There’s no shortage of racing games available to those who want them. The gaming industry has pumped out incredible titles over the last few decades and games are constantly evolving to meet the ever changing demands of bedroom racers. There’s a good racing game available on nearly every platform that can fulfill the needs of every kind of player, from the “I just want to have fun” gamers to the “I turn the house heat all the way up to simulate actual cockpit temperatures during a race” enthusiasts.
Guess which kind of player I am?
The kinds of racing games I’ve come to appreciate the most are the ones that strive to be as accurate and immersive as the real thing without any unnecessary fluff thrown in. In a world where games are expected to do everything well, I put a premium on games that do fewer things perfectly.
That’s why I’m excited to finally give Kunos Simulazioni’s Assetto Corsa for PC a full review on Hooniverse. I’ve been playing it for eight months now so it’s not necessarily a new game, but even among all of the newer offerings of 2015, it’s a wonderful racing simulator that does fewer things, damn near perfectly.
Assetto Corsa is the main project for Kunos Simulazioni, an Italian software development studio in business since 2005 and headquartered at the Vallelugna circuit. Assetto Corsa first arrived to Steam Early Access in 2013 and as its final version late 2014, but calling that it’s final version isn’t technically true. The Kunos team, which is no more than two dozen strong (if that), have been laboring over their baby to try to make it as accurate and complete as possible amidst all of its stiff competition.
This review comes a week after they released a substantial update along with a five car bonus pack and the phenomenal Zandvoort circuit, all for free. Just the excuse for a [technically late] review I needed.
Assetto Corsa – “Your Racing Simulator”
Now on to the game itself. Assetto Corsa is currently a PC-exclusive racing simulator, but Kunos have announced a PlayStation 4 and XBOX One edition are coming in 2016. Even as a PC exclusive, Assetto Corsa has been a very successful game for Kunos due in equal parts to their attention to detail and their devotion to creating the most accurate virtual racing experience possible.
But before I go deeper into what Assetto Corsa does damn near perfectly, I’m going to start off with what it doesn’t do, just to set expectations.
It doesn’t have a Gran Turismo-sized catalog of cars to pick from. It doesn’t have car customization like Forza. It doesn’t have the same big list of tracks that other games have. It doesn’t have awe-inspiring visuals that get bragged about in the media to hype up an unfinished game *cough* Project CARS *cough*. It’s not a game where you spend an entire single-player career aimlessly sampling a huge spectrum of cars like you can in Forza or Gran Turismo, forcing you to get acclimated to an Audi R18 LMP1 car after hopping out of a Camaro. There’s none of that here. The racing here is much more focused on fewer cars thus forcing you to get good with what’s available. Most of the cars are GT racers and their road car counterparts along with a few open-wheel, Group C, and touring cars.
So even though it has considerably less content than most of its competition, it takes what it has and offers some accurate, challenging, and dare I say realistic racing that’s satisfying as hell. It’s a demanding racing simulator that doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
The Accuracy of Assetto Corsa
Accuracy has practically become this game’s trademark. The car physics, the sounds, and the tracks are modeled in with great detail, and at the foundation of all that is an astoundingly good physics engine making it all possible. With it they’ve been able to make individual tire models on a car-per-car basis, full aerodynamic models that feature accurate active aero elements controlled by real-time telemetry, and functional hybrid/kinetic energy recovery systems.
Another thing they absolutely nailed in terms of accuracy is the sounds. All of the race car sounds you’d expect to hear are a part of the game’s awesome soundtrack. The engine sounds in particular may not sound as “beefy” and “raw” as I described them to be in Project CARS, but they sound much more accurate in Assetto Corsa. Scarily accurate in some cases.
Image source: AssettoCorsa.net
Then there’s the matter of their track models. Every track in their catalog – with the exception of only a few – is laser scanned. That includes Spa Francorchamps, Imola, Silverstone, Vallelugna, Monza (current), the Nürburgring GP course, and more. They’ve even included a laser-scanned Nordschleife.
For those unfamiliar with the term, having a laser-scanned track means every femtometer of the track model you drive on in the game is exactly as it is in real life. The track width, corners, bumps, camber, rumble strips, and surface feel all make it to your finger tips with an unbelievably high degree of accuracy. Now imagine tackling the Nordschleife like that.
Still not sold on laser scanned tracks? Here, have a story…
An experience I had a few months back helps to demonstrate how wonderful the track models really are. I was trying to relearn the Silverstone course one night in a Ferrari 458 GT2. Towards the end of my first hot lap, my car absorbed a really awkward bump in the middle of a sweeping right-hander… by “absorbed” I mean it didn’t absorb any of it at all. The bump was enough to quickly upset the balance of the car and I spun around clockwise off the track. Cool story, right?
Well, the World Endurance Challenge happened to be at Silverstone for a six hour race that following weekend. One clip from the highlights reel caught my attention. It was a clip of a Ferrari 458 GT2 spinning around clockwise in the middle of a sweeping right after hitting a really awkward bump mid corner. Sound familiar?
Same car, same track, and the same insufferable bastard of a bump. That’s the kind of accurate experience that laser-scanned tracks can bring.
