Developed by Monster Games and published by 704Games, NASCAR Heat 4 continues a series that started almost twenty years ago. It’s out for PS4, Xbox One and PC – we playtested the Xbox version.
To be fair, Monster Games released NASCAR Heat back in 2000 and didn’t pick up the series again until 2017, after which we’ve seen annual releases. It’s a bit of a niche franchise because NASCAR itself doesn’t have a global appeal, but the Heat series has given Monster its current status as the go-to developer for games of this type – a position once held by Papyrus.
NASCAR Heat 4 is another step forward for the series, yet also a continued evolution rather than something radically new. The updated career mode, for instance, features many familiar elements including the ability to manage your own team across different race leagues, and also brings back dirt racing – a favorite of ours in last year’s game. What’s new in Heat 4 is that you have more freedom to select your favorite race types without being forced into a linear progression, which is nice.
The game features difficulty/assist sliders that resemble something like those in the NBA 2K series with the huge amount of customization you can apply here. There are aspects like damage and tire quality to consider, but a lot of the tweaking is done to the behavior of the AI – which is great if you’ve ever thought “I wish they’d show more of this or less of that”. What Monster’s essentially done is give you the option to make other drivers act more or less aggressive, make them more or less skilled at getting out of near-crashes or give away more or less space on the track.
What this amounts to is a big spectrum of customization that really allows you to make the experience your own. Fancy a more arcade-like experience that is prone to a lot of spectacular crashes? You can play that way. Want to try your hand at a more sim-like approach that takes the wear and tear of tires into account and makes following race lines and pit strategies serious business? That’s possible too.
You can take the game online as well, but the approach feels relatively bare bones here. Obviously you can’t carry all that highly personalized tweaking with you wherever you go online, but features like the ability to do a full race weekend (complete with qualifying) are absent here. There also isn’t a decent matchmaking system in place, so unless you’re fairly competitive without driving aids while offline you’ll find that the online experience might turn into a bummer.
Audiovisually, the game features extra polish both in the menu system and the in-game racing. The environments aren’t terribly exciting to look at (this isn’t the game’s fault of course), but the visuals feel spot on and the sensation of day and nighttime races feels convincing as well. There’s a huge amount of content with close to 40 tracks available to race on, so for fans of the series of NASCAR in general, this is a game well worth playing.