Summertime is here and so is NASCAR Heat 5. Given the lack of “real” sports available for fans to watch and get excited over these days, at least that’s something. I’ve covered the series over the years, on and off, with Heat 4 setting a respectably high mark for the sport. With Heat 5 there are plenty of changes both under the hood and cosmetically, the main being 704Games is now the sole developer and publishing handled by Motorsport Games, a newer racing-centric outfit populated with former employees from Codemasters.
For the most part, Heat 5 is incrementally better than its predecessors in most ways, with all the necessary tweaks and upgrades to keep fans happy. The visuals are incredibly polished, the sound design super realistic, and the overall presentation looks like an actual broadcast event. We expect these iterative improvements from our modern sport titles and NASCAR is no exception, and driving enthusiasts tired of Gran Turismo Sport or Forza 7 can easily burn some rubber without much hassle.
Gameplay improvements largely center on more realistic and challenging AI competitors that heavily rely on rubberband physics, streamlining of pit stop sessions, and the long-awaited addition of DNF (Did Not Finish) penalties for participants unable to complete a race properly. Driving dynamics are further dialed in and escape the typical arcade-feel that often plague simulation-style racers. On that, hardcore fans will definitely want to invest in a dedicated driving wheel setup (such as the Logitech G29 or Thrustmaster T80) as a standard gamepad just won’t cut it.
Customization also gets a nice bump in quality that includes color options to rims and spoilers in paint booth options with a stunning attention to detail. Offline modes are also carried over so returning fans can expect career mainstays like cup cars, NASCAR truck series, dirt, and the Xfinity stock series. All of which play great as you tear through a nice selection of available tracks. There really isn’t much to gloss over since the career feels generally the same as last year, which is a little disappointing for those who’ve invested a lot of personal time into Heat 4.
Speaking of which, the online play is where 704Games should’ve spent more time fixing bugs. While localized split-screen multiplayer is present and appreciated, there are several glitches that hamper the experience to the point of frustration. Netcoding can be pretty darn choppy at times with frustrating lag one moment and awkward graphical effects the next. What makes this even more disappointing is the network infrastructure is supposed to be directly pulled from Heat 4.
That’s not to say you can’t have fun when everything is running as intended, and with up to 40 people able to race online things can get very hectic very quickly. But these unsullied moments were few and far between. I even held off publishing this review until the game was available, hoping that 704Games would address some of the most unfortunate matchmaking issues. Sadly, these remain at the time of this publication so your results will vary. Did I mention this game is intended to be the kickoff title for NASCAR’s eSports brand?
NASCAR Heat 5 generally continues where its predecessor left off, with solid gameplay and minor improvements centered on the offline experience that’s perfectly serviceable, if not a little familiar. The visuals and career modes, though great, are basically the same, as are most of the available modes and player options. Not so great, sadly, is an online experience that’s somehow worse than worse, despite 704Games investments into the eSports arena. I’m hoping these issues can be patched away in a future update, but I guess I was expecting a little more from this otherwise satisfactory sequel.