. Now, I must give credit to Infogrames for coming up with several good ideas in order to spice up the drama of real life NASCAR racing. This particular mode again, provided a sizeable challenge, as I could never beat all of the drivers. And to be perfectly honest, I think it would take a long time to beat all the drivers on all their tracks (there are four tracks for each, you know).
Now, as in any major title such as this one, the coup de gras is the Championship circuit. Yes, it's all there. Set up your season's parameters by selecting the season's length. Here is where the game really pays off. You will race an entire season, which means you have now entered the desperately competitive 'Driver Standings.'? Just like in real life, you don't necessarily have to win every race, but you'd better consistently finish in the top five if you want a shot at the championship. This mode is not for the faint of heart nor the bony of butt, since you will be sitting down for incredibly long races. I played this mode for quite a while and trust me; I wasn't even near the end of the season. I can hear you NASCAR fans drooling out there.
Sometimes it's the little things that make the difference; this game sports several features I found interesting, including a hair-like sensitivity adjuster regarding the steering. But more importantly, there is a garage menu feature where you can fine tune your car with shock compression, weight displacement, loose or tight steering, camber, trim, sway bars and tire psi. I don't follow NASCAR, but I must say, they tossed in enough extras to give the game weight and a level of realism that I couldn't quite comprehend. Throw in the real 19 NASCAR tracks and you may just pass out from over stimulus.
NASCAR Heat allows for 1-4 player split screen or use of the system link. Readers who follow my reviews will know that I insist on the use of link style play. I don't much care for split screen games, as the game clarity tends to be reduced. As far as I'm concerned, the best racing games are the ones you can race against your friends. NH2002 is just one of these games. Something to keep in mind, this game has real life physics, so if you nudge someone while speeding at 150 mph, chances are you will put them into the wall.
NASCAR Heat 2002 was one of the games that got prominent coverage on websites all over, prior to the initial launch of the Xbox. There were many side-by-side shots of the real speedways and the graphics featured and I will admit, they are still there. I challenge anyone to find a more accurate looking racing game, Infogrames pulled out all the stops when it came to bitmapping and frame speed. All the cars behaved realistically, while sporting their sponsor logos. The Xbox continues to pump out quality looking games.
Vrrroooommm! Dolby digital 5.1! Feel free to turn up the speakers and really have at it. Audio tracks ran well with the action and the timely voice of Allen Bestwick narrating the game's challenges felt like I was tuned into Speedvision. I was happy with how all the audio (music, sound effects and voice acting) came together. You could tell this game had a budget.
An interesting manual that should be looked over if for no reason than this game features so many options that you will need a little guidance. They also list all the NASCAR winners starting with 1949?s winner Robert 'Red'? Byron. An informative piece of literature.
Well, I have scratched this year's racing game itch. I can honestly say that this game is only for the hard-core racing fans. Thankfully there is an option that allows you to hop into a quick race; otherwise, I swear my mind would have raced away (pun intended).
With really nice graphics, solid sound, and easy controls, this game should have held my attention for longer. But, since it missed the boat regarding that special something (fun for extended lengths of time) and it really can be 'too much'? in the options department, I honestly must say this is for the real race fans -- not the casual gamer.
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Since the dawn of video gaming, sport games have increasingly become the most dominant software genre to grace the ever-growing North American console market. Currently, close to half of all video game releases -- in some shape or form -- embody the spirit of athletic competition. While the big four of football, baseball, basketball and hockey have carved out an impressive niche in mainstream gamedom, there's still a fair share of gamers who have chosen to look elsewhere in order to satisfy their gaming fix. Racing games, however, seem to be of a different breed. Ask most video gamers today to name a few of their all time favorite console games, past or present, and a racer (of some sort) is sure to be somewhere on the list. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that developers of the PS2, in recognition of this phenomenon, have continued to bolster the early lineup of software with a bevy of racing titles.
For NASCAR fans, EA Sports revved the PS2's engines in the form of NASCAR 2001. Alas, plagued by weak graphics and a feeble framerate (not to mention a PC cousin that blew it off the track), EA Sport's first generation effort slapped the wall and hobbled into the pits. Since that time, NASCAR enthusiasts who were eager to put the pedal to the metal once more, were forced to patiently wait. Fortunately, the wait is over, as Infogrames comes screeching out of the pack with NASCAR Heat 2002. So does it take the checkered flag, or does it spin out into a ball of flames? Well, strap on your helmets and fasten your seatbelts -- Gentlemen (and ladies), start your engines!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
From the main menu, you can select a game mode, select a player name, change your options, and adjust the screen margins. The game allows you to save up to four different player names on one memory card and you can check the individual records and season statistics for each of the players. The game features five distinct play modes: Beat the Heat, Race the Pro, Single Race, Championship, and Head to Head.
Single race and Championship modes are of standard fair. Choose your car and enter a single race or complete for the Winston Cup Championship. Both modes can be played on normal or expert levels. Normal mode is a more arcade-like experience -- tailor-made for those not interested in dabbling with the many intricacies of NASCAR racing. Here, car physics and CPU drivers are somewhat more forgiving, allowing the beginner to jump right in and race. True gear heads, however, will insist on racing in the expert mode, where car physics and CPU drivers become much more realistic. Before you take to the track, enter the garage to adjust an assortment of different car settings. Both Normal and Expert modes feature several different day and night races at 19 real-life NASCAR venues, against 25 of today's top NASCAR drivers. Before each race you can change several race parameters such as opponent strength and race length.
