NASCAR Heat 4 is more than just the next installment in a racing franchise. It’s a game that shows that developers do, in fact, listen to the feedback of their fans in order to make the game better.
Whether it be alleviating the grind that many felt the career mode had become or changing how drafting plays out on the track, this year’s title makes numerous pit road adjustments to try to give fans the game they’ve been wanting.
DEEPER IN SOME PLACES
The game’s bread and butter is its career mode. And while it’s largely the same as last year, there are a few changes that add to the longevity of the mode.
Players can now start at any series, allowing you to avoid the grind of working your way up from the Extreme Dirt series to the Monster Energy series if you don’t want to. Like last year, you choose whether to be an individual driver on a team or start a team of your own.
As a solo driver, you have to earn your contracts and then work on your reputation with the other racers. If you get under the skin of other drivers while racing you’ll find yourself dealing with them as they bump you or try and force you off your line. Drivers you draft and befriend, so to speak, will cause no problems in a race.
players can race on nearly any track with any series
While being a single driver is enjoyable, running a team is a more rewarding experience that offers the depth fans want. Again, like last year, you have to fill your staff and train them up to become the best in the business while also juggling things like car types, car repairs, and facility improvements. It requires proper allocation of your money, which you earn from sponsorships and race performance. You won’t have the best short-track car right off the bat; instead, you may be forced to do the best you can with the superspeedway car you used to win at Talladega.
Outside of career mode, players can race on nearly any track with any series. That means you can take the Monster Energy Series cars to Road America or bring the Gander Outdoor Truck Series to Sanoma. The only tracks off-limits for the any car, any track feature are the dirt courses.
Modes like Championship and Challenges return once again with some updates. Challenges provides a new set of goals to achieve for the year while Championship offers players a variety of different season types ranging from playoff tracks only to a fantasy collection of tracks. These modes nice to have when you want to change things up, but they’re not anything you’ll spend most of your time with.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Gameplay is where NASCAR Heat 4 stands out, and it truly feels better than ever in more ways than one. First, the setups you choose for your car — if you race on any difficulty higher than beginner — matter more now than in previous Heat titles.
You can’t just use the same setups as previous games and expect the same success. Nor can you use the same setup over and over again on different tracks. The way you tune your car for a race at Darlington is going to be different than, say, Daytona or Martinsville. And even if you think you know what you need to do, chances are that you’re completely wrong and will need to try a few different setups to get it right. Each course finally seems to show a personality, something the series has desperately needed for diehard race fans.
That said, one thing that would be nice is a guide, of some sort, that explains to new players what various changes to your car cause; maybe even a best-practices of sorts for the different types of courses like superspeedways, road courses, etc. You want to get your game in the hands of as many people as possible. Making it easier for them to get the full experience of stock car racing is one way to help get there.
Of course, that’s just one aspect of the gameplay. Once you think you have your setup figured out, it’s time to see what you’re made of.
NASCAR Heat 4 has seen a number of changes to the gameplay. Ranging from AI behavior to the overall physics, everything feels different this year while still remaining familiar.
The interaction between a car and the pavement below — you’ll hear and feel all of the bumps and cracks you drive over, you’ll sense the engine reverberate off the wall, and even find yourself fighting mightly if you use a racing wheel to stay in control — brings the racing experience further along than any game in the Heat series has since its rebirth. You have to fully understand the various lines on each course which you can do during your practice sessions on race weekend.
Also improved are the interactions between cars within a race. Drafting feels significantly different this year, and you can sense the difference depending on the line your in while drafting. There are also times where drafting can cause issues with the overall handling of your car if you aren’t prepared.
Graphically, you’ll quickly notice the improvements to the game’s visuals thanks to changes made to the Unity Engine that the game is built on. Cars look the best they have this generation, the tracks look nearly identical to the real-life courses they represent. You won’t get top-of-the-line visuals such as 4K HDR like you would from large-studio AAA titles, but there’s no way to look at what NASCAR Heat 4 offers and not come away impressed with what you see.
SOMETHING’S STILL MISSING
It may sound like it’s ripped straight from NASCAR Heat 3’s review, but Heat 4’s overall presentation leaves quite a bit to be desired.
There is still no sort of broadcast crew before, during or after races. What players get is a variety of camera shots of the track and the cars warming up the tires on the track. What’s nice this year are the race storylines that display during the pre-race video. You get filled in on what cars had engine trouble, what drivers are in a backup car after crashing during practice or qualifying, and more. It’s a touch of personality to the presentation that was desperately needed, but it just doesn’t feel like enough. It’s as though everything was added except for the commentary audio.
Speaking of things missing, there’s still something off when it comes to the game’s damage modeling. It was already confirmed prior to launch that the damage would remain largely the same this year as the developers focused on other areas of the game, but it still would’ve been nice to see some sort of changes to the game’s overall damage modeling, especially for the smaller bumps cars take throughout a race.
Lastly, NASCAR Heat 4’s online offerings continue to disappoint. Still missing is online matchmaking and leagues as well as the ability to practice or have qualifying sessions in multiplayer. Also annoying is the fact that after you finally get into a race, there’s no way to deal with those who look to just screw with drivers trying to actually participate.
NASCAR Heat 4 is a game that does its best to provide significant improvements while still feeling familiar to fans. Career Mode and the other offerings feel largely the same off the track, but everything behind the wheel feels like a fine-tuned machine.
After nearly four years, NASCAR Heat 4 is the game that we’ve expected to see represent the sport. Racing is the most fun and engaging it’s been since 704 Games took over the license thanks to the cars having a feeling to them, AI that makes you earn every spot you gain, and the need to really think about how you will attack each race.
Unfortunately, there are still some things holding the game back like online features and the lack of any real personality to race day. For most, however, the on-track improvements will far outweigh any of the off-track shortcomings that still remain in the series.
**NOTE: A copy of NASCAR Heat 4 for Xbox One was provided for this review**
NASCAR Heat 4 is a game that does its best to provide significant improvements while still feeling familiar to fans.