NASCAR Heat 5 has come around for its latest release and with the recent review of F1 2020 I have been in the mood to sink some time into some racing games. As far as the yearly release of F1, I have played that for the last few years almost religiously whereas when it comes to NASCAR games, the last time I touched one was on the PS3 when EA still had the rights. Now, for me, that was a great franchise and I don’t know why EA stopped producing the games. Perhaps it was down to sales –NASCAR not selling well outside of America – I have no idea. So, I go into NASCAR 5 as a relative noob.
So what’s the fascination in turning left all the time? Well, on a concrete oval track it can start to get a little monotonous, especially for us Brits, but NASCAR is one of the biggest sports in America and its down to the accessibility for the fans. If you are sat trackside then you can see all of the action all of the time rather than an F1 car speeding past you at 200 mph every 2 minutes. Here in the United Kingdom American sports haven’t really been a big thing for a very long time but they do seem to be slowly filtering through. I personally have been a fan of a lot of their sports for some time; NASCAR probably being my second favourite after Baseball which was unfortunately removed from our screens years ago. Anyway, I digress.
NASCAR Heat 5 is now out for everyone to own courtesy of developers Motorsport Games and publishers 704Games and available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. For this review, of course, I played on my PS4 Pro and went in with an open mind. I have friends across the pond that have played the NASCAR series and are massive fans, but when I have looked at gameplay videos I just wasn’t sure with previous titles which is why I held off playing them. I personally just felt that they lacked any true polish to them as if something was missing, but as I didn’t play them myself, I couldn’t quite place it. So, its about time I got hands on isn’t it!
Under Starters Orders
The first thing that hit me when the game loads up is the fantastic soundtrack. This is always something that EA did well with NASCAR and in fact led me to discover some great Rock and Roll bands. NASCAR Heat features a similar sound of good old hard hitting ‘Southern Rock’ as I call it and certainly gets your foot tapping if nothing else. The main core of the game is obviously a career mode and within the rather simplistic main menu it is easy to navigate and find.
You start out by designing your character as most games allow you to do and there is a decent amount of customisation options available to design someone who you would feel comfortable allowing on track and blending in with the other NASCAR heroes. Once that is out of the way we set off on our own personal NASCAR journey.
Starting as a rookie driver your first season will only include invitational Hot Seat driving. By this I mean that established teams for whatever reason may be down a driver for that race weekend and in you step to cover their absence. Its a great way to ease you into the world of NASCAR, but the initial races take place on dirt oval tracks, not the large ovals that we all associate with the sport. A typical race weekend will consist of a practice session with a set time that you need to achieve to keep the team happy. A qualifying session, again with a time you need to try and beat for the team and sponsors and finally the race itself.
Within this first season you will probably be invited to drive in 4 or 5 of the seasons races, but this throws money into your bank account the better you perform. Once those races are done with the choice is yours. You can drive for an established team or start your own and race. If you are a little unsure of your racing ability I would suggest putting in a season with an established team. OK, the financial rewards aren’t as great but it is a good way to earn some cold hard cash to support a team of your own for the following season.
Your first full season within the game driving the dirt tracks will bring you more Hot Seat invitations for the next league above and the game continues the same way every year. Once you finish your first season and have performed well enough to progress into the higher league you will have the opportunity to again compete in the lower league alongside your current league.
Throughout your time managing your own team it is down to you to control the people you employ as well who add gains to your Engine, Aero and Suspension of the car you are about to use within the next race. Have a clean race and your car will regain some of the point bonuses they bring making it easier to have a better car for the next race. That being said, you will also have to buy variations of vehicles; for example within the dirt series you need a car for short courses, long courses and road courses. If you are unable to drive in the correct car for the race your department scores will take a penalty meaning you struggle.
Hitting The Wall
Unfortunately the game isn’t without issue. Now, this first point may be a personal thing for me, but during loading screens you can tell who the game has been sponsored by. Rather than exciting shots taken from NASCAR races as I would have expected, we have a company who deal with racing wheels and pedals for gaming shoved in our faces. I am not going to give them added sponsorship within this review, but I did check out their website and nearly had my own blow out. The racing setups are grossly overpriced. Lets just say that you can easily buy a decent racing wheel and pedals for the £100 mark; this company were charging in excess of £500. How the hell they make any sales is beyond me!
Beyond that to the game itself. There are some quite bad framerate issues, especially when you are racing with 30+ other vehicles on track. I don’t know if previous games had this issue, but looking at the overall game and videos from previous titles, the game looks pretty much the same as all the other titles so I would have thought that issue wouldn’t have been a factor in the fifth instalment.
Graphics are nice, but I found an annoying issue with the shadow of the car. Driving in a night race you have the track surrounded by lights, so that shadow around the vehicle is constantly flickering with each light you pass.. not an issue. The problem is that this mechanic is the same for daytime races. It was flickering that bad rather than a solid shadow which moved around the car with the direction of the sun that my first thought was anyone playing with epilepsy could be severely affected by it.
Beyond the career mode there is of course online racing. The servers do hold up well here and races are easy enough to find and join as long as the host hasn’t locked their lobby. Once you are racing there wasn’t any issue with server drop outs that I encountered which is a bonus for everyone.
Built into the game much the same way that F1 now has yearly is an E-Sports section. This is something that I believe was incorporated within the game last year, although I am not fully sure. It will be something I try out at some point, but haven’t ventured into it as yet. I wont be good enough to compete, I never am, but its always fun to see just how slow you are compared to some of gaming’s better racers.
That however is pretty much all the game offers, but it does deliver well on what it has. Engine sounds within the game are certainly authentic and differ depending on the series you are competing in and as mentioned above, I really love the soundtrack that the game delivers.
NASCAR Heat 5 at The Finish Line
NASCAR Heat 5 delivers. Controls and drafting physics feel authentic all the way through from drifting round the dirt series tracks to flat out, hammer down racing at Daytona International Speedway. Whereas some driving games do get a little repetitive and boring due to the ease of which you can always cross the finish line in first, NASCAR Heat gives a challenge. It’s not overly hard unless you make it that way in settings, but finishing in first isn’t as easy as you would think even at the beginner levels.
I never thought that I would find a NASCAR game that matched what I felt for EA titles of the past, but I am glad that there is finally one I can get behind and will be coming back to future releases. In answer to the title question; Can turning left all the time really be fun? Hell yeah it can. All I need now is a barbeque with half a cow cooking, a cowboy hat and I will fully be in NASCAR country.
**PLEASE NOTE: AIR Entertainment were kindly supplied with a review copy of the game. This has in no way affected my views on the game as per our Review Policy**