For a long time, having a true racing simulator on the PC meant spending quite a bit of money on subscription-based games like iRacing. However, those days are over. Despite still being in early access, Assetto Corsa is groundbreaking and sets a new benchmark for racing games on the PC.
Assetto Corsa’s physics model is explemplary and doesn’t compromise its authenticity and realism to make the experience more accessible. You can’t go into the game expecting cars to handle in a similar fashion to Forza or Gran Turismo which have far too much traction and keep the vehicle planted onto a circuit’s racing line. The cars are a handful to manoeuvre and require you to find the absolute limit of performance by completing hundreds of time laps. Throttle control and smooth acceleration is vital when exiting corners or you will veer offline. If you become too ambitious and try to apply the gas with an aggressive style, it will end in tears and massively slow you down. The best course of action is to brake early into the corner and progressively accelerate whilst trying to eliminate wheelspin.
You also have to be proficient at hitting your braking points and with a level of precision rarely seen in other racing games. Overshooting your marker will cause the car’s brakes to lock up and propel you forward onto the grass. The brakes are incredibly sensitive which makes the car twitch if suddenly reduce speed. Finding a brief millisecond gap between easing off the throttle and launching the brake pedal is a cogent tactic. The braking zones are built on realism and require you to decelerate during the early phases of a corner. This could initially frustrate players who are used to simcade racers with more lenient braking points.
There is an exhilarating sense of speed which keeps the adrenaline pumping lap after lap. You can almost feel the g-force under heavy braking as your car shimmies from left to right. Mastering a corner’s apex and exit points is remarkably satisfying and encourages you to hone your skills to find a few extra tenths and perform the perfect lap. The roaring engine noise under acceleration and quick gear changes add a sense of tension because you never feel in control trying to tame a dangerous supercar. The scenery flashes by in 750 BHP behemoths such as the Pagani Zonda R and heightens your immersion through fast paced action.
Maintaining a level headed and consistent driving style is paramount to your success as an over exuberant strategy will make you finish in the lower tier positions. You must keep the car balanced and steer in a progressive and efficient manner. Approaching the corner with a haphazard approach and recklessly turning the steering wheel to its full axis in one swift movement causes you to slide uncontrollably. The steering is never fixed as you have to constantly deal with oversteer and understeer and apply opposite lock to counteract the car’s instability. This means the player has to be fairly skilled at reacting to a vehicle’s poor balance and adjusting their style depending on the camber and layout of a particular circuit.
Assetto Corsa features a plethora of iconic cars from various eras and is a love letter to passionate motorsport fans. For example, one moment you can be driving the gorgeous Lotus 49 which debuted in the 1967 F1 season and then suddenly careering around a circuit in the Ferrari F40. The majority of racing games fail to make enough of a differentiation between vehicles which have varying levels of mechanical grip and weight distribution. In Assetto Corsa, the cars feel individual and react with a personality unlike any other vehicle in the game. For instance, the open wheeled Formula Abarth is light and aerodynamic with brakes that rapidly reduce your car’s speed within a few metres of the oncoming corner. The braking point is quite late which gives you the confidence and knowledge that you won’t suddenly end up in the gravel trap. Other vehicles like the Mclaren MP4-12C GT3 have a more unequal weight distribution and require you to brake a lot earlier. The developer, Kunos Simulazioni, have done an impeccable job in creating a unique physics model which applies differently to each car.
The AI is aggressive, intelligent and stringently sticks to their racing line. They pose a challenge even on the lower difficulty settings and consistently achieves impressive delta times to test your ability to maintain a constant pace. Your opposition will never accept the status quo and try to lunge down the inside and overtake you. The AI also makes daring moves against other computer controlled vehicles and this makes the racing frenetic and less synthetic than other games in the genre. Your opponents can outbreak themselves or run wide trying to get past off the racing line. Their defensive skills are very impressive as they often predict if you will pass down the inside or outside line and block this possible route. When you are driving, there’s a sense of pressure being applied as you know the AI isn’t passive and will make a bold move to overtake you and progress through the field. You get the impression that the AI is coded to win the race instead of focussing their efforts on defeating the human player.
The challenging AI is compounded by an unfair starting system if you decide to use automatic gears. When the red lights go out and you launch from your starting position, there will be delay in the getaway which means you can often be 4 seconds behind the leader within 1 lap. I attempted to use 0 revs, full revs and even half revs and none of these made a difference in grip levels from the start. The AI always has a perfect launch and this is quite unrealistic and frustrating at times. I hope Kunos Simulazioni can vary your opposition’s ability to make good starts and even perform false starts with less-experienced drivers.
Another bizarre problem the game currently has involves the driver’s hands which respond in an extreme manner. When you use the cockpit view and turn the wheel slightly, the driver will swing his hands all over the place and this can be distracting. Furthermore, during S bends, the hands move from left to right in a jerky manner and sometimes obscures the screen. Thankfully, you can turn the hands off but I would like to see this issue fixed and have a more gradual turning motion with the onboard driver.
Assetto Corsa implements a strong system that penalizes players who attempt to cheat through illegal shortcuts. If you cut a chicane or go onto the grass, your speed will be automatically reduced for 5 seconds. After this penalty has been served, you can start to use your car’s full horsepower and try to regain the loss time. As a result, it is imperative not to overdrive or test the limits of the circuit because it will cost you more time in the end than sensible, efficient driving. The automated penalty system should improve your driving abilities and make the racing more about skill than exploiting possible vulnerabilities in the track layout.
There are a number of game modes to sink your teeth into including Drift, Time Attack, Hotlap, Drag, traditional Races and Special Events. The Drift competitions require you to collect points through skillful drifts within a short space of time. I personally detest this mode because it feels gimmicky and doesn’t revolve around raw speed and the ability to perform perfect laps. However, this is a subjective opinion and may be down to my lack of enjoyment for drift racing in general.
