Hands-on: NASCAR Heat 2

We get to try out the latest build of Infogrames' upcoming racer.


Infogrames had a new build of NASCAR Heat 2 on display at a recent event, and we had a chance to try it out for a few minutes. The development team's roots are in PC gaming, and as such, NASCAR Heat 2 has many of the options and features that you would traditionally find in a PC racing game. For example, you'll be able to adjust the physics engine to accommodate your driving style, tinker with the AI, and adjust the sensitivity of the damage model. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of NASCAR Heat 2 is its career mode, which starts you off on the dirt-track racing circuit and leads you through three other types of leagues to the Winston Cup. As you progress through the career mode, you'll drive everything from dirt tracks and open-wheel modified cars to Craftsman trucks.

When you first enter the garage in career mode, you'll see only the dirt-track car, since you have yet to earn any others. In the garage, you can adjust the color scheme on your car and even purchase upgrades after you've placed well in a few races. When you've decided on a new part to purchase, such as a new engine, you'll get a detailed look at how it will affect your car via readouts and charts. In addition, after winning a race, you can select additional sponsors for your car, but the amount of money they offer will depend on where you position their sponsor tag and your ability to meet certain performance requirements. For example, if you place the sponsor tag on the rear bumper, they'll offer more money, but then they'll also ask that you set a lap record or place first in a particular race, whereas a sponsor tag on the back right side of the car doesn't have such lofty requirements.

When you're done messing around in the garage, you can move into the calendar menu and take a look at some of the upcoming races. Again, when you're first starting out, you can only participate in the dirt-track racing league, so there aren't a lot of options available, but as you move on to different leagues, racing opportunities become much more frequent. The development team behind NASCAR Heat 2 hopes that players will use the different racing leagues to their advantage. If you happen to get into a league that you can't really compete in, then the game encourages you to step down to one of the other leagues, make some additional cash, upgrade your car, and then try that league again. In fact, it can become so expensive to race competitively on some of the Winston Cup tracks that if you significantly damage your car, you might have to go back to one of the other leagues to earn enough money to repair it.

In addition to worrying about your vehicle expenses, you'll also have to keep track of your crew. Throughout the season, you can fire and hire individual employees based on how well they're performing or how helpful they are. If you find that parts of your pit crew aren't quite up to the challenge, then you can replace them with new personnel. If your chassis designer isn't all that great, you can get rid of him, too. There really is quite a bit to keep track of, but not so much that it's intimidating.

As previously mentioned, much of the game can be adjusted to fit your style of play. For those not entirely familiar with realistic driving mechanics, the game offers a number of driving-assistance options. But even with all the driving assists turned off, we were able to jump right in and perform reasonably well in the race.

NASCAR Heat 2 is scheduled for release in Q4 2002.

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