When I was a much younger lad I often found myself playing the older NASCAR games with my family and friends. We would have great battles on some of the most renown tracks that often ended in photo finish fashion. The racing was competitive and the trash talk came in troves. Most importantly, memories I will not soon forget were created.
Admittedly, it has been quite some time since I have played a NASCAR game and absolutely jumped at the chance to review a current title in hopes of reigniting my past love of motorsports and good couch cooperative experiences. Obviously times have changed and there is a lot to cover when it comes to a modern-day NASCAR title. Technology has greatly changed in vast ways for both physical race car drivers and the modern-day digital pavement warriors known as gamers. One of the key things we want to look at is how E-sports is changing the way we view competitive multiplayer and online gaming. NASCAR Heat 4? Well, you can bet your top dollar that it will make an appearance in the digital realm of electronic sports entertainment.
That’s A Nice Looking Car You Have There
Graphically speaking, NASCAR Heat 4 delivers. The cars, for the most part, look crisp and clean. The tracks look realistic to their real-life counterparts with a good amount of focus on detail. Typically, Unity Engine games are hit or miss graphically. The engine has come a long way in this department. We still experience some film grainy aspects on the Xbox One S in 1080. I mostly ran into these issues at high speed in lower detail of the tires where they meet the ground and on fences and outer edges while blasting through a track. I can’t really spend too much time dogging Heat for that. The reality is you are moving way too fast and focusing on the drivers around you so much that it doesn’t weigh heavily on your senses.
It may just be me but I feel like I noticed a bit of a difference in graphical fidelity as I moved up through the series. The entry-level Extreme Dirty Tour seemed to be less graphically sound than the Gander Outdoor Truck Series. This may only be because of the overall amount of objects that have to be rendered on track for dirt racing. Where we tend to see flaws in heavy render situations such as dirt tracks getting pounded away at by high horsepower modified cars, the game absolutely picks up the slack as we progress through our career. The tracks become a lot more clear and clean with a great emphasis on car and overall background fidelity. I noticed that when I accidentally put a wheel off the track that not only did I create tire tracks, but the tire tracks stayed rendered in for multiple laps if not the whole race. Veterans returning to the franchise will notice a complete overall on the graphics engine and all-new lighting effects. You may also notice that your name has finally arrived on the top of your rear window in every series. It’s these types of details that create a feeling of immersion. When it comes to battling a pack of hungry drivers, immersion is king.
That Sounds Fast
One of the best qualities of NASCAR Heat 4 is its audio. 704 Games really put the time and effort into providing the most realistic soundscape possible for a NASCAR game. In my opinion, the audio may actually be some of the best audio I have heard in any recent racing game. Most racing titles have pretty good situational audio like tires screeching or the sounds of collision. I feel NASCAR Heat 4 may be on a whole different level with their audio as of this new release and for good reason.
704 Games sourced actual engine audio directly from stock cars to create the exhilarating sound profiles you hear for each vehicle in the game. Each series has a feel and sound specific to their stock cars and they really hit the nail on the head. I want to specifically point out how fantastic the audio is when focusing on situational awareness while driving. You don’t have to completely focus on your mirrors or guide audio in game to know when someone is approaching you. Other driver’s vehicles will shine right through the audio mix. This continues to provide a great feeling of immersion as I mentioned before.
This Feels A Bit Challenging
Returning pavement warriors will notice a plethora of fresh changes in terms of the overall game mechanics. Cars feel more responsive and move on a dime when commanded to do so. This is heavily due to the new and improved handing, tire wear mechanics, and the multi-groove racing mechanics.
The A.I. for the drivers has improved drastically over the last NASCAR Heat offering. They are so competitive actually, that at times the game gets to feeling like you might not have a chance. Luckily you can change the difficulty at any given time in the game’s extensive career mode. Other drivers actively help or get more aggressive depending on your level of friendship or rivalry with them. Drivers also utilize bump drafting and advanced driving maneuvers to attempt to steal your shine.
They’re My Best Friend
Career mode comes back this season with a dead accurate left jab and a heavy right hook to follow. I was pleasantly surprised by the overall amount of customization for your driver out of the gate. I feel there are more than enough options to allow you to create a driver that is going to have your features if you tinker a bit with the sliders and provided options. I also want to give brownie points to 704 Games for including the option to create a female driver. A lot of the racing options out there that include character customization seem to be missing the beat on that one. You have the choice of starting your career out entering any of the 4 included NASCAR series in the game. This is a first time feature for NASCAR Heat. Having the ability to start at the top and not have to grind your way through season after season may be a welcomed aspect for a lot of new faces to the franchise. Personally, once I found out you can go directly head to head and become Tony Stewart’s rival in the Extreme Dirt Series, I knew exactly where I was starting.
