NASCAR finally returned to having a formidable game in 2019 with NASCAR Heat 4. A super deep Career Mode allowed players to delve deeper into a single player experience while the handling and the feel of the cars captured some of the closest interpretation we’ve seen of the sport. Fast forward a year and developer 704Games is the lone team behind NASCAR Heat 5. The game seems to have purely switched its focus over to its eNASCAR Heat Pro League as even the drivers who participate in this eSports league are found as selectable in the game. Publisher Motorsport Games even announced a partnership with Fanatec for the league and the advertising is abundant in NASCAR Heat 5. The latest iteration of the game didn’t take anything away that made Heat 4 great, but didn’t add anything to differentiate it self from last year’s title.
The big reason that there was minimal innovation for NASCAR Heat 5 involved the developer split. 704Games inherited what it could and claimed to have issues with legacy code since Monster Games bailed out. Everything is now in-house for 704Games and this may allow for a better experience down the road. Monster Games handled the majority of the first four games plus the original Heat series in the early 00s. So while 704Games has some experience working on the current series, it may be a while before we see its vision shown off in the series.
What NASCAR Heat 5 does bring to the table is the 2020 Cup season with full rosters, teams and tracks. The Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity Series, Gander Truck Series and the Dirt series all return with updated paint schemes and rosters. Players can expect 34 authentic tracks and five fantasy tracks. The Career Mode returns with better stat tracking and some customization options that help bleed over to more options for paint schemes such as colors and fonts. The Career Mode can have you start in any league, talk trash and build rivalries with other drivers, and either join or create a team. Creating a team allows for engineers to be hired as you focus on improving specific aspects of your cars. The generic internet images used for the personnel will have you laughing. Still, no big changes here as everything carries over from last year.
Other single player modes include a Championship in any league, Challenges that will update throughout the season if you bought the Gold Edition, Race Now for quick racing and a new Test Session that was heavily requested by the community. Test Session is basically a practice mode that allows players to try different setups. Kind of strange that a racing game that has been around this long didn’t include something like this even for newbies to get acclimated with the cars. Again, there is nothing really new here.
Where NASCAR Heat 5 still shines the best is on the race track. Players can quickly choose a more tight or loose handling model depending on the track. The cars are heavy, as they should be, and tires play a big part in maintaining speed and grip. Contact with other cars allows for some confidence to be more aggressive. When watching the actual sport, a lot of simple nudging at high speeds can cause a car to spin out. Not to mention air effects caused by passing. Maybe this is something 704Games can dig deeper into in the future. Currently, the racing still remains a ton of fun. Using a wheel is the best way to enjoy this with the force feedback cranked up. The controllers allow for a fun experience as well. It seems no matter how loose I made the car and with no assists on, I never actually lost control of the car. The racing is still an excellent and rewarding grind to make your way up through the field.
The AI did see some improvements as your opponents will retaliate if angered enough. I bumped Denny Hamlin in the back and on the next lap, he returned the favor. This could be a coincidence, but it was cool nonetheless. One issue the AI does have is that all the cars simultaneously will slow down entering the apex of a corner. This may be due to the difficulty level, but it makes the pacing off. It’s nice to see some guys be aggressive. 704Games needs to continue to build on this in the future. There aren’t many racing games out there that I’d rather play against the AI than online opponents.
Speaking of online, NASCAR Heat 5 didn’t innovate anything there. The team is still focused on having players more involved in its Pro League. Races allow up to forty players and that can include AI with friends. 704Games added online challenges, which is more of the same thing that is included offline. These will fluctuate every few weeks. It’s worth noting that I actually reviewed the title on PC this year rather than console. There’s virtually no community online on PC. Since the servers went up earlier this week, there have been a total of 130 races with 29 being run today. The server currently has one active lobby and three active racers. There were also some connection issues when playing. Twice, when using a Logitech G29 wheel which has no other problems in games, the wheel just would stop responding. There have been issues with lag as well. All of this when the servers aren’t even remotely being tested. This may be a better experience on consoles, though.
With reviewing this on PC, it seems that this is the best visual representation of the game. NASCAR Heat 5 is strangely locked at 60 FPS. Running at 4K and with all options maxed out, my GTX 1080ti never went over 60% usage at any time. The game was clearly designed for consoles, but the overhead allowed the team to fill in the gaps on PC. The cars, especially at night, looks fantastic as the colors pop and the reflection makes the cars look realistic. The damage model is still lacking, but the draw distance and the lighting from the sun while hitting a straightaway really shines on PC. There was an occasional hiccup when turning corners on short tracks, but the frame rate wouldn’t drop. It will be interesting to see if the PC version gets the same type of support that the consoles do when it comes to patching. On an overall scale of racing games on PC, NASCAR Heat 5 is behind a lot of the competition but it’s not a demanding game and still looks nice as compared to the console versions.
The audio quality on Heat 5 is positive overall. Jeff Gordon joins the spotter team this year to help let you know what cars are around you. It was hard for me to recognize at first as the spotter can quickly drown you in audio. The cars sound solid enough along with the collisions and overall sound effects. The soundtrack still tries to capture a modern NASCAR feel, but ultimately the songs are forgettable.
Moving all development in-house for 704Games may be beneficial down the road, but for NASCAR Heat 5, it enabled minimal changes. The game does retail for only $50, but the Gold Edition with some DLC retails for $70. There’s also no free race ticket included this year, but that may be due to the current state with COVID. What Heat 5 includes are basically some patches to build upon what made Heat 4 the best in the series. Luckily, nothing was taken away and the core was still here. I understand if there’s an agreement in place with NASCAR to have a game launched every year, but really these updates should have only cost about half the price at the most. Still, it’s a fun game with a deep Career Mode and it still manages to do a good job of capturing stock car racing in game form. PC would be the visual preference, but with some other options on PC for stock car racing, it may take a back seat. The lack of an online community to race against on PC is also alarming.