‘NASCAR Heat 4’ review: Improvements abound for stock car series

A screenshot of Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Ford Mustang competing at Darlington Raceway in "NASCAR Heat 4" Photo Credit: 704Games

Better visuals and more control over action on the track help the annual franchise take another step in the right direction.

A screenshot of Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Ford Mustang competing at Darlington Raceway in "NASCAR Heat 4"
A screenshot of Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford Mustang competing at Darlington Raceway in "NASCAR Heat 4" Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

While the "Need for Speed" and "Forza" franchises remain popular in the racing genre, neither of these series truly replicates a real-world auto racing organization.

So, for all the stock car racing junkies out there, the solution is "NASCAR Heat 4." The latest annual entry has taken steps across the board to meet the expectations of those familiar with other yearly sports series, making it a strong choice for NASCAR fans.

Perhaps most vital to those who live and breathe the sport are the addition of sliders to control elements such as the rate at which tires wear down and AI driver behavior, to name a few things. Gamers can make intricate adjustments or select more simple, named settings suites. Sliders are a staple of basketball and baseball video games, so it’s high time NASCAR got its due with its game.

Career and season modes offer more options and customization. In career mode, a new option exists to begin the trek from any of four racing series: NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Trucks and Xtreme Dirt. Personally, dirt races were tricky for my style of play, so I appreciated the option to restart at the top, rather than work my way up. It’s always great to have a choice.

Make no mistake, there’s plenty of room to improve upon career mode, which will be the driving force for those who aren’t competing online. Rivalries and friendships will develop, but there’s not a lot of personality to the relationships. Brief video packages featuring drivers don’t immerse the player enough. Given the growth of more story-driven sports game experiences, one would think the "NASCAR Heat" series would be able to come up with a great narrative experience that frames each race. A sort of "Days of Thunder" experience could be a good model, or maybe a less ridiculous "Talladega Nights."

From a visual standpoint, "NASCAR Heat 4" makes the most of the multicolored cars in its various series. More importantly, the atmosphere at the various tracks (38 in all) is unique in ways that fans of the real thing should appreciate. Plus, difference in day and night aesthetics make a real difference in the way races feel, especially with day-night transitions.

Overall, "NASCAR Heat 4" is a perfectly solid replication of the real thing, and it should satisfy fans who’ve yet to experience the franchise.

Available now

“NASCAR Heat 4,” published by 704Games and developed by Monster Games, is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC, $49.99

Scott Fontana