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NASCAR Heat 4 Review

NASCAR Heat 4

NASCAR Heat 4 Review

After seeing the NASCAR license taken in multiple directions over the last decade, 704 Games has chosen a path, built a foundation and are continuing to build upon that every year. The pace in which the improvements are coming may not be to everyone’s liking, but the gains are being made, and the team’s commitment is there for the long haul. With NASCAR Heat 4, the hopes are that the changes and improvements are tangible and meaningful. That’s a big question for sure, and I’ll try to answer that question below.

What I Like

New Physics System

With racing titles, it is easy to talk about the racing physics and how they add or detract from the overall quality of the game, but the community needs to understand what areas it affects the game. In the case of NH4, the newly improved physics genuinely affect every aspect of the title when it comes to the action on the track, in a positive way, and the racing has taken a substantial leap forward because of the new changes.

From the new tire model, to the interaction between the car(s) and track, to the improved handling, the newly implemented physics forces us to approach the latest NASCAR Heat title in a way we have not seen in a licensed NASCAR game on a console. When racing on higher difficulties and with assists lowered or off entirely, NH4 requires you to understand the line you are running, the usage of tires and how that changes throughout a race.

If you are racing at a track like Atlanta that is notorious for chewing up tires, then your approach to each lap will need to change as the race progresses to be successful. Another impactful way the new physics have changed the game is the way cars interact with the natural undulation of the track. You can now feel each track’s imperfection(s), and because of that, it forces you to deal with how each groove requires a different approach.

Lastly, the car-to-car interaction has improved in a significant way, both in terms of front-to-back drafting and side-to-side drafting. You can feel the air from your opponent’s car having a real impact on your vehicle’s handling, and the draft can quickly force you out of the groove or line that you are currently racing, especially if your tires are lacking grip.

New Graphics Engine

The move to the newest Unity engine provides a nice upgrade in graphic fidelity for NH4, and while there is sadly still no support for 4K or HDR, the overall graphical improvement is noticeable on the PS4 Pro. The track colors are more natural and vibrant, the cars are well designed and pop onscreen, and the sky during night races draws you into the world in which you are racing.

It’s a disappointment to still have no 4K or HDR support for the NH series, but the onscreen improvements are strong enough to make me take notice and appreciate the upgrade, especially as a veteran of the series.

Career Mode

In previous versions of the NASCAR Heat career mode, it often felt like it consisted of race, race, race and race some more. It was somewhat repetitive and a bit boring after a decent amount of time was devoted to the mode because it felt more like a series of race-now races and less like a full-blown career.

While there is still a lot of room to improve career mode, the steps taken this year to enhance the mode have moved the needle from repetitive to engaging over the long haul. You will still find you have the option to be an owner or driver, but this year you can start your career in any of the included NASCAR series.

For my money, choosing to be an owner is where the actual depth of career mode starts to show itself. As an owner, NH4‘s career mode will force you to fill out and train staff, improve facilities, purchase track-specific vehicles and have those vehicles repaired, which can be costly both in time and money depending on how clean you drove in the previous race.

As a new owner with limited funds, it can be quite challenging to build your NASCAR empire, and you will find yourself having to race a car or truck that is not tailored to your current venue. By doing so, your vehicle will be deducted ability points, but with limited funds comes limited options. Even in year four of my Xfinity team ownership, I still have struggled to add a road-course car or build out my entire facility and team.

What I Don’t Like

Inconsistent FPS Quality

As much as I appreciate the sharp improvement in graphic fidelity, I take issue with the game’s inability to lock in at 60 frames per second. On the PS4 Pro, it was evident that at times the FPS would dip well below 60, and when racing in a game that requires specific detailed movements around 40 other cars at precise moments, that inconsistency in results can be painful.

On top of the frame rate, I also witnessed screen tearing issues, and while not nearly as prevalent as the FPS issue, it was still noticeable. In the end, the inconsistent frames and screen tearing are not overly detrimental to one’s enjoyment of the game, but hopefully they can be rectified in either a patch.

