For what’s felt like a long time, the NASCAR gaming market has endured a bumpy ride. There are plenty of really good racing games/sims out there that happen to include stock car racing, but games that are dedicated to NASCAR have been very rough around the edges lately. And due to low budgets and game-engine difficulties, 704Games has had a very tough time giving the NASCAR Heat series the successful pit stop it’s been in need of. However, after this year’s iteration was announced and its new features were slowly being revealed, longtime NASCAR gamers like myself had plenty of valid reasons to get revved up. And now that NASCAR Heat 4 has taken the green flag, it’s time to find out if it lives up to the hype. Let’s pull those belts tight and get into the meat and potatoes.
I’m droppin’ the hammer
The most noticeable changes in this year’s game are the changes to the racing itself. The weight and aerodynamics of the cars have a more realistic feeling, the contact physics aren’t nearly as frustrating they’ve been in the past, and multi-groove racing has been successfully implemented. It should also be noted that there are different tire compounds for different tracks, which in turn makes each track noticeably different in terms of tire wear. Drafting has also been greatly emphasized with the concept of draft partners. As the race progresses, your HUD will inform you if AI cars are lining up and asking to join forces with you. Slipstreaming is highly important in stock car racing, and Heat 4 does an excellent job taking that importance into account.
The racing in this year’s game is absolutely awesome, and thankfully there’s plenty of deep modes to race in. The career mode is mostly the same as its been in previous games, except that the interface has been polished up and you can choose which of the four leagues you’ll be starting your career in. Also returning is the challenge mode, where you recreate/rewrite the finishes of recent real-life NASCAR races. The incentive this time around is that you unlock “race-winning” paint schemes for each challenge you complete, which brings back memories of NASCAR games from EA Sports and Atari. Speaking of EA Sports games, the championship mode now has special types of short seasons that you can take part in. Sadly, the ability to make your own season hasn’t been granted yet, but never say never. And if racing against AI isn’t enough for you, you’ll be pleased to know that the 40-player online mode has been given some polish.
Shake and bake
The graphics in this year’s game give a greater sense of speed, even though the framerate slows down from time to time when you’ve got heavy traffic near you. You even get day-to-night transitions during races, but the catch is that you can only see them if you race with the multi-stage format. While the visuals definitely won’t please everybody, the audio is absolutely stellar. Thanks to the FMOD program, the sounds of the engines, crashes, and track surfaces are more realistic than ever.
I feel like I’m ready to roll
After a few blown tires, 704Games and Monster Games have finally given the NASCAR Heat series a true revival. I personally find this to be the best dedicated NASCAR game I’ve played since NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. And considering just how much I loved that final hurrah from Papyrus Racing Games, what I just said about Heat 4 is incredibly high praise and it’s not hyperbolic whatsoever. If you’re a racing game fanatic of any sort, NASCAR Heat 4 is well-deserving of a spot in your gaming garage. Boogity boogity boogity…Let’s go racin’, gamers!