Driving in Assetto Corsa
The matter of driving in Assetto Corsa is another thing Kunos have excelled at. With the foundation their physics engine provides and all the details modeled in with it, the simple idea of driving a car fast around some corners becomes an art form. All of the cars react in ways that you’d more or less expect and nothing seems over exaggerated. In short, they drive really well.
The cars react to all your inputs with varying levels of precision based on real life factors such as the car’s role-based tuning (street vs. track), its age, and the engineering behind it. Each car is a learning experience but you’ll quickly pick up on each car’s distinct characteristics and nuances. Drive a certain car long enough and you’ll truly feel like you’ve “learned” the car and can predict how it’ll react to everything you throw at it. If you don’t like how it handles a certain part of the track, take advantage of the great tuning options available and make it work.
You are truly one with the car in Assetto Corsa and it’s beautiful. When you can finally drive at ten/tenths around any track in your favorite car without making mistakes, you’ll never want to stop.
At this point I’ll also add that you need a steering wheel to truly enjoy the driving experience Assetto Corsa offers. The force feedback adds to the wonderful driving characteristics of each car because it actually feels different for each car. The car’s weight, its aerodynamics, and even the suspension setup have an affect what you feel coming through the wheel.
The best view in Assetto Corsa is the driver’s seat, which for every car includes a well detailed cockpit with functional gauges and displays. The interior of every car is modeled exceptionally well, even in places where you wouldn’t normally look. And to make sure you’re looking exactly where you want to, you’re given the ability to adjust your virtual seat within the cockpit as well as your field of view. The seat can be moved forward, backward, side to side, and can tilt. More games need this, but at least it isn’t the only one.
On top of that, you’re given a dozen or so in-game app overlays to display all the information you could ever want. You can use as many of those apps as you want or remove them completely with a single click. For the ones you do use, you have full control over where they sit on your screen…. for better or worse.
Racing in Assetto Corsa
Given the game’s accuracy and its driving dynamics, the racing here is above and beyond.
The online racing infrastructure is solid and there are plenty of good racers to come across. Even the offline AI racers are good enough to keep you busy. Their ability can be adjusted on a percentage scale so they can be either slow enough to walk away from or fast enough to never see again. They race fairly respectably now too (as if they actually know when you’re close to them) and will still make common mistakes even if their skill is turned all the way up. The AI aren’t as passive as they are in some other games in that they’ll actually fight for position and will make moves on you given the chance. They’ll fill up your mirrors and they won’t back off.
Customizing Assetto Corsa
As great of a racing simulator Assetto Corsa is, there’s no denying that it still lacks a lot of content in the form of cars and tracks. Fortunately for the PC gamer, modding is a thing. Even more fortunately for Assetto Corsa fans, Kunos fully embrace modding.
Because most people were going to just mod the game anyway, Kunos have allowed people to take advantage of the same editing tools used by their own developers to create pretty much whatever they want. There are hundreds of cars and tracks, thousands of liveries, dozens of in-game apps, and more that I haven’t even found yet. Some mods are better than others, but there is a ton of content out there for this game that can keep it interesting. And if you don’t like what’s already out there, just make it!
So if you want to race a city bus wearing a livery you created yourself on Rainbow Road, Assetto Corsa is your game. (That actually exists, by the way).
The Good vs. What Still Needs Work
So as you can tell by everything written above, Assetto Corsa has their physics engine, track models, and overall driving experience absolutely nailed. Those strengths alone make this a title worth picking up, but it wouldn’t be a fair review if I didn’t go into what its weaknesses were.
I mentioned it earlier, but the content in this game could still be better. I don’t mean adding a rim shop or some useless game mode, but rather the car and mostly the track selection. They’re always adding content but the stock track selection can get old pretty quickly. Supported mods are a thing though, so that helps.
Another welcomed improvement would be to the visuals. When you’re seated in your virtual cockpit and hauling ass down a track, the game looks great. You won’t notice the low-res track boundaries or the jagged edges, but when you’re stopped and in 3rd person, you will. So the solution would be to just drive faster, then. (And as it always is with PC gaming, my graphical experience will be different than yours).
As for the driving, I can’t think of anything that needs to be improved.
Image source: AssettoCorsa.net
What Assetto Corsa does damn nearly perfectly is everything a racing simulator should do damn near perfectly. There’s no fluff to get in the way of the racing or distract you from your goal of becoming the fastest byte on the track. It doesn’t have very much content but what it does have is all very well done. The Kunos development team is much smaller than most of the teams they go up against but they’ve still built a phenomenal game worthy of respect, or at the very least, your time.
Using my advanced scientific scoring system, I give Assetto Corsa a rating of 9.6 Ladas out of 10. The accuracy of the car physics and track models, the telepathic connection you have with your digital cars, and the kind of racing it facilitates are all among the best you can find on the vidya game market. You’ll forgive it for its shortfalls when you start driving. For $50, it’s worth forgetting about work tomorrow morning because you’re too busy racing.
[Image sources: all taken in game and from AssettoCorsa.net … except for the Ladas]