If you’re a fan of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, you know… NASCAR, then chances are you’re probably aware that there are over 100 tracks that racers compete on across the 48 US states as well as in Mexico, Canada and Europe. If you aren’t aware of that, then either you’re not a huge fan of the sport, or you haven’t played the latest edition of the increasingly popular game series with NASCAR Heat 4.
In recent years, it’s fair to say that NASCAR hasn’t had the best reputation when it comes to the gaming side of things. Sure, each yearly title has brought us the opportunity to race the world’s finest stock cars around the most renowned tracks, but if you’ve been looking for a simulation of the real life experience, then you’ll have no doubt been extremely disappointed as you watch Forza, DiRT and even WRC take on an impressive simulated feel, leaving NASCAR to struggle with even a comfortable arcade racing experience.
This year though, there are some changes and whilst NASCAR Heat 4 doesn’t quite bring us the ultimate simulation experience, there is definitely something for fans of the sport and maybe even racing fans in general to enjoy – provided you’re happy with little more than a left turn of course.
As far as game modes are concerned, NASCAR Heat 4 is largely similar to that of last years title – NASCAR Heat 3. There’s a full Career mode to be getting involved in, as well as Quick Races, Season play, 21 unique Challenges and then finally some Online Multiplayer options too.
The experience however comes from the racing out on the track rather than a bunch of options and I’m happy to say that Heat 4 does feel better on this outing than in previous years. From the moment you take to the track and set off, it doesn’t take long – provided you’ve gone for realism in the race length – to see a split in the pack and little rival groups forming, all as racers vie for position. It certainly feels engaging.
The reason for this is that in Heat 4 things feel slightly less clunky when compared to those before it, and whilst there seems to be a slight reliance on wind streaming to catch up to opponents on anything above the easiest difficulties, as you watch your opponents speeding off into the next turn, the cornering, the acceleration and even the handling all feels much smoother and much more accessible. It is essentially a much closer and more complete racing experience than before.
That’s not to say it’s an entirely positive experience though and there are negatives to be had with lengthy loading times proving one such issue. I’m not talking small times either, and waiting 30 seconds just to get into a race from the moment you’ve hit all the necessary buttons is par for the course. There are also other issues that stem from a lack of distinct changes in the core experience, besides the physical mechanics and feel of the racing.
One thing I have enjoyed seeing though is the return of multiple NASCAR disciplines with the Trucks and sprint vehicles joining the classic NASCARs. Surprisingly the unofficial and non-NASCAR-sanctioned Xtreme Dirt Tour is also back with its classic off-road type experience, which can make for some truly challenging races should you wish to play on a dirt track. It’s a welcome return for the dirt option but being a non-sanctioned event in an official game isn’t usually something you’d expect to see if you’re trying to keep things utterly realistic.
In terms of detail, NASCAR Heat 4 certainly ticks the right boxes when it comes to track variety and teams, with each and every official racer, their teams and their cars all present and awaiting your foot to feather the throttle. The tracks are plentiful as well, with 29 tarmac tracks available and 9 offroad venues present across the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR xFinity Series, the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Series and the Xtreme Dirt Tour Series.
The collision system is also decent and how your vehicle looks and feels once you’ve started to take on some damage is well realised. Soft body damage will see complete crumples in your vehicle whilst the A.I. are now affected more by mechanical issues when out on the track, and this can make for some tense race day experiences.
But whilst there are improvements NASCAR Heat 4 still can’t get away from that feeling of repetitivity that sets in after a while. Now this is something that isn’t helped by the fact that a vast majority of the tracks within the game are simplistic – much like their real life nature – and besides a few corners there is very little to do besides slipstream others on the lengthy straights, before making the best that you can out of tactical pit changes.
What I guess is the issue here is the fact that even with a fourth iteration, NASCAR Heat 4 doesn’t have anything extra besides a few more disciplines. You’d think that if there are no questions raised when it comes to adding in an unofficial championship series, then there would be equally little issue in adding some more varied tracks, or just something a little more exciting than partaking in 40 laps of an oval. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that NASCAR has a huge following, and I know that the majority of it comes down to oval racing, but without a big emphasis on teamwork and tactical play, which seems to be mostly downplayed in the NASCAR Heat series, the games don’t really have anything they can sell us; especially nothing that would make you want to race here over the likes of Forza for example. It’s the lack of something new which holds back this series from progressing onto something impressive.
Should you be after a reason to finally jump in to the NASCAR experience, then you’ll probably struggle to find much here that you wouldn’t have witnessed last time out. Sure, the racing feels slightly more polished, but in terms of excitement, there is very little on board. For a yearly release based on one of the biggest racing franchises, NASCAR Heat 4 on Xbox One doesn’t quite do it justice and even though those wanting a functional racer will find enough to be going on with, there aren’t many reasons to pick this over any other racer on the market.