Driving simulators have always been for the hardcore audience, as this generally happens on PC. While franchises like Polyphony’s Gran Turismo and Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport have claimed to be simulators, they have not completely been a “true” simulator in the sense. With the release of those franchises on consoles, they still had to appeal to a general audience and the use of controllers. Some franchises (and fans) demand much more. There are games that actual drivers use, and they have always come from the PC market. Project Cars and Assetto Corsa come to mind as the current top driving simulators on PC. Assetto Corsa finally joins the console market on August 30th in North America, and we are here to provide our impressions on this true driving simulator.
Bandai Namco broke the mold of porting a PC racing simulator over to consoles with an amazing release of Project Cars on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game initially released on PC, but the port and transition were flawless in execution. However, fans of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport quickly hopped off the bandwagon due to its difficulty. With Assetto Corsa, publisher 505 Games and Italian developer Kumos Simulazioni seek to get better results from the console market than Project Cars did. However, more so than that, they want to provide the ultimate technical experience on consoles, and on paper, it has been accomplished.
Assetto Corsa features manufacturers such as Ferrari, Ford, Chevrolet, and BMW. It has tracks such as Spa-Francorchamps, Monza, and the Nordschleife. It’s got the eye-grabbing names to catch your attention, but the depth beyond that is missing in terms of cars and tracks. Ferrari and BMW have an abundance of vehicles, but some others may have one or two. There are other real-life tracks and variations, but a good bit you have not heard of. This could be due to a limited budget in comparison to the likes of Project Cars and Gran Turismo. One huge plus to the game is that it includes some classic Formula One cars, and more importantly, the full 1966 Monza race track with the banked corners. I do not believe that has ever been in a racing game besides maybe Grand Prix Legends on PC. If you are a racing aficionado, you will truly appreciate this. The classic F1 cars include Niki Lauda’s Ferrari, Jim Clark’s Lotus, and Ayrton Senna’s Lotus.
Overall in Assetto Corsa, it lacks depth in terms of content. There are not a tremendous amount of cars or tracks, especially in comparison to the competition. In terms of game modes, it is pretty simplified. There is a career mode that you progress through. You earn points in each event that grant you a medal. Once enough medals are achieved for each tier, you can move on to the next tier. There are no unlocks, it is simply getting acclimated with the different classes of racing. There are special events you can do that include hot laps, time trials, drifting, and races with specific cars and tracks. While there is a solid amount of modes, you cannot help but feel shortchanged.
Enough about the bad, let’s get to the good. Assetto Corsa is a car tech’s wet dream. The developers spent a lot of time on the handling characteristics and the little things. Tire wear, track temperature, and factory assists are all taken into effect. Cars can be precisely tuned, if you know what you are doing. The user interface is not friendly for doing so, however. You have to know what you are doing, as there is no type of indicators or graphs that provide you with the results of what you are changing. This game is for the advanced user. Furthermore, when doing the in-car view while using a controller, the steering is too sensitive. There is a way to change the sensitivity, but you cannot access the options in-game. This is a hassle. It is as if the in-car view was developed specifically with people using steering wheels, while the third person view is for people using a controller. Some people cannot afford expensive wheel setups, but want to still drive the car as if they are in it. One of the views removes the steering wheel, but you do not get the full interior view.
Graphically, Assetto Corsa is absolutely gorgeous. Everything from the details of the cars in and out, to the details on the track. The collisions are there, and they look magnificent. Even actually hitting a car results in the car bouncing or being moved, and the damage will severely affect your car’s handling. It features time progression, which also effects the track temperature, and in turn, the handling of the car. The menu interface was tweaked to better support controllers, and the HUD is useful and aesthetically appealing. The goal on the PlayStation 4 was to have 1080p resolution and achieve 60 FPS, but unfortunately it does not run at 60. The in-game engine was built from the ground up with tweaks to help with the console multi-threading, and that speaks wonders for an in-house engine.
The engine sounds in Assetto Corsa are a mixed bag. Overall, the different engines sound solid, but they don’t blow you away like Project Cars does. Also, when in the exterior view, it is hard to hear the engine. This can affect your driving if you prefer shifting gears. The collisions and sound effects within the game also sound great. There is no type of audio with an engineer or a commentator, which is not a necessity. The menu music (including the entire opening sequence) is fantastic and fitting for the game.
At the time of this review, the multiplayer servers were up, but not active with people. The interface has a very unique structure. Developer Kunos Simulazioni has each track set up as its own server. The number of players available for racing is based on the number of pit boxes at each track. There is no type of online racing for beginners or intermediates, and this feels very PC-like in its execution. So without the servers being populated, I was unable to gauge the racing experience online.
Assetto Corsa ultimately feels like a game still in beta. While the groundwork has been laid with what matters the most, the in-game portion, it lacks polish and feels incomplete. The lack of depth in terms of the amount of cars, the amount of tracks, and the amount of modes hinders the experience. It’s as if the developers felt that they nailed the driving portion, got some eye-catching names, and tossed the bare minimum out there. There has been free content added to the PC version in the past, and hopefully this will continue to be the case with the PS4 version in the future. However, the game is retailing for $49.99, so it’s not getting the full-price treatment. Ultimately, you cannot help but feel like that is still too much money for what you are getting.