Driving really, really fast in a circle is a difficult draw for watching in real life, much less convincing gamers to shell out their hard-earned bells to purchase a game of the same nature. And I mean no offense to NASCAR fans. While I am not a fan myself, I actually do understand the draw, but we all have to admit that it’s not on the same level as football, baseball, or even hockey (Go Kraken!) The intricate subtleties of the Sport are what make it a gripping sport (pun intended), but 704Games has taken the ambitious and challenging burden for years now, with the very latest release being NASCAR Heat 5 (“NH5”).
“Round and round the mulberry bush…”
NH5 is, at it’s core, a “simulation” racing game that concentrates mainly on oval track racing (duh). And while everyone may think that NASCAR and oval track racing are one in the same, well they’re not the only game in town several major forms being represented outside of stock cars as seen in NASCAR, including open-wheel racing, sprint car racing, modified car racing, midget car racing, and dirt track motorcycles. There are even 4 fully licensed disciplines in oval track racing that are represented in-game. The majority of our tracks are real life tracks featured in NASCAR races, with 6 of 29 being non-oval tracks. As such, each track is very much the same, with small differences in design, length and corner speeds due to the degree of arch at the end of the oval.
The gameplay is extremely repetitive, and gameplay to provide a break from the monotony of NH5 are rare. As I mentioned, there are 6 non-oval tracks. Licensing issues are probably what prevents more than this, and limits it to only 3 circuits to which my friend (an avid NASCAR fan) calls iconic (Road America, Sonoma, and Watkins Glen). He would really have liked to see some of the other circuits in there, specifically mention Laguna Seca. The additional circuits would also have given much needed variation to the primary game mode, Career, where are you will work towards progressing in all 4 disciplines, beginning as a meager dirt racer, starting at the very bottom on your road to NASCAR stardom.
You do have the option to pick your favorite driver to play through career mode, including their backing team and branding, or you can create your own. If you want to focus on race day, and not worry about having to manager your team, staff, and car elements, then go with the established NASCAR driver. Otherwise, in the latter, you will be responsible for upgrades and some micro-managing when it comes to your car. The good thing is the team management simulation is far from complex, and it gives you some of those rare breaks between race days where you have something to do. Upgrades actually go a long way in the game, especially towards the higher end of difficulty with fewer assist settings.
If you’ve played NASCAR Heat 4, you’re really not missing much. We’re looking at what feels like copypasta of the career there, complete with the social media system allowing you to respond to other drivers messages. But the relationships with drivers don’t seem to have lasting impact in the game. Very little innovation between generations of games, reminiscent of the problems plaguing sports games many of EA’s and 2K’s sports games.
Did you notice the quotes around “simulation” above. That’s because, no matter how you slice it, NH5 is not a sim racer. More like a mix of simulation and arcade, but no matter what setup you use or how many assists are disabled, it gravitates toward the arcade category more than simulation. I believe the industry term here is sim-cade, which, suffice to say, even a majority of the self-claimed simulation racers out there fall into. But NH5 just doesn’t ask enough of the player to be considered a sim. Racing lines and throttle control are nearly non-existent, featuring some truck tracks where you don’t even need to let go of the throttle trigger; you can handle the track perfectly fine just gunning it the whole way.
In terms of visuals, NH5 is going to have a tough time against there competition, which includes the likes Forza, Project Cars, and Gran Turismo. In the interest of fairness though, it should be noted that these listed are considered AAA games, while NH5 is not. And given that, NH5 looks decent for the resources and budget of the game. What is really it’s biggest detriment is the asinine 60 FPS lock placed on the game. I imagine this may be a bit better of an experiences with consoles, but reviewing it on PC it was disappointing, especially considering the game can’t consistently provide the locked rate. Am I wrong, but isn’t the reason to lock FPS to provide a consistent experience, thereby improving gameplay? No matter the graphical settings I tweaked on my 2070 Super, I still experienced fairly regular frame skips.
Also, 704Games needs to hire someone there who understands the difference between borderless, borderless windowed, and full screen. It surprises me that in this day and age can’t seem to get this right. It seems that even when enabling the full-screen option in the graphic settings, you are still end up in borderless window mode. This may be a contributing factor to some of the graphical instabilities I experienced.
All in all, NASCAR Heat 5 is just a bad game. Being in an extremely competitive genre of the gaming industry, it has a lot of headway to make in order to convince someone to choose it over the more recognizable competitors that are widely available. If it were me, I would wait for the next iteration in the franchise, which looks as thought it will be on a brand new engine. If you are planning on looking more into the sequel, which NH5 could be just a quick money grab to fund, maybe it’s worth picking up NASCAR Heat 5 to support 704Games as they build toward a better experience.
2 stars out of 5