Review – NASCAR Heat 5

Growing up in Brazil, the homeland of Senna, Fittipaldi, Piquet, and Barrichello, I was exposed to lots of different motorsport categories. Back in my childhood, watching Formula 1 races on Sunday mornings was almost a mandatory, quasi-religious experience. I also grew up loving the GT3 and Le Mans Prototype categories. However, I can’t say the same about American racing categories like NASCAR.

We knew it existed, but it wasn’t aired on any TV channel here. To top things off, there was always this stigma of NASCAR not being considered a proper racing category like the rest. This was mainly due to its abundance of oval “speedways” instead of tightly designed racetracks, full of difficult corners meant to test all of the pilot’s abilities. Nevertheless, I still wanted to know more about NASCAR and the reasons why it got so famous. I was eager to play NASCAR Heat 5 and see what the fuss was all about. I didn’t expect much from it, yet I was positively affected with the experience.

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Driving in this Daytona track just makes me angry at the fact Sega doesn’t make Daytona USA games anymore.

I was impressed with NASCAR Heat 5, but definitely not at first. Just like with any racing game I tackle, the first thing I do is partake in a few quick races in order to get used to the gameplay. By doing so, I could notice how underwhelming the game’s performance is.

Whenever your doing a qualifying lap and you’re the only car on the track, the unlocked framerate is decent enough. It almost manages to reach 60fps, depending on the amount of assets surrounding the stadium, as well as whether the camera is facing towards the crowd or not. When the actual race begins and there are 32 cars on the track, the framerate goes down the drain, ranging from a very rare 60fps to the mid-teens. I have no idea why the developers decided to keep the framerate unlocked, as this completely ruined whatever sensation of speed it was trying to provide. It’s not even a visually demanding game. Sure, the cars and tracks look nice, but they aren’t exactly breathtaking either. Maybe that has something to do with the Unity engine? I don’t have any definitive answers for you on that.

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The fact that these cars only have four gears triggers me.

Even though the framerate is absolutely disappointing, I still liked NASCAR Heat 5 a lot. The reason isn’t its multiplayer interface, which is functional, but not groundbreaking for anyone who has ever played a racing game in their life. Nor is it the car customization mode, which is indeed nice, but janky as hell. What really makes NASCAR Heat 5 a really good racing game in its own right is its career mode.

In true “started from the bottom, now we here” fashion, NASCAR Heat 5‘s career mode lets you create a rookie pilot who has to undergo a series of beginners and semi-pro categories before being able to drive a proper NASCAR car in the category’s main series. You start off with a two-gear dirt track car, which is admittedly a pain to deal with, then moving on to NASCAR trucks, underpowered cars, and then the main NASCAR category. You can also start on any other category from the get-go, but being able to see your driver rise through the ranks is way more rewarding and entertaining.

After creating your driver with a very Sims-esque character creator, you won’t actually have a full contract with a motorsport team. Instead, you’ll be forced to prove your worth with “hot seats”, which are one-off opportunities, in order to impress teams for the following season. After signing a contract for a dirt track team, you can still accept one-offs for higher categories, and so on. If you earn enough money, you can even ditch the whole concept of trying to work for a team and create your own. That adds an extra layer of financial management to the mix, and while this can sound like way too much for a career mode, it still works, mainly due to the fact that the races themselves don’t waste your time.

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Dirt track racing is really annoying, but hey, you gotta start from the bottom.

Each race is comprised of three stages. You can first train as much as you want in the free practice round, all while trying to beat an optional time trial goal set by your sponsor. The second stage is comprised of the qualifying lap. Finally, there’s the actual race. Between all three stages, if you don’t spend too much time on the practice round, an entire race will only take about five to six minutes from beginning to end, if you go with the default length suggested by the game.

That makes NASCAR Heat 5‘s gameplay loop fast and nonsense-free. You’ll always be in a new location, even if it’s most likely an oval. You’ll always have the opportunity to switch between categories during hot seat offers. There will always be new interactions with other pilots, creating friends and rivals that impact your overall reputation. This game’s framerate might not be fast, but its career mode sure knows how to make up for it.

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YEEHAW!

Yes, the vast majority of the racetracks in NASCAR Heat 5 are comprised of ovals and you’ll barely have to do anything else other than slightly turning the analog stick to the left. Yes, the framerate is stupidly janky, killing whatever sensation of speed the game was trying to offer to players. Still, I had way more fun with this game than I could have ever expected. It aims to please a specific niche of racing fans and succeeds, mostly due to its unbelievably deep and addictive career mode. It offers a lot of tracks, different categories, customizable physics, licensed racers, and options on how to tackle your custom pilot’s career. It’s hard to recommend NASCAR Heat 5 over more technically advanced games like Forza Horizon 4, Assetto Corsa, or any F1 title released over the past few years, but this is still pretty good in its own right.

 

Graphics: 6.5

The tracks and cars don’t look bad, although certainly not breathtaking either, but the game suffers from an atrocious framerate that kills whatever sensation of speed it was trying to provide to players.

Gameplay: 7.0

Turns out that there’s more to NASCAR than just slightly turning left. The controls are customizable to all kinds of playing styles, but they are occasionally a bit stiff, and there’s also the aforementioned issue with the janky framerate.

Sound: 8.0

During races, all you’re going to hear is loud engine noises and the occasional radio chat. Whenever you’re not racing, you’re greeted to an assortment of country, rock, and hard rock tunes that are decent for the most part.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Despite the technical hindrances, annoying framerate, and the overall limitations imposed by the category’s track design of choice, I can’t deny that I had a lot of fun with NASCAR Heat 5‘s immersive career mode. It’s one of the best I’ve played in a racing simulator in years.

Final Verdict: 7.5

NASCAR Heat 5 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of NASCAR Heat 5 was provided by the publisher.