Presentation

What presentation that’s included in the game is on point, but there just isn’t enough of it. The track intros are well done on the cup level, the burnouts are fun and the quick track-side shots do an excellent job of showcasing the track itself. The problem is we need more flyovers; we need real victory lane celebrations; we need actual championship celebrations and pre-race pit lane flyovers. NASCAR is such a symbolic and tradition-laden sport, and the Heat series just barely scratches the surface of what takes place on any given weekend.

Replay System

I have been griping about not having an in-race replay system in the Heat series for years, and here we are again with no option for just that. The ability to capture a screenshot or quick video of on-track action and instantly upload it to any of the social media options is a huge factor for me. It helps increase awareness of the game to curious fans who may not have played the series, and it’s generally cool to see someone’s crash or photo-finish from a race they just finished or are currently racing.

Bottom Line

One of the biggest complaints in the Heat series has been that the yearly improvements are incremental, and that is probably a fair assessment to a degree. What NASCAR Heat 4 delivers is the most significant year-to-year improvement we have seen yet, and some of the most important regarding on-track progression. If you have been a fan of the series before this year or have shown even the slightest interest in joining the fold, NASCAR Heat 4 delivers some substantial improvements and added depth with this year’s release.

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  1. Thanks for the great review Robert! I'm holding off for for now (how many sports games are we getting this month?!?), but a lot of what you mentioned does sound promising.
    Against my better judgement, I bought it... with the intent of trying it for the 2 hours MS gives you and still allows you to return.
    Here's my thoughts after having a few quick races for a about an hour this morning. Take it with a grain of salt if you wish as I've only spent about 45 minutes with it.
    Let me list a few positives:
    - Sounds of engines are improved. Sounds good. Much better.
    - You can feel the difference in physics. It's smoother, but still jerky though.
    - Nice to have some driver difficulty controls. From how easy it is to get the AI loose, their recoverability, to actually having driver assists. It's still not where I'd like it to be, but the fact it's there is nice. It just seems odd how different they do it from every other title, it makes me wonder if Unity is the issue. It is nice though to be able to adjust each assist category in 5% increments. You can really dial in your own feel.
    - you can scroll the race/qualifying results, but stats are still pretty weak. Not sure on career mode though.
    - I'll compliment the physics system again as mentioned in the review. My race at Atlanta, I had the AI too easy. I started 3rd, blew their doors off and cruised for the first two laps. I was being aggressive to push the game to get a feel for the handling. By the 3rd lap, I couldn't run the same line, the same way. I was struggling, couldn't figure it out until I cycled through the car info and got to tire wear. Yup. Atlanta eats tires, and yup, you'll notice it in game. Nice job there.
    The not so nice:
    - Visuals. Improved? Yeah, they are. There's way too much motion blur for my liking though. It's still not where it needs to be IMO for a title this generation. Is it better than NH3? Yes, it's better, but not knock your socks off better. If visuals won't bother you, you'll be fine. I may be being a bit harsh here because my eyes are used to the beauty that is F12019, so I just fired up NH4 at Daytona, followed quickly by NH3 there. Yeah, it's a pretty big jump actually, but it's still lagging behind.
    - Sticking with visuals... the frame rate does seem more stable, but it's still sluggish and long ways from 60 most of the time. There is an option to adjust the visuals for Quality, or Performance (playing on XB1X anyways). I have it set to Quality now to experience what I've written above. When I change it to performance, it looks smoother with a higher frame rate, but the visuals seem to look more like NH3 again, but still a bit better.
    - You're still referred to as your gamertag in the game. Come on... Give me a break.
    - Presentation... flat out stinks. It's boring. Just like the last few versions of the game.
    - Replay mode is still bare. No race rewind feature either
    On the Fence:
    - Career. I can't comment. Didn't get into it. However from what I've seen, I dont see anything huge. I thought they'd build it out alot more than it sounds like they have.
    - AI - I didn't get enough time with it so far. If the controls and customization options they give you when it comes to the AI actually work, I think that could be a big step forward.
    - Visuals. I'll put them here too. They're just ok. It's not close to F1 2019's level, or Forza, etc. etc. It's not bad either though. It's better, but it's still not good.
    - Paint booth. Seemed largely the same. No real new schemes to work with. Color options seem more limited than last year unless I haven't figure out how to customize them, but right now it looks like you've got about 25 colors that's it. Some nice new sponsor additions though.
    Overall:
    I'd say if you're expecting something different, or some huge improvement, you're going to be let down IMO. If you've enjoyed the last few, and these upgrades are worth it to you you'll be fine. That's kind of where I'm at with it. I played alot of NH3 despite it's flaws. Probably close to 400 races. I think I'll enjoy this one the same way, despite it's flaws. It's just so frustrating to me that's it's flaws are the same flaws it's always had.
    Overall to me, I need to decide if I keep it now, or request return/refund. Refund is the direction I'm leaning at this point with the intent of picking it up again on sale. It's just not enough for me to warrant it's price point. It needs to be around the 39.99 or 49.99 price point not 63.99 for the standard edition, or 89.99 for the gold edition here in Canada.
    If you've enjoyed the previous, you'll enjoy it no doubt. If you didn't, the new stuff, especially the AI might be enough to change your mind, I do believe that right now, but if you're looking for it to blow you away and feel current gen, I think that will be a letdown still.
    Do take this with a grain of salt though, as I've only spent about 40 minutes or so playing.
    Turbojugend
    Thanks for the great review Robert! I'm holding off for for now (how many sports games are we getting this month?!?), but a lot of what you mentioned does sound promising.

