STAFF REVIEW of NASCAR Heat 5 (Xbox One)

Monday, August 17, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

NASCAR Heat 5 Box art I have to admit, I used to be one of those people that simply assumed NASCAR games were just turning left and trying to cross the finish line first. After a handful of hours into NASCAR Heat 5 under my belt, my first NASCAR game in quite some time, I fully concede to the fact that there’s quite a bit of strategy and nuance that goes into NASCASR racing, even if the majority of that time is indeed turning left. Pack racing is a completely different style of racing than I’m used to, so it took some time to change my mindset of how to properly race when merely inches from your opponents at all times.

Developed by 704Games, the studio has been the sole developer of NASCAR games for the past few years, thus the NASCAR Heat series is now into its fifth iteration less than a year from the previous offering. NASCAR Heat 5 puts you right into the 2020 season, including the official teams, drivers, cars and liveries that go along with the high adrenaline sport.

Before you delve head first into Career mode you’ll need to design your character, customizing them exactly how you want. Once you’ve done so, you begin your career as an unknown, so you’ll do what they call Hot Seating. This is where teams may need a driver for a specific weekend for one reason or another, so you’ll get an offer to drive for a team for a race. Do well and they might consider giving you an offer to be their permanent driver in the upcoming season. So your first few handful of races will be with different teams and cars, and come the start of the new season you’ll make a decision of whom you want to race for, though you can opt to create your own team, but I highly suggest doing that after your bank roll has a few million saved up, as it’s a very expensive venture, but more on that shortly.

You begin in the Xtreme Dirt Series, kind of like the minors, as you work your way up the ranks, eventually graduating to the Gander RV & Outdoor Truck series, the Xfinity Series and finally the NASCAR Cup Series. While you can dive head first into the NASCAR series from the get go, I enjoyed working from the bottom with the dirt and slower trucks and cars before getting into the big leagues.

Since NASCAR Heat 5 is officially endorsed, you’ll get to race alongside the official teams and drivers, so fans of the sport should be happy to see their favorites on the track alongside them. As for the tracks themselves, these are also officially licensed, so you’ll get 34 recreated tracks and events, including the iconic Talladega, Daytona, Indianapolis and a lot more. There are even a handful of fictional dirt tracks, boosting the course number to almost forty, which is quite impressive. Sure, most of them are ovals, but tis the nature of the sport.

If you choose to start at the Xtreme Dirt Series in career, it’s going to take quite some time to work your way up to the NASCAR level, as each season is quite lengthy. Work your way up the ranks and take those wins to hopefully earn not only the respect of your fellow driver and peers, but the championship cup as well. As you move up to the higher classes of series, you can choose to participate in the lower races too, but this will add a ton of additional time to each season.

Joining a team means you only get a cut of the winnings, as you’re simply the driver, but as you amass your earnings, you can eventually earn enough to start your own team should you desire. Here you can create your team however you wish, including hiring staff that have specialties. These staff are meant to increase your car’s abilities and performance, but I honestly found it a bit confusing. After dumping a LOT of cash into maxing out my staff to get a bonus in my next race, it didn’t help me at all, and I was doing worse than I did with a base car when I was part of someone else’s team. There’s some light management sim here for those that want it, but it’s an absolutely huge money sink and it didn’t feel all that rewarding compared to simply jumping into race after race.

If you want something other than Career Mode, there’s also Quick Race, Multiplayer (online and splitscreen) Test Session and Challenge Mode. Test Session simply allows you to practice tweaking your car’s setup and trying it out on the track without any opponents. This allows you to see what works and what doesn’t so you can adjust things before the actual race. I can see the hardcore crowd making use of this mode to find that perfect setup, and this is one of the ‘big’ new features in NASCAR Heat 5 oddly enough.

What I did appreciate though was the Challenge Mode. While we’ve seen modes like this before, this is where you can race in very specific scenarios, recreating or changing history. NASCAR has had some memorable moments in the history of the sport, so this is where you can race in the shoes of some of those drivers in the exact same scenario. Can you pull off a win from being last in the pack? Can you avoid a massive crash, weaving through the wreckage and pull off the win? Longtime fans will appreciate the work that’s gone into these scenarios, where newcomers like myself can simply enjoy the challenge of these very specific scenarios and win conditions.

NASCAR Heat 5 also allows anyone from any skill level to also jump in and enjoy themselves. You have a ton of accessibility options, more so than the standard difficulty levels. You can adjust a bunch of other options relating to how the AI controls and reacts, to how much drafting can give you a boost if done properly. This can make the game extremely forgiving, even making it difficult to hit the wall, as it can automatically brake for you should you wish. Obviously pro players will net faster lap times without as many assists, but it was great to get a handful of first place podium finished with the assists on to see how it feels.

As for the racing itself, pack racing is very different than your standard type of racing. You need to be mindful of who’s beside you at all times, as the smallest bump can send you or them flying into the wall. The AI, regardless of the different difficulties I tested, seemed to almost always run a perfect race, which was quite difficult to overcome. This is where drafting comes into play, as it’s one of the only ways you can pass people cleanly in the pack, which is also assuming the leaders haven’t pulled too far ahead for you to even catch up to. It takes some time to get a feel for the controls, but once you do, you’ll start to pull ahead of the pack in the corners heading towards the finish line.

Between every race, you’ll become very accustomed to the lengthy loading screens. While I wouldn’t normally mention something like this, what stood out more than anything else is that essentially every single loading screen was for Fanatec products like steering wheels and pedals. Of course this piqued my curiosity so I checked out their website, and was quite shocked to realize they make incredibly high end racing products, well into the thousands of dollars for a setup. Not that the advertising doesn’t fit the audience, it was simply overly used as you’ll see it every single loading screen throughout your career.

For those wanting some competition online, you’re able to race against 39 other drivers in real time. I wasn’t sure what to expect for the online play, but hosts can setup races however they wish, toggling a bunch of different options. I was quite surprised that I experienced no real lag, and while actual players race drastically different than the AI, especialyl when it comes to poor sportsmanship and shoving on the track, having 40 player races was impressive. There’s even an option to play in the eNASCAR Heat Pro League when certain events are currently ongoing.

While there’s an option for Performance or Graphical Mode on an Xbox One X, sadly the Performance Mode didn’t feel anywhere near 60 FPS. While not a deal breaker, it was quite noticeable when I’ve played other racing games that do offer it. As for the graphics themselves, they are passible, but won’t impress. While the liveries are realistic and accurate, and you can create your own, even the cars themselves look “ok” at best. That’s not to say things look bad, but again, nothing really impressed overall. Also, races never gave that sense of high speed. When I’m racing 200 MPH, it should ‘feel’ fast, yet doesn’t. Oh, and there’s (still) no photo mode for those wondering.

Audio is about the same; passable. While I had to almost instantly mute the music and soundtrack for its terrible song choices, (that’s obviously subjective) your mileage might vary, but there was way too many country songs for my liking. Engines make your standard car sounds and roars, but nothing sounds distinguishable from one another. What was great though are your spotters, telling you if you’re clear on the in or outside lanes, letting you know when it’s safe to make passes or block, especially if you’re utilizing the hood or cockpit view.

If you’ve played NASCAR Heat 4, you’ll know exactly what to expect from the latest sequel. I mean that almost literally, as the main complaints from the community is that it’s essentially the same game with the 2020 season liveries and driver updates. If you already own last year’s outing, there’s not much reason to upgrade unless you’re a die-hard fan, but if you’re new to the series or skipped a few of the last ones, NASCAR Heat 5 is a great starting point, even for amateurs to the sport.

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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