If “rubbing is racing” then I must be the masseuse of the raceway because I managed to trade paint samples with just about all the other drivers in NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition. Did it stay fun? Did my driving improve? And the most important of all: is it worth the money? Let’s take a look.

I’m not the best out there when it comes to driving games. I tend to get used to driving a certain type of car and the certain types of challenges that each type of track and environment bring only to move on to the next track and watch myself make a mess of things all over again. Rinse, repeat. Generally I do best when a race is part of a different game where racing isn’t the main focus like GTA or Saints Row. But I’ll still step up to the challenge of a racing game because as a gamer I am up to just about anything. Except maybe PGA games, my favorite type golf is mini putt.

When NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition’s release date was announced, people wondered if it got moved up due to COVID-19 or because it’s the last edition to use the Unity engine. They may have wanted to get moving onto the next one since it will be on a new engine. Or maybe using the same engine made it so they could lay down the foundation faster and finish the game sooner. Hopefully it didn’t get shorted on new material trying to get the game out faster.

First off I have to mention one of the most popular new features of NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition: the test track mode. It allows you to take your car to any of the tracks and practice running them until you beat a goal and your best lap. It also shows a green arrow running around the track to show the optimal location to run. That was a huge help since I tend to run too high on the course tempting one of the other players to put me in the wall so knowing where I want to be going in and out of turns is essential for a non-racing gamer like me. Rubbing can turn into a visit with the walls from the other racers if you can’t hold your line. The spotter audio makes sure to let you know if you are clear above and below in case you decide to switch lanes and the AI does a terrific job with this part of the game.

If you like Tony Stewart or just covet his pit crew and cars then this is definitely the NASCAR Heat edition you have been waiting for. There are three Tony Stewart paint schemes one of which is the 2011 Office Depot Championship as well as the 2016 Homestead Finale paint job. The Tony Stewart Edition of the game also comes with more paint jobs and a Paint Booth that allows you to make some color and font changes.

Rewards for the NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition include a contract offer from Stewart-Haas in career mode and $1.4 million in-game cash to get a solo career going if you want to. This sounds like a lot especially with how ultra affordable the starting cars and teams are but it doesn’t take long to realize the big boys play with more moolah. I decided to just hot seat for other teams when I first got going. The nice thing about that is you just need to climb in the car and drive. You better drive well because right from the start the game can be a bit unforgiving of newbie play. With the test track and qualifying you should be able to get a decent feel for the cars and tracks you are working at. If you haven’t yet be patient and work on your lines.

I started my season with a bad race, figuring since it was just the first race it shouldn’t be too big of a deal. Boy was I wrong. It felt like I got shunned. The phone didn’t ring when the races came up and it took a few meets to get me back in the seats. When I did you can bet I made sure to run that track a few dozen times before even moving to the qualifying heat. From there I managed to turn the career around but I was certainly tempted with just restarting my Career Mode. Maybe even down to an easier level, dang you pride and your pridefullness! I stuck it out despite temptation.

There are multiple types of tracks and cars to enjoy throughout the game. You drive a far different car on dirt because you have to drift. Your car is then touchy as can be when on hard top tracks that let the cars tires grab and the aerodynamics of drafting come into play. For some reason drifting proved a bit of a challenge for me but as long as the track wasn’t dirt I seemed pretty good on it. Delicate touches on the game controller kept me off the wall and out of the drivers of the other cars’ lanes. That and the spotter audio which was on point and a huge help.

I mentioned a game controller above and that is because the game does not support keyboard and mouse. It lets you know right at the beginning which is nice but it may not be the way some players who pick it up through Steam may have wanted to play it. Not supporting keyboard and mouse may also have been one of the reasons they were able to release it months sooner than the previous editions. Personally I have no real problem with this, I like to have a big TV when working with a controller usually but otherwise I say release the game in it’s best form. If that is sans keyboard and mouse so be it. It also is designed to work with a wheel which really made me wish I had one of those to really feel the need for speed.

The graphics on the game are nice and crisp and just beautiful really making use of the Unity Engine. Personally I really enjoyed being able to change my camera view a few different ways so that if you didn’t want the realism of being inside the car you have a roof view, trailing camera view and more. Seeing it all take place on the Las Vegas Speedway which I have been to and see how much it really looks close to lifelike. I find the nicer the graphics the more I tend to lean into turns and such. People walked in and saw me at a 45 degree angle playing the game as i got more into it. There is the option to play the game with another player using split screen mode which I bet is great on a console and TV. Less comfy on a computer screen unless your system is connected to a TV.

The NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition comes with the Season Pass which will include 4 DLC packs so you know that you will be getting more content for your money and no won’t play through every mode and track in a week, Then you only have online and it’s ever shifting community of players to keep it fresh. You get the online aspect as well which is definitely important to mention since it is the main reason many players will get the game. I love a good career/offline aspect to a game so that if you are in the mood to just be a single player working towards those checkered flags and trophies you can do so. The game has the Quick Start options in case you want to just grab a quick race to satiate your need for speed as well as the afore mentioned career mode that gives you lots of opportunities without dealing with an online community.

This game also has a built in social element to it which can definitely effect your gameplay if you’re not careful. After a race the AI racers comment on your success during the races. If you hit them too much they start to threaten to put you into the wall, if you drive clean they will compliment you on your racing. The game is big and long enough that I haven’t had a chance to try a career where I’m a jerk on and off the track just to see how bad it gets. I’m expecting no one wanting me to race for them so I’ll have to start my own Team Hate and see how bullying on the track gets handled. The AI is really good in general, both driving and social relationships.

I can’t really speak too much on the online racing aspect of the game since I had a hard time getting a game going with other players. A bit more word of mouth, advertisements and of course reviews will no doubt call to the racing folks out there to get their game going. It just makes me that much happier to have career mode to go through and get used to all the different tracks. That way if I can get some games going I won’t find myself driving backwards because I lost control of my drift, hopefully. Career mode has challenges during the races such as finish 12 or higher or spend so many of your straight always and drafting off the car in front of you looking for the big chance to move up right before the finish.

NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition is a fun game for racing fans and general gamers alike. You don’t have to be a big Tony Stewart fan to enjoy the assets you get with his name on them. It’s a good racing game with a great diversity of game modes. You can also get online and test your metal against other player racers which honestly can be better or worse than the AI, you just never know. NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition is challenging but in a good way. It helps show you how to become a better racer and that might not just relate to this game, but racing in games in general. It’s worth my time enough that I plan to go back to playing it after I’m done with this review, got some challenges and a career to work on.

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Dustin "Ripper71" Thomas has been a staff writer with GamingShogun.com for over 10 years and has taken on the role of Editor with a brief stint as Editor-In-Chief. He is also a co-founder of @IsItOctoberYet where he covers haunt nightmares, amusement park fun and Golden Knights hockey.