    Appreciate it Turbo - I’ve had the game for about a month now...so I felt pretty confident in what I wrote.
    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    Robert, great review and write up, thank you!
    For me, the most difficult part to wrestle down with NH4 is the lack of 4k support. I'd understand better if it was 2017, but 4k gaming developer packages have been out for well over 3 years now, and the console hardware is well established. There's just no excuse honestly.
    If anyone also plays the F1 product and switches back and forth to play both racing sports (like I do), it's like eating a steak at Ruth Chris and then a steak at Golden Corral lol. Regardless, I'll continue to support 704Games and the NH product because I want them to succeed and I know that team does care about it's client base.
    bluengold34_OS
    Appreciate it Turbo - I’ve had the game for about a month now...so I felt pretty confident in what I wrote.

    Thanks for the review.
    They promoted the fact that you can now race any series on any track. Can this be done in Championship mode?
    I figure they may have added new schedule options for each series to race on every track or, even better, given us the option of a custom schedule.
    Received the Gold edition yesterday and must say this game is significantly more enjoyable (to me) than NASCAR Heat 3. The game looks better (which doesn't matter to me personally, but an observation I had) - and I just enjoy how the cars race on the track.
    Granted, I have only raced three races thus far, but I am happy with what 704 Games gave us. I do wish we had more statistics, but with the track map I am able to chart lap leaders that way as well as how I would track my statistics other ways previously.
    Looking forward to getting a bit more seat time in this and beginning a career, as a NASCAR fan I am happy.
    Bob, nice write up.
    Did you try it with a wheel or just the controller? The force feedback on my wheel (XBox version) is notchy and chattery. It isn't smooth and natural. Wondering if that was something you ran into, or if you stuck mostly with the controller.
    FatboyIKE
    Robert, great review and write up, thank you!
    For me, the most difficult part to wrestle down with NH4 is the lack of 4k support. I'd understand better if it was 2017, but 4k gaming developer packages have been out for well over 3 years now, and the console hardware is well established. There's just no excuse honestly.
    If anyone also plays the F1 product and switches back and forth to play both racing sports (like I do), it's like eating a steak at Ruth Chris and then a steak at Golden Corral lol. Regardless, I'll continue to support 704Games and the NH product because I want them to succeed and I know that team does care about it's client base.

