The NASCAR Heat franchise is going through big changes, affecting this year’s game as well as the course of the series’ future. Established developer Monster Games is no longer developing the series; former publisher 704Games is now making the game itself, with new company Motorsport Games taking over as publisher. Motorsport is based in the U.K., and includes former Codemasters veterans among its ranks.
The most immediate change is that the series’ traditional fall release date is being moved up to July. Having a new NASCAR Heat to play given the disruption of the real NASCAR season and its planned resumption in May is welcome, and separates the series from the crowded fall pack. Unfortunately, the other effect of this transition is that NASCAR Heat 5 appears like it focuses more on incremental changes than big, new features.
The major structures of the game return, including its multi-series career mode (dirt, trucks, Xfinity cars, and the cup cars) and split-screen multiplayer (locally and online). These features all benefit from quality-of-life improvements, some of which fans have called out for. DNFs, solo practice sessions without A.I. cars, and reduced pit stop times have been added, along with career stats so you can track your progress each season over the years. Customization in the form of increased paint booth options (such as coloring rims and spoilers) and the ability to create your own schedule of tracks also lets you put your stamp on your experience.
NASCAR Heat 4’s A.I. was improved thanks to customization sliders (for aspects such as tire wear and pack spacing), but it still needed work in areas such as taming its rubberbanding and the lines taken on the track. Creative director Paul Coleman says the team aims to make the A.I. more competitive and consistent from track to track, which could mean a host of things during a race. Which areas end up being changed could go a long way to how the racing feels on the track.
With the behind-the-scenes developer changes and the shortened release schedule, it’s no surprise that the ambitions for NASCAR Heat 5 are not as big as everyone would like. For example, 704Games admits that the series is locked into the current online structure, so the game won’t have additions such as matchmaking or online practice sessions. One new addition, however, is that the game’s competitive esports races will feature more than just the cup cars.
NASCAR Heat 5’s relative stasis is a shame for a franchise that was slowly building momentum from release to release up until this point, but Coleman teased to us some of the areas Motorsport and 704 want to address in future games that could take the series in exciting new exciting new directions. Until then, fans will have to find ways to work inside the proverbial box to find as much speed and grip as possible.