Taking The Checkered Flag

HIGH Earning first place at a Bristol night race.

LOW The lack of legacy drivers.

WTF Jeff Gordon being locked behind DLC.

It’s been a while since I’ve paid any attention to NASCAR. I’ve never been a huge fan and the last NASCAR game I played was twenty-some years ago. Realistic racers aren’t something I intentionally seek out, but I’m glad I took some laps with NASCAR Heat 4 — it delivers an all-around solid racing experience.

From the beginning, NH4 offers plenty of options. There are single races, online modes, challenges, career mode, and even a separate championship event. Players can race on 38 different tracks, both paved and dirt, across the U.S. and Canada. A wide range of drivers from various levels are available and there is also a surprisingly deep create-a-driver option.

The physics and controls in NH4 are smooth and responsive. I don’t have access to a steering wheel controller, but it plays well with the Dual Shock 4. Acceleration, braking, and steering all react how I would expect a high-powered racecar to operate, and differences in driving on paved (versus dirt) tracks are easy to distinguish. This all helps create a realistic racing experience.

Each race, other than challenges, begins with practice. During practice, players will see a suggested path highlighted on the racetrack. This shows players the optimal line for earning the best time. This is helpful, but at times I found even while staying on the suggested line I was unable to hit the target times. Surprisingly, this usually happened on the oval tracks!

Once a few practice laps have been completed, players can move on to the qualifying run where they get one lap to earn the best time possible and set a position for the start of the race.

Races occur with a full field of other drivers that players must contend with. Any race can be adjusted to full length or a partial race, with most default races set at 4-8 laps apiece. This might seem too short but I found it to be a great length — however, messing up or getting spun out by another driver usually meant restarting or taking last place. Overall, a small trade-off for a shortened session.

Career Mode sees players start on dirt tracks and progress through four different circuits – the Xtreme Dirt Tour, NASCAR Truck, NASCAR Series, and NASCAR Cup Series. Goals are set over the course of a few races, and players will compete, join a team, earn sponsors, and hopefully gain more fans. There are plenty of options that I didn’t even touch, but NH4 is friendly to new players and even allows for races to be simulated if someone wants to advance to the next task. Honestly, the amount of options is one of NH4‘s finest aspects.

With that said, not every mode is so welcoming, as Challenge Mode is a source of slight frustration. Tasks include catching a pack of drivers, drafting off other cars, and avoiding crashes. The difficulty curve is high! There’s no easing into these, and each requires near-perfect runs to complete. After beating a couple, I moved on to other modes as the frustration and repetition was unpleasant.

There’s not much else to dislike about NH4, but I do have one minor complaint – even with 40 current drivers, it’s disappointing that players won’t be able to burn rubber as a legendary personality. I’m sure it’s not easy to get the rights (especially when so much of the sport is tied to sponsorship) but it’s a shame that players can’t take a spin with drivers like Petty, Waltrip, or Earnhardt. Classic teams and players are the norm in games like NBA 2K, so it’s unfortunate to not see similar options in NH4.  

Outside of those minor issues, NASCAR Heat 4 is an enjoyable racer that had no trouble making me want to take another lap around the track.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Monster Games and published by 704 Games. It is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the career mode was not completed. About 1 hour of play was spent in local multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Mild Lyrics. Not much to worry about here. Nothing was noticeable in the lyrics and any song can be turned off from the rotation in the options menu.   

Colorblind Modes: There no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Career mode has some dialogue that consists of words from the agent or messages from other drivers. Each is clearly marked with a name and picture of who is speaking. Text size cannot be changed. The spotter, who relays information to the driver during races, is not subtitled. While much of the info the spotter tells you can be seen onscreen (like other car locations) without the subtitles for the spotter NH4 is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. Two controller options are available as well as support for racing wheels.

Brian Theisen
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