If you find yourself daydreaming about a long afternoon spending hours with your beloved (insert un-affordable supercar), we’re right there with you. Fortunately, the experience of the open track is closer than ever as racing simulators fight to create the most authentic track experience a console can offer. Assetto Corsa by Kunos Simulazioni is new on the simulator scene but its realistic driving experience incorporates fantastic graphics and impressive car calibration, making it one of the best simulators available.
Visually, the game is stellar. You can see every passing tree on the reflection of your car’s hood, insects and road debris appear on the windshield, and accurate light and shadows make the simulation feel like you’re part of the game. The colors are deep and well balanced. You can’t short-sell the visual excellence of a sim of this quality, but at this point, it is par for the course. Most driving games and simulators have equally impressive graphics. While you can appreciate the graphics, they doesn’t necessarily set Assetto Corsa apart from other sims like Project CARS or Forza 6.
The most standout feature of Assetto Corsa is the recreation of driving physics. From tire wear patterns to the aerodynamic behavior adjusted to each vehicle, the physics articulated in this sim account for every real dimension of rubber-meets-road racing. While Assetto Corsa is not the first to do it, I personally loved the delicate attention given to every car’s individual powerbands. Most of the Ferraris had slowly rising power into the high RPMs, while some of the American models had squirrelly burst of horsepower right at redline. When I can feel the tires slipping and then gradually grabbing more and more pavement as they heat up, I start to think I’m really experiencing the way a car responds to the road. Kunos spared no expense in their extensive research and diligent recreation of the driving experience. In terms of simulating the physics of racing and the kinetic behavior of each car, Assetto Corsa takes top marks.
Playing career mode on Assetto Corsa is almost like the real-world hardships of motorsport progress. It ain’t easy. If a spartan-like education in racing is what you are after, then this is right up your alley. But for many, the career mode on of this sim proved to be limited in functionality and a bit too arduous. You are required to place in the top three of each race to advance. We might all be too proud to admit it, but this game will test your patience. Part of this is due to the fact that it is easy to get disqualified or penalized in the game for such things as getting all four tires off the track or failing time trials. Heck, even in real world competition, drivers can recover from a loss of traction! These made the restart button a bit too close of a friend. Racing simulators have always been tough, and this one is on the more difficult end of that spectrum.
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While the solo track experience was exceptional, Assetto Corsa was less accurate at simulating wheel-to-wheel racing. For better or for worse, there are no pits in the game. More interestingly, the simulated rivals seem to be too by-the-book. Computer competitors stayed in a straight line and rarely broke into smaller groups or jockeyed for positions. At times you are left with that unfortunate feeling that you are the only living thing on the track. In this regard Assetto Corsa fell short of the standards of other simulators. There was not sufficient interaction when I was trying to pass or when the AIs were clustered in groups. What the competition lacked in realism it made up for in difficulty. When the computers weren’t tidily rounding the track, they were bumping you or forcing you off. Overall, when you combine the strictness of the racing with sub-par IA, you get a very challenging experience. While nobody is complaining about a highly realistic simulator being difficult, some of these difficulties do not seem to be based in reality, making it a bit contradictory.
The menu interface and options also left much to be desired. It all just feels out of date. Kunos may not have had menu displays and interfaces at the top of their priority list, but even what they do have isn’t aesthetically pleasing or all that intuitive. The tracks available on the sim were solid, but more would have been better. Assetto Corsa includes fewer configurations and track options than rivaling sims. Then there’s the modification criteria. Of course Assetto Corsa did not compete with other sims in this regard, nor did it seem like they were trying. While mods to the cars were limited, the ability to modify the physical parts of the track were widely available. The user has the ability to customize the time of day, weather conditions, tire-wear, and other elements that influence the way the cars will react to their environments. These aspects only improve Assetto Corsa’s finely tuned vehicle dynamics.
Assetto Corsa has a few areas for improvement: career mode needs to feel possible for non-elite gamers and wheel-to-wheel racing needs more competitive authenticity. However, what might convince shoppers to make the switch to AC is the physical behavior of the cars. So, is Assetto Corsa going to become the gold standard of sim racing? Probably not. Forza 6, Project CARS, and iRacing have the realism and depth of functionality covered. But AC is a solid start with some fantastic building blocks, great graphics and realistic driving experience. For a fresh face in the simulator segment, Kunos should be pleased. Price: $49.99.