    Appreciate it Ike
    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    TCrouch
    Bob, nice write up.
    Did you try it with a wheel or just the controller? The force feedback on my wheel (XBox version) is notchy and chattery. It isn't smooth and natural. Wondering if that was something you ran into, or if you stuck mostly with the controller.

    I tried to secure a PC copy to test it out on my racing chassis...but they were traveling back from Indy - so just PS4 and controller (thanks for the kind words also)
    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    mercalnd
    Thanks for the review.
    They promoted the fact that you can now race any series on any track. Can this be done in Championship mode?
    I figure they may have added new schedule options for each series to race on every track or, even better, given us the option of a custom schedule.

    I have made it to season 5 of my career now and have seen no option to change the career mode schedule...and not sure about championship mode) sadly I am on the road and won’t be home for a week to check
    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    I believe we aren't able to customize our own schedules, it is basically presets that we can choose from for Championship Mode..I can verify later this evening.
    Proof21
    I believe we aren't able to customize our own schedules, it is basically presets that we can choose from for Championship Mode..I can verify later this evening.

    I expect it is still a choice between preset schedules. I just hope they adde some presets to run on all tracks in any of the 3 series.
    TCrouch
    Bob, nice write up.
    Did you try it with a wheel or just the controller? The force feedback on my wheel (XBox version) is notchy and chattery. It isn't smooth and natural. Wondering if that was something you ran into, or if you stuck mostly with the controller.

    Howdy stranger!
    This is what I found.
    https://twitter.com/TheSeanWilson/status/1171484902455267328
    So one of our wonderful players helped us track down a bug that we had a hard time reproducing. If you are playing on Xbox One X or PS4 Pro and noticing “unusually high” wheel vibration...go to game options and change “Performance” setting to “Quality.” Working on fix.
    Steve_OS
    Howdy stranger!
    This is what I found.
    https://twitter.com/TheSeanWilson/status/1171484902455267328
    So one of our wonderful players helped us track down a bug that we had a hard time reproducing. If you are playing on Xbox One X or PS4 Pro and noticing “unusually high” wheel vibration...go to game options and change “Performance” setting to “Quality.” Working on fix.

    Holy ****, thanks bro!!!
    I left it on performance, because of course it already has framerate issues (that I can easily look past, which is unusual for me). The racing is just so fun that it doesn't bother me seeing screen tearing and stutters as most as some games.
    If this fixes it, I owe you...again :y7:
    Lieutenant Dan
    Thanks for the review Bob! I'll likely get this on Steam soon so I can use my driving rig and get max FPS performance.

    Absolutely Dan - I think you’re going to love the racing improvements and new tire model - makes such a big difference
    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    bluengold34_OS
    Absolutely Dan - I think you’re going to love the racing improvements and new tire model - makes such a big difference
    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

    In addition to your review as a resource I also Jeff Favignano put it through it's paces for a couple of hours on youtube and what you are emphasizing is shown very clearly there, especially the tire wear AND how the AI drive much better/realistically. EVERYONE lifts and does tire management...it was impressive.
    Side note: I need to fire up iRacing at the moment and see if Atlanta really is THAT bumpy...lol.
    Appreciate the review Bob! I'm pretty excited about this one to be honest, after really not playing the last 2 versions much at all. It also helps my boy Harvick graces the cover, so it's a must get for me!
    bravesfan1984
    Appreciate the review Bob! I'm pretty excited about this one to be honest, after really not playing the last 2 versions much at all. It also helps my boy Harvick graces the cover, so it's a must get for me!

    Nice - I think you’ll find yourself finding plenty of time for NH4 in the rotation. The racing is absolutely addictive this year...as I still find myself choosing it over of a lot other games. This is with owning the game for over a month, which is always a good sign
    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    Steve_OS
    So one of our wonderful players helped us track down a bug that we had a hard time reproducing. If you are playing on Xbox One X or PS4 Pro and noticing “unusually high” wheel vibration...go to game options and change “Performance” setting to “Quality.” Working on fix.

