It has probably been almost a decade since my last NASCAR video game. While I have virtually no interest in NASCAR as a sport, I do enjoy a good racing game, so I thought I would give NASCAR Heat 4 a fair shake. Somewhat surprisingly and despite some critical flaws, it’s not a half-bad racing game.
Right away, I jumped into NASCAR Heat 4’s Career mode, which is broken into four distinct tours. While this year’s game lets you start from any tour that you want, you can choose to start from the bottom and work your way up, which is what I ended up doing. The game has you create your own rookie driver with a number of different options and presets to choose from in order to customize your appearance. It’s a nice touch.
As I said, I started out with the Xtreme Dirt Tour, which gives you dirt track physics on generally smaller tracks with fewer cars competing. I found this to be the most fun of all of the tours. You also have the Gander Outdoor Truck Series, the Xfinity Series, and the top racing series of them all, the Monster Energy Series.
Each event is broken into three separate stages. First, you have practice laps to help you get acquainted with a course. The game gives you a goal lap time to hit, which you can choose to ignore if you want, but it helps give you a sense of what you will need to do to qualify. You can skip this step, but it’s not really recommended. It’s advisable to practice at least one or two laps.
Next, you need to qualify. The game only gives you one shot to qualify, so you’ll have to make the most of it. Again, the game gives you a goal lap time to help you stay on target. It’s not necessary to qualify in the top ten to win a race. I often qualified in the low teens and still won. Still, it’s much easier to end well when you start at the middle of the pack than at the rear, which basically guarantees a mediocre showing.
After you finish the race, the game gives you the option to watch a replay and shows you how much you earned. There’s also this tacked-on social media component between races where rivals give you feedback on your performance. You can either choose to compliment them or taunt them, which will affect their overall attitude toward you.
It’s worth noting that you can compete in more than one series in a given season. This gives you the opportunity to mix up race types during each week of the Career mode. Ultimately, I found it to be more enjoyable to be able to have an Xtreme Dirt Tour race followed up with a Truck Series race than just sticking to one series. One downside to this is that the lower-tier series like Xtreme Dirt Tour just don’t award much money even if you place first.
Speaking of money, you’ll need it to start your own team. Each race earns you money, whether or not you win, but your team takes a cut of the earnings. You can also earn extra from completing sponsorship challenges. If you want to keep all of the earnings, you will need to start your own team, but along with that come a number of expenses: buying race cars, maintaining them, and paying your staff. This is not a super complicated sim, but it does have enough here that NASCAR fans should be satisfied.
This is where I should probably note that while playing Career mode, I encountered a game-breaking bug. Every time I attempt to continue the Career in NASCAR Heat 4, the game first goes to a load screen and then crashes. There is no patch for it at this time, so that basically leaves me with the option to either restart the Career mode and risk encountering the bug again or sticking to the other modes. I chose the latter.
It’s a bummer since I was actually enjoying my time in the Career mode. I won my first season right out of the gate. In my second season, I felt like I was making good progress toward moving up the ranks as I had just started playing the Truck Series. I didn’t pay for the game, so it doesn’t leave me salty, but someone who is a big fan of NASCAR and who spends their own money would be really upset -deservedly so.
In addition to Career, there are a few other modes. Challenge mode has you complete a number of objective-based challenges. One challenge puts you in last place on the last lap and throws a couple of wrecks your way. You have to maneuver around the crashes and come in first place. Another challenge had me complete a race with a near-empty gas tank, the engine sputtering with only a few laps to go.
Then there is the online multiplayer component. This was actually probably my least favorite part of the game. The other players do not seem to take the race too seriously and constantly start crashes, which depending on the settings of the race may spark a yellow flag, which basically freezes the order of the cars in place and restarts a lap.
On top of that, you have to find your own matches since NASCAR Heat 4 is a lobby-based system. In theory, this would be a good way to tweak settings for each race. In practice, it’s annoying to wade through the different options, especially when there aren’t many to choose from that are all that appealing. In my view, a matchmaking system with limited options for race type and difficulty would have been preferable.
Quick Race and Split Screen are the other two game modes. They are nice options for a pick-up-and-play race either alone or with a friend. Like with the online multiplayer, the main issue here is finding someone who actually wants to play. I will say that I applaud the developers for including split-screen multiplayer as an option.
The one other thing that I would like to add is that NASCAR Heat 4 has a decent amount of driver-assist features that hardcore players will want to disable and settings to change, including a number of different difficulty settings. The normal setting is a little too easy for me and can be rather boring, but it’s great that the developers made the game more accessible for a variety of skill levels with the ability to easily tweak settings.
Dale Earnhardt once said that “you win some, lose some, and wreck some.” While NASCAR Heat 4 is not a total wreck, despite technical flaws, it’s also not close to being the best racing game on the market. NASCAR Heat 4 falls somewhere in between a win and a wreck, making it perhaps a worthwhile investment for long-time NASCAR fans and a bargain bin consideration for racing fans in general once the price drops in a few months.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy from 704 Games.