Beat the Heat mode is perhaps the most exciting feature to ever grace a NASCAR racing game. Here you'll encounter six sets of tests and challenges ranging from 'The Basics'? to the 'The King.'? Each set is broken down into six mini-tests, for a whopping total of 36 scenarios in all. Depending on your level of success, you'll earn a bronze, silver, or gold cup for your efforts -- with the former being the minimum requirement for advancing to the next scenario. You'll start out learning the basics of handling a turn and passing cars. As you progress through these scenarios, the challenges become more and more difficult, requiring you to utilize advanced driving techniques like proper drafting, braking, and steering through a crowd of competitors. As you complete each challenge, your rating is tracked on the 'Rate-O-Meter,'? from Rookie to Champion. I found Beat the Heat to be a blast to play and absolutely addicting. The ability to go back and repeat completed scenarios over and over (sorry, but I just gotta go for the gold!) had me occupied from breakfast to dinner.
Race the Pro, offers you the chance to race against one of 11 NASCAR drivers in head-to-head action. Each driver is listed along with three of his best tracks. Choose a driver (portrayed as a semi-transparent apparition) and track, and race against that driver's best lap. Race the Pro not only provides many hours of thrilling competition, but also serves as an instructional setting in which you can learn tips from the pros themselves. Finally, plug in a second controller for exciting head-to-head action against a human opponent.
Perhaps the most important factor in enjoying any racing game is the ease in which you control your car. I'm happy to report that the control is tight and responsive. The game supports the DualShock 2 control pad, so if you're rubbing bumpers with Jeff Gordon, believe me you'll feel it. You have the option of analog or digital steering -- either way, handling the car does become more difficult (or more realistic, depending on how you look at it) at the expert level. No problem, just pick up your wrench and hit the garage where you can fine-tune your car to your heart's content. The laundry list of component adjustments is quite extensive -- sim-racing fans will be very pleased.
No matter which mode you choose, hours of adrenaline-pumping, white-knuckle racing will be at your fingertips. The developers did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of NASCAR racing. Whether you're thundering around a high-banked turn, three cars abreast at Daytona, or you're working the pits at Watkins Glen, never before have you seen or played a console NASCAR racing title this realistic... or fun! The action is fast and furious (the faint of heart, need not apply). Wanna see that five-car pile-up or last-lap pass again and again? No problem -- NASCAR Heat 2002 features an excellent replay mode, where you can adjust the viewing angle to your liking.
Alas, I do have a few minor complaints. The first comes in the manner in which the damage model is handled. While your car can flip, spin, and crumble very realistically, chances are you'll still be able to finish the race -- and this, my speedy compadres, should not happen. Secondly, the game lacks the ability for gamers to create their own car. Instead, you simply choose an existing car from the list of pro drivers. I found this to be somewhat disappointing.
Finally, the game manual doesn't mention anything about supporting alternate driving peripherals. So, if you're dying to try that new steering wheel, my advice is to give it a shot. Hey, it might work! (But don't say I didn't warn ya.)
I have a small confession to make -- my assessment of this category comes on the heels of playing Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec for the better part of five hours. In all fairness, comparing NASCAR Heat 2002 (or any racing game for that matter) with that tour de force, well, let's just say it comes up just a bit short of the finish line. Nonetheless, in and of itself, the game's graphics are rather impressive. Car textures are smooth and very nicely detailed. Collision graphics are also depicted quite realistically, with the standard assortment of crumpled fenders, dented panels, and billows of smoke pouring out of the engine. The tracks are attractively modeled, adequately portraying their real-life counterparts. NASCAR racing is about speed, speed, and more speed. For the most part, the framerate captures an excellent sense of velocity with nary a slowdown. The framerate will drop slightly during collision pile-ups and when negotiating turns with several cars on screen at once -- but thankfully not enough to seriously hamper the gameplay.
On the audio front, the music, which is delegated to menu selections, neither adds to nor detracts from the overall feel of the game. The in-game sound effects, while nothing spectacular, do a suitable job of immersing you into the game. While some may find the continuous drone of engine noise a bit grating on the nerves, hey, you'll hear the same thing while watching a real NASCAR race on TV. Other aural effects, such as the obligatory screeching of tires and the violent boom and bang of collisions are quite convincing. Crowd reactions, that appropriately fluctuate with the on-screen action, as well as the voice of your spotter, add a nice touch.
While NASCAR Heat 2002 isn't the kind of game that will appeal to everyone (if you absolutely hate oval-track racing, you probably won't like this game either), its diverse feature set, pleasing graphics and entertaining gameplay should satisfy hard-core NASCAR fans and casual gamers alike. The Championship and Beat the Heat modes alone provide an extraordinary level of replay. Yes, there's still of room for improvement -- hopefully next year's version will come complete with a more accurate damage model and a create-a-car option. With the magnificent GT3: A-Spec looking over its shoulders, it could become even easier to pass this game up. But as far as this reviewer is concerned, that would be a huge mistake.