    Man...this COMPLETELY fixed it. It went from being great racing with horrible force feedback implementation (so bad I was thinking of racing primarily with a controller, but I hate trying to race ovals with a controller) to one of the most amazing oval experiences I've had.
    Their feedback is so good on my Clubsport V2 with XBox Universal Hub and Clubsport V3 pedals that there are actually big differences in the FF from new to old tires, even! They have my preferred FF style out of the box now. I tend to like a "stiffer" wheel without a lot of shock, and I only had to drop the strength about 1 tick for it to feel brilliant.
    When you're on new tires, the wheel will fight back a lot as the tires dig into the track. But later in a run, when you are on old rubber, the wheel is very sloppy, and you can absolutely FEEL how slippery the car is. Knowing that's coming without having to see what's happening on the screen is incredible.
    So, for anybody else having FF issues with any wheel---try that. It was night and day for me.
    I've started a championship mode (100% race) and I have to say : this game is good. The addition of the draft partner is a huge step in my opinion. The way that the AI is following you or bumping you and the run that you can have it's awesome.




    My only complaints about the game :

    • No DNF and it's kinda kills the immersion for me.
    • Damage model is awful and the physics seems odd, sometimes.
    Are there any good guides for setting up the cars/trucks before a race? I just started a career mode (skipped dirt and started in the trucks) and instead of taking over a ride I just joined a team with a new car. I know that if you pit during practice you can make some changes to air pressure/wedge and so on. Do those changes if you make them carry over to the race?
    Have never really dove into a NASCAR game in probably 10 years, so just trying to find some speed, because right now I'm running 27-30 consistently and struggle to pass or keep up.
    How do you add a third employee?
    EDIT: answer is - you buy a second car.
    Anyone tried out the Mountain Dew sponsorship in career mode? With the wonky looking decals with the green square, which looks to be different colours in different places on your car, I wonder if you can make a decent looking car. I'm pretty shocked a game in 2019 would have such a poor logo...
    Speaking of logos - I took the Axalta sponsorship and the car decals are the Caterpillar decals. Still says Axalta for payouts etc. Glitch?
    Also, can you run your own team, take a season with another team, and then come back to where you left off with your own team? Or does it move you back to the beginning with your cars and employees etc?
    Well, just finished my 1st full season in Dirt and discovered that the issue from NASCAR Heat 3 that was never patched where it just jumped straight into offseason after exiting the last race and closing the various contract/message popups is inexplicably STILL present. Fortunately I had the foresight to jot down the standings before the last race and the final finishing order for the last race so I can enter who earned the win/top 5/top 10 in the final race in my spreadsheet and calculate the final standings manually to enter each drivers points position so I won't have to start my career all over again. Unbelievable :mad:
    Dirt was definitely a lot more fun this year though with the AI cars sliding around just as much as me. The think I still don't like is that you're still forced into a single difficulty setting across all tracks. I did that 1st season 'Normal' difficulty and finished top 5 in 12/14 races (winning 4) with the other 2 races being the 2 at the road course where I finished 20th and 15th. So I'm sure when I bump it up to hard, there will be tracks I still dominate at and tracks that I will struggle at, especially in the 3 higher series, just like it is in every other game where you're locked into a set difficulty level that applies across all tracks. This is why I liked NASCAR The Game 15 where you could select the track-specific difficulty level in 5% increments for each race upon entering the race so I could dial the difficulty at each track to my own skill level. With the universal easy/normal/hard/expert system, the change between levels are too drastic and it doesn't take into account that some tracks will be harder than others. On NASCAR Heat 3 on Hard difficulty, I would generally do well at the 1.5 mile cookie cutter tracks while struggling at the flat tracks.
    Another thing I don't understand is why they continue to use different difficulty settings options in single race vs. career mode. To me, this makes absolutely no sense.
    Absolutely the improvements this year are awesome with the handling and ride of the car/truck. Just started finally today trying to get my G29 wheel dialed in so I can start my career.
