Anyone who has even a passing interest in “sim” racing games will have inevitably experienced the wrath of sim purists. If you think the PC master race folks are bad, try going into a racing forum and saying “I think Forza Motorsport is a pure sim game.” Then prepare to be dissected by iRacing and rFactor purists.
I myself spend more than enough time on iRacing, but I can also appreciate plopping down on the couch with a controller and a beer and playing Forza Horizon 2 (don’t drink and drive, kids….unless it’s digitally). At times like these, I don’t care that I’m not getting the most authentic racing experience on the market; all I care about is jumping into a Corvette Z06 and ripping through the streets.
Assetto Corsa has been the darling of the sim community for a little while now, providing a nice alternative to the authentic, but rather dry presentation of iRacing, rFactor, etc. It has been hailed as an extremely spot on representation of real world driving physics, and throughout my travels on racing forums, I’ve seen many a purist taking a liking to AC. When AC was announced for consoles, I was excited to try out this authentic racer to see what the hoopla was all about.
For this review, I played the game with both a DS4 controller and my Thrustmaster T300RS racing wheel. One of the benefits to releasing this game to consoles, much to the chagrin of your average sim purist, is the fact that it can be played with a controller via a variety of different assists to make your experience a little less hardcore. Traction control, ABS, racing line, stability control, mechanical damage, you name it, can all be toggled to make the game as hard or easy as you want. Turning every single assist on won’t necessarily make this Mario Kart, but it is a far more forgiving experience than you can imagine. Of course, you can leave all the assists off and turn mechanical damage, tire wear, fuel consumption, etc all on, but that’s probably better suited to those who are using a wheel. Controllers and sim racers don’t really play nice together.
The first thing I noticed was that compared to other console racers like Gran Turismo or Forza (both Motorsport and Horizon), AC just doesn’t have a lot of stuff. There’s a pretty decent selection of tracks with mainstays like the Nurburgring, Monza, Silverstone etc, but there’s only a handful of these. Same with the car selection, there are some pretty cool cars in there like the McLaren P1 and my personal car, a 2015 Mustang GT (DLC), but the overall selection of makes and models is miniscule compared to other games. I believe even Project CARS has a larger selection. Obviously there are more cars coming via DLC (including Porsche), but even with those, you’re still looking at a relatively tiny selection. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but for me personally, I play racing games to try out as many different types of cars as possible.
As far as the gameplay and physics go, I am pretty damn impressed. I may not have driven a McLaren P1 before, but I HAVE driven a Ferrari 458 Italia in a track setting, so I hooked up my trusty wheel, jumped in a 458, and went cruising in Spa. Guys and gals, this game is very realistic. Sure it’s not a 1:1 realism ratio compared to the real thing; nothing really can compare to actually being in a car racing on a track, but this feels VERY authentic. Even more impressive was jumping into a 2015 Mustang GT (my car in real life). The stuff I need to do in real life to not meet my untimely end off a cliffside road is the exact style I need to drive in AC using the same car. Pretty cool if you ask me. Now granted, there’s no fear of dying and no g-forces or body motion when playing AC, but as far as controlling the weight of the car, it’s pretty real. The 2015 Mustang GT is a big, heavy RWD monster, and it handles as such in the game.
Graphically, the game isn’t going to win any awards. That’s not to say that Assetto Corsa looks bad or anything, it’s just that the game was clearly developed to play well, not win beauty awards. It looks fine enough for what it does and let’s be honest, you’re going to be driving at speeds in the triple digits anyway, so it’s not like you’ll have the time to stop and enjoy the scenery. Car models look ok from afar, but zooming in close or to the exteriors or switch camera modes will reveal some pretty ugly jaggies. Luckily, the interiors all look tremendous, and everything is fully functional.
The game provides you with a variety of game modes that should be familiar to anyone who has played a racing game before. You have your career mode, time attacks, practice, drift, etc, none of which are any different than any other racing game. The career mode is especially disappointing. There’s real substance to it; you’re basically just ferried from after race via the different tiers. There’s no presentation at all; just menu, race, menu, race.
AI is pretty bad, though it’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen. For the most part, AI racers will stick to their lines and zoom along with no issues. Contact them at all, and you’ll find yourself slowing down/spinning out while the AI continues about their merry way with no penalty. Speaking of penalties, if you even so much as think about cutting corners or going off track, you will be penalized by your car slowing down. That would be an annoying enough penalty to deal with on its own, but toss in the fact that the AI never seems to be affected, and you have a situation that involves a lot of cursing and controller throwing.
Assetto Corsa should really be approached as a tech demo; a driving simulator as opposed to a racing game. The “game” part of it just isn’t that much fun, with the bland career mode, unexciting AI, and ridiculous penalty system. As a driving simulator though, it is simply fantastic. It’s the sort of thing where you can ask your parents to sit down in front of the wheel, and they will be amazed at how lifelike the feel is. There will be future DLC and I’m sure the game will be patched, but it’s hard to imagine Assetto Corsa eventually becoming “fun.” The game is available on sites like Amazon.com.