Time Attack events are based on a checkpoint system and you gain points for every checkpoint you manage to reach. You only have a short starting time, so it is vital to avoid mistakes and take advantage of every second you have. The game ends when you run out of time and then your total score will be determined by the number of checkpoints and laps you managed to finish. This mode is majestic and possibly my favourite throughout Assetto Corsa.
Hotlap contests are simply about setting the best time you can over an infinite amount of laps. This is a great starting point to learn the physics engine and how the cars react to your driving style. Drag events are one-on-one battles to see who can get the better launch and reaction times to reach the finish first. Usually, these are a best of 3 or 5 affair and over fairly quickly. However, the delay between launching your car and its initial acceleration phase plague this mode and make it nigh on impossible to win these contests.
There are a host of traditional races to compete in and you can select either a quick race or full weekend. The quick races are a short format over 2-10 laps and you select the qualifying positions manually. Full weekends are long races with timed sessions to determine the final grid order. In this particular mode, you can adjust the AI % skill level and other attributes such as Weather, Ambient Temperature, Tyre Wear rate and Mechanical Damage. The Special Events are thematic challenges with set goals which vary in difficulty. These can be to win races, beat a target lap time, defeat an opponent in drag contests and other intriguing competitions. For example, one challenge asks you to please the Tifosi and set a stunning lap time in a Ferrari at Monza. Assetto Corsa does a fantastic job in giving the player a wide range of options to keep the gameplay fresh and varied.
Kunos Simulazioni recently added a Multiplayer aspect but this is still in an Alpha stage and needs a lot of work to be fully functional. You have to use a rudimentary server browser and scroll through hosts to find a suitable server near your location. However, a lot of these matches are password protected and you cannot join private contests. There are very few public race events at this time which discourages the community to play online. The UI is fairly confusing and lacks clarity. I tried to click on the join button on numerous occasions, but the server wouldn’t respond. I am theorizing that you can’t join mid-race and have to wait for a new open slot to arrive.
If all this seems a bit daunting, there is some respite in the form of customizable driving aids to help less experienced players. These options make the cars feel less reactionary and you can predict their movement with a greater degree of confidence. The assists in general are splendid and slowly encourage you to disable them as you become more proficient. Also, the aids don’t turn the game into an easy mode or dramatically alter the handling; they just give you a small push in the right direction. The only real downside is the Ideal Racing Line which is laughably inaccurate and never tells you when to brake at the right time. On certain circuits like Imola, the guide suggests that you brake at least 3 seconds before you actually should. This is off putting and needs to be rectified.
From a technical perspective, Assetto Corsa is magnificent with its stunning texture quality and foliage detail. The cars are beautifully recreated and you have to pinch yourself that you’re not watching a youtube video of an actual race. The audio is also sublime and you can almost feel the gear changes and rampant acceleration. The game features a proficient options menu containing settings. There are a lot of customizable options within the menu to get the game running at 60fps on a wide range of different spec machines. However, there is possible too many settings and this may confuse people looking to find out what might be causing stuttering or frame rate drops.
I attempted to play the game completely maxed out at 2560×1440 with an i7 4770k and R9 290 but the framerate ended up around an unacceptable 25FPS. This was disappointing considering my PC is top of the range and I would have expected better performance levels. On the other hand, this is an early access game optimization should be improved over time. In my experience, I found the main culprit to be AF 16x. I would strongly recommend that you turn it down to 8x or 4x even if you have a powerful rig. After turning a few settings down, I managed to attain a stable 60fps without any problems. The game also features separate volume sliders and a windowed mode which is always a welcome addition.
To get the most out of Assetto Corsa, you need to purchase a premium grade steering wheel like the Logitech G27. The experience with a quality steering wheel is unbelievable and gives that feedback you need to properly dominate a circuit with an adept touch. The controller is perfectly playable but I found it difficult to accelerate out of corners without the rear wheels spinning and losing traction. The triggers on most joypads don’t cope very well with small, light presses.and think you want to press the trigger down all the way.
A good alternative is the Thrustmaster GPX Lightback which has a greater degree of sensitivity in its triggers. Another major problem with the controller is that you cannot pause the game or navigate the menus using this control method. You must press ESC to pause and move around various options with the mouse. This is fairly diabolical if you are playing on a large screen TV using a wireless controller. The keyboard controls are frankly unusable due to their non-progressive nature.
As a bonus, there is a virtual showroom that displays every minute detail from the brake discs to a steering wheel’s leather stitching. This allows you to admire the beauty of each car and soak up its special aura. The level of detail is astounding and it can be memorizing to explore each vehicle and move around the interior. This addition is a showcase for the developer’s talents in recreating lifelike models of cars we all know and love.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Assetto Corsa is without question the best simulation racing game produced over the last 10 years on PC. The physics engine is up there with iRacing and SimBin while creating an enthralling rollercoaster ride that never gets old. Very few games are made which trounce the competition and set a new standard for a longstanding genre, but Assetto Corsa has managed to do just that. Kunos Simulazioni have consistently added patches, fixes and features since its release late last year. Indeed, $39.99 is a huge amount for an Early Access title, but if you are a racing fan, it is a solid investment.
- Time Played – 34 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- Resolution Played – 2560×1440
- Windowed Mode – Yes
- DRM – Steamworks
- System Specs – Intel i7 4770k, 16GB RAM, Sapphire 290 4GB OC
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Steam
- Demo – No
- Save Game Location – %USERPROFILE%\Documents\Assetto Corsa
- Bugs/Crashes encountered – Low FPS with 16x AF
- Control Scheme – Keyboard, Controller, Steering Wheel
- Version Reviewed – 0.15.2