NASCAR Heat 2002 Review

For PlayStation 2

By Contributing Writer Harry Shepherd

Rating: Good
   NASCAR has simply never been given its due on consoles.  While PC gamers 
have had the incredibly detailed (and incredibly difficult) games from 
Papyrus, there hasn't been much to satisfy console owners.  Back in the day,
Andretti Racing had a good stock car mode, but it was unlicensed, and even 
Daytona USA is just a good arcade game.  Other than this, NASCAR games on 
consoles have been mediocre at best.
   Electronic Arts' NASCAR offering on the PlayStation 2 was disappointing 
in every conceivable way, which makes it all the more surprising that NASCAR
Heat 2002 (from Infogrames of all companies) is perhaps the best-playing 
console NASCAR game ever.  What makes Heat 2002 so good is the same thing 
that made the Dreamcast version of Test Drive Le Mans so good-- it really 
rides the line between simulation and arcade game perfectly.
   You can choose Normal Mode and have a game that controls well, offers 
great racing action, and really delivers the "feel" of a televised NASCAR 
race.  Or, you can choose Expert Mode and get into some real gear-head, nuts
and bolts action.  Even in Expert Mode, you can still get around the track 
without too much trouble, but the cars definitely handle more realistically, 
and can get away from you much more quickly if you're not careful.
   Normal Mode is no walk in the park in terms of difficulty, but there's no 
car tweaking, and the handling is noticeably easier.  On the other hand, 
you're not going to win too many races in Expert Mode if you don't tweak 
your car skillfully.  Both of Heat 2002's modes offer the feel of NASCAR,
without ever getting too arcadey or too sim-like (which may disappoint some 
of the more hardcore simulation fans).
   There aren't a lot of other games that can duplicate trhe tension and 
rush from racing at 190 miles per hour at Talladega, with inches between you
and the other cars, knowing that the slightest screw-up means the guy behind
you is going to win the race.  This rush is what makes watching NASCAR fun 
on TV (or in person), and it comes across very well in the game.
   On the downside, while it's nice that the cars deform when they get hit, 
I can't help but feel that the damage model could be a little bit cooler.  
It would be nice if cars left tire marks and other visible signs on other 
cars when they made contact, but it's not here.  Part of the thrill of a 
short-track race is watching the cars bump and grind, and you don't get that
 feeling as much as you could in Heat 2002.
   Also, if there is a caution flag (and there will be) you're left watching 
the cars go around for many laps, which gets boring very quickly.  Even if 
your race is scaled down to five percent of the real-life length, the 
cautions still take 100 percent of their normal time.  Since you cause most 
(but not all) caution flags yourself, this isn't too big of a deal, but it 
can get annoying.  One final complaint: Having 25 cars on the track at once 
is nice, but it's still not the full amount of 43...
   NASCAR doesn't get the respect it deserves from open-wheel racing fans, 
but NASCAR Heat 2002 does the series justice and might even convert a few 
people who aren't fans of the sport.  If you're looking for an alternative 
to the import-car street racing of Gran Turismo 3, NASCAR Heat 2002 is 
certainly worth checking out.

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