704 Games is set to deliver NASCAR Heat 5 this week, although this time it’s coming out a bit earlier and with a different development team behind it. Gone are the days of the game’s release coinciding with the start of the NASCAR playoffs, and gone are the days of Monster Games Inc. developing the title — instead they most recently developed Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing.
So, what does that mean for NASCAR Heat 5? Let’s find out.
NASCAR Heat 5 Review – What I Like
In a sport that demands and delivers side by side and nose to bumper racing at 180+ mph, developers must give users of all skill levels the ability to replicate that for the game to feel even remotely authentic.
Have no worries here as 704 has done just that. I checked the game out using an Xbox One Elite controller, a PS4 Pro Scuf Vantage 2 controller and a Fanatec CSL elite F1 wheel. All felt precise, on point, and allowed me to race comfortably anywhere on the track as long as I wasn’t pushing out of the groove and forcing the car to do more than it could do.
Even more impressive was that with all three peripherals I could maintain position side-by-side, and even three-wide while in the middle for long sequences at a time.
Solid controls are a must for any racing title, but if the AI is subpar, then precision maneuvering becomes a lot less impressive and important. As good as the controls are in NH5, the tweaked and enhanced AI is even better. Long gone are the days where the ultra-aggressive AI would come down on you while racing like it wasn’t even aware you were there. Instead, the AI very much replicates the actions of another human who will push you but respects the boundaries of fair but competitive racing.
I devoted over 15 hours of this review to running every type of AI race the game offers. I also started from the back to watch the tendencies of the AI cars and how they raced not only against me but each other. The AI drivers would consistently take advantage of each other’s mistakes, of my mistakes and make mistakes of their own.
As with many of you (I saw the metrics at the developer’s office), I spend most of my time in career mode and will do so again this year. If you are new to the series, NH5 allows you to start in an unsanctioned dirt series, prove yourself and work your way up through the ranks of the Gander Outdoors Truck series, Xfinity series and finally the Cup series. You can do so as a driver or as a driver/team owner.
As a driver, you have sponsor goals you are expected to reach. The better you perform, the better the sponsorship opportunities, and better the chances of securing a contract with a well-funded and developed team.
As an owner, things become a lot more involved, but in a fun and addictive way. As an owner, not only do you still have to perform on the track, much as I described earlier, but you also must secure funds to open a shop, purchase vehicles, hire staff and more.
Either path you go down provides an exciting ride and journey, and both paths create a vested atmosphere. There is a reason that such a huge percentage of the community takes part in career mode, and if you are a newcomer to the series, I absolutely recommend checking it out yourself.
We all know that test mode seems like a feature that should have been in the initial NASCAR Heat release — or any racing game for that matter. This addition is incredibly helpful for those who love to tinker with setups until they’re finally right. Test mode lets those who do love to create the perfect setup for a specific track to hit the track, come back in and make minor tweaks, and hit the track immediately to test it out. In short, for some the inclusion of this new feature is considered monumental.
Even if you’re not one to try and tweak every little thing, just having the ability to pick a track, any track, and turn laps trying to find the perfect line with fresh tires and adjusting that line with medium to worn tires is another huge plus. The addition of test mode also helps in switching from Truck to Xfinity to Cup. Neither of these three vehicles feels the same at any given track, and now users can see and feel the difference between all three on any track of their choice.
Listen, because of legalities, we are never going to see a paint booth as we did with EA’s NASCAR ’08 and ’09. It is a different time and a different world, and that is understandable. While what 704 has delivered won’t feel a lot different than what NH4 did, some nice improvements should help designers streamline the design process. The paint booth should also be a more accessible option for those who are new to the booth or the series.
So, what has changed for the paint booth in NH5? Like I mentioned before, not a lot, but they have added more enhancements, including new number fonts and schemes. These may not seem like big additions, but as creators try to duplicate current or retro paint schemes, the ability to accurately match and manipulate font styles, number shadows, rim colors, and spoilers (finally), all of these little enhancements and tweaks make life in the booth a bit easier.
Another little addition, that for me at least isn’t so little, relates to finishes. Developers have given us the ability to choose between gloss and matte finishes, which once again, helps all of us when trying to create or re-create an authentic-looking scheme to show the world.
NASCAR Heat 5 Review – What I Don’t Like
Watching the frame of a car crumple and disintegrate in a real Cup race can be amazing and horrifying all at once. Sadly, very few games have ever been able to re-create the impact a car sustains in real life and mimic that in a video game. NH5 does nothing to dispel that notion, and in fact, the damage models feels very much like it did in NH4. I will say that I did see some hood crumple that came so high I struggled to see past it until I was able to reach the pits, but that is about it.
The developers are constantly straddling the line between realism and arcade because that is what the NASCAR Heat series is all about. What I am hoping for as the team moves to a new game engine and new hardware is that they will have the ability to re-create what fans see as they watch a real race unfold, and the accidents that so often happen in them.
I know the developers have heard the cries from the community, and I also know the limitations of the Unity engine when it comes to re-creating the likes of a smashed car frame, so this isn’t about blame, but rather about focusing on the future of the series.
No True Replay Camera
This is something I have been complaining about for quite some time, but still, there is no true in-race replay camera. In fact, even the one that is provided at the end of each race is subpar at best. If we think about the impact of social media and gaming/sharing/uploading, the inability to truly capture the action from any angle is head-scratching. It’s hard to think of a better way to show potential customers how exciting the racing can be and all the little details that have been painfully re-created by the developers than with a free-roaming replay camera.
During the review testing, I had multiple close Truck and Cup races that I either lost or won by a mere few inches, but I had no ability to really capture the essence and emotion of those moments from the angle that displayed and conveyed it the best. If I sound passionate about the lack of a real replay camera here, it’s because I am. Let’s hope, again, as we move to a new engine and hardware that a real replay and capture option will be implemented so the community can stop having to hear me complain about it.
NASCAR Heat 5 Review – Bottom Line
There is not a whole lot that feels entirely new with NASCAR Heat 5. While that typically isn’t a positive for any yearly sports title, the tweaked AI and driving model had me coming back for seconds and thirds — even after I played enough to feel like I could properly write the review. There is an addictive quality that is tangible when you’re on the track racing in any of the four series provided in NH5. It all stems from how the cars and trucks react and race on the track, and more importantly, how willing the AI was to be aggressive (but fair) with each other and me.
The career mode is deep and fun, and when I add in the online options, season options, newly tweaked paint booth and new user interface, I’m mostly satisfied. For a short development cycle, NH5 delivers a lot of longevity, and even more importantly, a lot of fun on the track. This is a title that, even for the fringe racing fan, should see a lot of time in your rotation well into winter and beyond.