Each of the four series in the game, Extreme Dirt Series, Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Monster Energy Series, allow you to start the season out as a driver or as a team owning driver from the very beginning. Driving as a team driver for another team will enable you to save up funding to create your own team and to take hot seat shots in higher series that will eventually land you on a team in the new series. You always have a sense of progression when you drive for other teams. I found that when you own your own team, you will sometimes find a lack of hot seat options throughout the series. This may be something that needs to be looked into patch wise, but it’s a bit of a bummer. I ran two championship seasons in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series before I was offered a chance to move up to the Xfinity Series. The good aspect of that is I was offered a spot on a five star team right away. Maybe 704 Games want you to develop as a 3 season truck champion before taking the helm of a 190 mph car.
Although I became slightly irritated that my racing accolades took so long to grant a series promotion, I had a wonderful time micromanaging my pit crew team between races. You are able to hire various engine, aero, and suspension folks that are fully capable of being upgraded as you progress through the season and earn larger payouts. I found myself purchasing multiple trucks for various track types to ensure I had enough pit staff to prepare each truck for each race. You have the ability to cross train staff members to ensure some progress can be made if they aren’t working on their dedicated profession. Realistically speaking, this feature is super important because, on a realistic pit crew, the team makes the dream work. You have to be able to lend a hand to other departments to be successful. Each race will cause some wear and tear on your stock cars and it is good to have a team working on them before any big races. With the shop upgradability options, you will want to ensure you utilize the best staff for your next race as well as future races to ensure your vehicle hits its max available levels.
Each race will have three stages on the normal settings. You will find your self running a practice session with a dedicated time goal to hit, a qualification lap to determine your positioning at the start of the race, and the actual race itself. You can opt-out of doing the practice session and still run qualification for a good starting position. I found myself doing this a lot after I initially ran each track. I didn’t really see a point in running a practice session because I already had a firm grasp on which lines I wanted to utilize on each track.
I found myself getting a little annoyed with the driver friendship system in the game. I appreciate the effort 704 Games put into creating a system directly focused on immersion. While having the friendship vs. rival system in game is wonderful on the track, it becomes increasingly annoying outside of the races. See, in NASCAR Heat 4, friends will help you by drafting and clearing grooves for you to utilize to get to a win. On the other hand, any rivals you come up against will not think twice about sending you into what I call the “Backup Car” zone. They tend to keep it somewhat clean until you give them a reason to bump you. Your choices and driving during the races will make other drivers like or dislike you. At the end of the race, they will air their feelings out on what seems like a social media platform akin to Twitter. You will have the choice to compliment, apologize, or essentially antagonize them depending on what they say. For the lucky folks who earn their way to the friendship zone, they will typically invite you out for weekend lawn games and boat outings because they are your best friend. Every single race you will be reminded that you are someone’s best friend in the whole world. It becomes slightly tiring at times and a bit much. Maybe I feel some type of way about this because I really thought I was going fishing this weekend or out on another driver’s boat but never got to experience it in game. Hmmm.
The King Of The Digital Pavement
There are a number of awesome game modes to explore throughout NASCAR Heat 4. Whether you find yourself playing through Career Mode or adventuring through the games Challenges Mode to earn new content, you will rarely find yourself bored. You can also run Single Season mode if you aren’t looking to grind through various series in career mode. The game also features a classic Split Screen mode to bring back some of that old school nostalgia and a solid offering for Quick Race mode. There is also a dedicated Online Multiplayer mode. Although all of this content offered is a solid piece for a game on its own, NASCAR Heat 4 brings something else very worthwhile to the table. There is actually a NASCAR E-sports series called the eNASCAR Heat Pro Series and a community wide NASCAR Heat World Challenge series. The eNASCAR series runs races in correlation with the active NASCAR schedule and offers a prize pool of $500k. The NASCAR world challenge series offers various prizes on a much smaller scale. Participating could earn you gift cards or free content. I feel it’s worth a shot. Overall, it gives you the chance to test the waters to see where you are verse the rest of the world.
Is Heat 4 Worth The Hype
I found myself spending countless hours reliving those childhood fantasies of being the next big NASCAR driver in the comfort of my own home while eating Cheetos and drinking Redbulls. I got to beat Tony Stewart multiple times and then joined his team as his replacement. I can not even put into words how satisfying that alone was. I earned the coveted #1 spot quite a few times and felt the love and joy from all of my best friends in the game. I also found myself angrily telling people that I don’t want to go on long boat trips. I feel for all of the little quirks you experience in NASCAR Heat 4 from the occasional graphical hiccup to the possible career progression bug, you really are getting one of the best racing games currently available on the market. With the multi-groove race system and the adaptive driver AI, you never really find yourself getting bored. Quite the opposite really. I found myself getting into positions I actually had to strategize and think to get out of on the fly. The career mode provided exactly what I was looking for aside from the fact that you can not hire drivers to drive on your created team. I feel this is a major oversite and a huge missed opportunity for the developers. We could have had the greatest racing game known to man and the greatest motorsport team management sim to date. With all of this said, I will be spending many more moons chasing that fabled championship. This game is absolutely fantastic. If you are a motorsports fan and you have not given NASCAR Heat 4 a shot… you are doing yourself a disservice.
Full Disclosure: Review Copy was provided by 704 Games. This DID NOT influence my review. You can pick up NASCAR Heat 4 via PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One today! Below you will find the official launch trailer for NASCAR Heat 4. We hope to see you at the track!