The simulation genre on consoles is a rather barren one. More a mainstay of the PC world, they’re quite often lost in translation when making their migration. Once in a while, however, one makes the transmission seamlessly and earlier this year DiRT Rally did just that. The question, then, is whether or not Assetto Corsa from Kunos Simulazioni can pull a similar trick and the answer isn’t quite as straightforward as it may seem.
First and foremost a racing sim should be known for its handling model and physics. If this aspect of the game is broken, then everything else falls. In this respect then our opinion is that Assetto Corsa has the best physics and handling available to console racers. Each car available on the roster is markedly different from each other and more importantly there’s a different sort of weight to each one. Of course cars in other sims like Project Cars do handle differently but lack the weight and feel that we got in Assetto Corsa. Much like DiRT Rally you have to take account for weight transference and as such the downhill braking zone into turn one at the Nürburgring GP circuit is a different beast when compared to the same turn in Forza Motorsport 6. In the latter it’s just a case of braking at the right point and turning in, in Assetto Corsa however the smallest twitch under braking can unsettle the car something chronic.
To console racers this can come across as a game that’s too difficult to play on a pad and limits the game only to those who splash out for a wheel. This is partially true. Start the game with no assists and throw yourself into the cover car (the Ferrari FXX-K) then it’s likely you’ll spend most of your time off the track rather than on it. Turn assists to on or the rather neat setting of ‘factory’ (which sets the car to how it would be if you were to own one) then all of a sudden the car can be tamed, times can be set and unlike the launch of Project Cars you have a game you can play on a pad at launch. It’s not perfect and very much like any sim requires you to learn how to drive in a manner befitting actual racing.
Presentation is a bit of a mixed bag with the menus on the simple side but effective none the less. Out on the track things are pretty good with all tracks laser-scanned making sure every bump and undulation is captured. In play this means that corners such as the carousel at Nürburgring’s Nordschleife is as uncompromising digitally as it is in real life. Coupled with the game’s physics it really does require you to understand and anticipate just how the car is going to react not only under braking but whilst turning in and powering through the corners. If you give the game and its physics time your digital driving will likely improve as you start to understand and appreciate how everything fits together.
It must be noted that we did notice some tearing when using the chase camera but in the in-car view things were much better. This isn’t the chase camera’s only problem as since the camera is fixed the car pivots on its front axis which makes for a sort of swaying sensation which made us feel a little bit odd. Further graphical woes also included frequent frame rate drops when racing with multiple cars. With less than ten cars on track it was only occasional but as the number of racers increased or we moved to online this became far more noticeable. It even occurred when just running laps of circuits all by ourselves so it seems there are some deep-rooted issues with the graphical engine on console. Audibly the game is pretty good. The game’s accompanying music gave us fond memories of the old Out Run soundtrack. It’s very rock guitar-focussed but is pretty cool nonetheless. The cars themselves sound fantastic when using any cockpit view but are hit and miss when using what seems to be Assetto Corsa’s Achilles heel: the chase camera.
It’s a shame then to say this is pretty much all Assetto Corsa has going for it. Once you set foot outside of hot-lapping things start to fall apart. Ranging from the odd to the downright strange it made us question their commitment to its console debut. So let’s start with the career mode which can only be described as a slog. One could argue the method here is to help you develop by starting you off in slower formulae however this approach is hindered by a top three-only approach. In Assetto Corsa there’s no incentive to carry on racing if you have an early off. The AI drivers are, even on easy, a handful if you fall behind the pack so it’s pot luck as to whether you catch up the lead drivers. It doesn’t help that you start all races from the back of the grid as we often witnessed the pole car streak off into an insurmountable lead. Since you need top three finishes to gain medals and progress to the next tier it makes the single-player career a rather unappealing prospect.
There is more to it than the career mode however as the ‘Special Events’ section is a curated list of challenges using similar modes as you would find in the career: drift, time trials and hot laps. These can be done in any order however it’s worth noting that, with just the base game installed, some require DLC for you to take part. If we’d already had an expansion for Assetto Corsa the appearance of a DLC-only challenge wouldn’t be too much of a surprise. To see one from the off, however, is somewhat of an insult to the consumer. These challenges also suffer from the steep difficulty found in Career mode with some requiring us to knock over four seconds off our fastest times. Like the uninspiring career mode, it seems Assetto Corsa is determined to alienate all but the most highly skilled of drivers. Sure the driving force behind the game is that it is a simulator before anything else but there has to be some middle ground to help bring in new fans to the genre for it prosper with the console generation.
Online things don’t improve much. There are curated races to enter each a mix of racing or drift sessions. The former include practice, qualifying and race sections which allow you to set your own starting position as opposed to lap times from previous races a la Forza. Oddly, as in single-player, when you finish the race whether in first or in last there is no fanfare and no recognition of this fact. Instead you’re instantly transported to your pit-box where you wait for all other racers to finish. From here you just wait for either the lobby to reset and the sessions restart again or you quit out back to the main screen to select another lobby. It’s a little messy and confusing but then again getting enough players in a lobby in the first place will be an achievement in and of itself. The maximum number of cars on the grid we’ve experienced so far was four and two of them quit halfway around.
Assetto Corsa was hotly anticipated when it was announced that it was going to taking a bow on consoles. Those who enjoy hardcore racing simulations marked the calendar and counted down to its launch. However, post launch it’s been a huge and frustrating disappointment. Like Project Cars before it, it arrives broken as well as feeling half-built with glaring omissions like online leaderboards only adding to this impression. The small car and track count could be surmounted if the rest of the game was a shining beacon of racing, however it isn’t. Instead this just adds to the overall disappointment of a game which on PC is touted as one of the best driving games on offer. Glimpses of this can been seen when racing against yourself but the rest of the problems do little to make a case for you to purchase it. Time will tell if it will succeed on consoles and one would hope patches are forthcoming to fix the framerate issues. However, as it is, Assetto Corsa pales in comparison to other available racing games and sims on offer.