    Which reminds me, this game would be awesome if you could carryover your career with your team and so forth. That would make it top notch.
    I have a PS4 pro, and using the G29 wheel. Struggling a little to get it dialed in. The force feedback is much better this year. I had to turn it down a little, but I love how it makes you feel every bump and makes you adjust as you go around the track and having to saw the wheel at times to keep the car straight. It isn't just hold the wheel straight and turn into the corner and then straight again. I can feel like the wheels get to much power to early if I try to floor it coming out of a turn instead of feathering it.
    Since this game doesn't support 4K or 60 FPS @ 1080p, I was going to wait until it went on sale for $30, or less. Then I read TCrouch's description of the car handling and the quality of the AI and I deceded to take the plunge... I'm glad I did!
    The way the AI performs in this game is its biggest selling point to me. It's like racing with human controlled cars, but mostly 'sportsmanlike' humans. I haven't noticed any uncalled for maliciousness on the part of the AI, outside of their impatience with you getting out of the pits in practice... they will give you a not so subtle nudge when you're taking your time getting up to speed :wink: They will take different lines and show unique behaviors, and you can see their tendencies change with tire wear. It's beyond anything I've seen in any racing game I've ever played, even the Driveatars of Forza 7!
    I've got a Thrustmaster TX Leather wheel with T3PA pedals and the game works great with it. It's as good as the force feedback in Project CARS 2, even though it's not nearly as intricately configurable. The default settings weren't all that far from what I dialed in. I wound up leaving the centering spring off after trying it a while. It proved to be too strong a force on top of the already formidable wheel force feedback. I wound up at 2 ticks to the left of the default force feedback, which amounts to 30%. This gave a good combined feel of handling effects (which are much better communicated in 4 than 2) and overall wheel resistance, even with the centering spring OFF.
    I did have to change the video setting from "Performance" to "Quality" to get rid of the incessant chattering with the wheel. I'd be hard pressed to identify what graphics improvements were made by going to quality. The only thing I did notice was the speckled shadows that Terry's already pointed out. I didn't really analyze them that heavily. My biggest complaint about this game is its sluggish frame rate. It sort of feels like racing underwater at times. I think there are occasions where it judders because it can't sustain 30 FPS. It's only about maybe 6 to 10 frames per second below having a really good, fluid feel. This didn't seem to change for me between Performance and Quality settings. I wish they had a Performance mode that truly would deliver higher frame rates, especially on the XBox One X, but to my untrained eye, it doesn't. The game's graphics are prettier, overall, than NH2, but I just can't believe that an XBox One X couldn't deliver it in 1080p @60 FPS, Unity 2018 or not!?
    I started my career out in "Hard" and with the default car setups, I find that I can't compete against the AI very well. I'm usually last in qualifying by .2 to .5 seconds, depending on the track. I finished 27th in a truck race, after starting 32nd. In the last five laps, I was in a pack of four trucks at 27 thru 30th place. We each held every position in that span more than once. I swapped positions twice with one truck in the same lap! It was some of the best racing I've every experience, console or PC! I can't say enough about it!
    I've got the wheel range set at about 60%, wheel sensitivity at about 60%, brake sensitivity up to75%, and everything else at default. I did turn on "Track Effects" in the force feedback. Even with these settings, and an overall force feedback strength of less than half of what it could be, it still felt a wee bit too stiff. This proved to be too much for my wheel after about an hour and a half of racing last night, when it shut down, for only the second time in the three years I've owned it, due to overheating. The wheel's fine this morning BTW. I'll dial the overall force feedback down one more tick to see if that's the sweetspot. After a 13% race at Atlanta last night, I must say that the force feedback I had was a bit more than I wanted.
    As disappointed as I am with the frame rate and so-so 1080p graphics, the quality racing AI, realistic car handling, and force feedback modeling and effects more than offset them. This game has got a lot of hidden character. I suspect it's going to get a little better with a patch or two, but even in it's current state, I've got a game that I'll be on a honeymoon with for quite a while! :D

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