Last year when I reviewed NASCAR Heat 3, I shared the bonding opportunity that it had created with my family. That continues as my 2 1/2-year-old nephew loves anything with a motor and wheel, particularly NASCAR. He’s the type of kid that sees a bottle of Penzoil at the store and says “Logano!” and has Hot Wheels of the biggest names in racing—except Kyle Busch, Grandma is not a fan. Needless to say, this kid was jaw-dropped when he saw me playing NASCAR Heat 4.
NASCAR Heat 4 is a step in the right direction for the series. Along with a strong visual upgrade, it boasts a deeper career mode and allows players to start the career from their favorite race series. Though these features may seem incremental, they are enough to make for a better experience this time around, though some areas could use a tune-up at the next pit stop.
Violence: In NASCAR Heat 4, it is possible to run into other cars or walls and cause a wreck. Though these wrecks are not on the level of intensity you might see in real life or other video games, the cars can suffer from a significant amount of damage.
Language: The word “damn” can be heard in one of the songs.
Drugs/Alcohol: The use of alcohol is referenced in one of the songs.
When starting my first race in NASCAR Heat 4, the first thing I noticed was the improved presentation. On the visual side, improved lighting makes the action on the track look more realistic than it has in the past. The added motion blur along with the improved gameplay physics increases the intensity of the race as well. Audio improvements have also been made with more realistic engine sounds; there’s nothing like hearing the sound of multiple engines roaring in unison as the race begins.
I can’t speak too much on the improved physics since the previous entry is the only other NASCAR game I’ve played in recent years. However, I noticed how much better it feels to control my vehicle. This was especially true when I raced on the dirt tracks again, as I spent much less time sliding around and had better control. It could be the assist mechanics or my previous knowledge that played a part, but racing feels like a much more enjoyable experience this time around—as it should.
Other on-track improvements that have been made include AI behavior and tire management. I’m still playing on the easier settings, so the tire condition has had much less of an impact on my experience, but for the die-hard fans it’s something new to think about when deciding if you need to make a pit stop. As for the AI, some of my favorite moments are battling for the position against them. On one particular occasion, I battled for the third spot against Kyle Busch for what felt like two laps. In the end, I claimed that spot, but it felt good to compete against AI that wasn’t a pushover simply because I was playing on easier settings.
The variety of gameplay modes makes a return to NASCAR Heat 4: Quick Race, Championship, Career, and online multiplayer. A new addition is the challenge mode, in which you can unlock new customization options. These challenges are scenarios for the more experienced players to conquer, and that isn’t me since I still have so much to learn. Most of my time was spent experiencing the various tracks in Quick Race mode and in Career mode, which also has its share of new features.
Some changes in Career mode are significant while others feel unnecessary. One of the biggest changes is that you’ll have to worry about the condition of your car between each race; if you forget to make the necessary repairs, it’ll remain in the state you left it after the last race. Another is the addition of draft partners. As you continue to build a relationship with your fellow teammates, they utilize various tactics to help you out during a race. I’ve personally experienced this as I was able to climb ahead of the pack after getting a bump from one of my teammates.
An added feature I found to be useless in Career mode was to start from whichever of the four racing series I wanted to. Instead of starting at the beginning in the dirt series, I tried to start up to the Monster Energy Cup series with the big dogs of the sport. However, I would go through my practice and qualifying runs just fine and get burned in the actual race. It could be because I still don’t know how to properly navigate the track, or that I don’t have the speed bonuses I could’ve potentially already earned with my team if I started earlier in my career. It could also be that the progression isn’t built for that, because I restarted back at the beginning series in which it feels much more natural.
My favorite addition to Career mode has been the time goals. The practice and qualifying run now have lap times that you should try to pass. Achieving these goals isn’t a requirement, but they’ll help you learn the track and get a great pole position during the race. On some tracks, my times are much better than the goals are asking for, while I barely make it on others. I enjoy this feature because it gives casual players like myself something to work for instead of hoping I did good enough in those preliminary runs to get a good starting position in the actual race.
Another feature that could’ve used some more love in the previous game was the customization. Thankfully the improvement here is just enough to satisfy me. There are more color options this time around to add personality to your car and driver, along with various paint jobs to choose and unlock via the Challenge mode. I was able to throw the Geeks Under Grace Purple, Yellow, and White onto my car and clothing; now if I could only add the PNG of our logo on the hood of my car it would be complete. I never expected some super-detailed customization options, but the option to choose the colors I want is enough and seeing my last name on the back of my car is also pretty great.
Lastly, I took a peek into the online multiplayer. There were only a handful of servers during the few times I looked, and they already had races in progress. I noticed that there is a ranked mode available, but that wasn’t something I personally wanted to dive into. A new esports league was created with the release of the previous game, and it seems like that will carry on into this one as well. This part of the game is for the players who want to test their skill against others.
I had an enjoyable experience with the previous game, but NASCAR Heat 4 brings all the right improvements that will have me coming back. The enhancements to the visuals, audio, and gameplay provide an immersive experience that I didn’t get from NASCAR Heat 3. The only caveat is the option to skip ahead in career mode, which feels unnecessary and could potentially ruin the experience for someone who wants to race in the big leagues right away, because it’s important to learn how to walk before you run in this case. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes and improvements will be made in next year’s iteration; until then you can find me doing burnouts in victory lane.
The Bottom Line
NASCAR Heat 4 brings a much-needed rise in temperature to the series with an improved presentation and deeper gameplay experience, but the new career mode options could use a slight tune-up at the next pit stop.