Usually, mentioning cars and Corsa in the same sentence conjures up memories of a sporty little hatchback driven by two ex-girlfriends, but this is not about the cars of girlfriends past. It’s about the latest title to hit the Xbox One this year. Assetto Corsa
- Italian for racing trim – has been a steadily rising star of sim racing on the PC over the last two years. Acclaimed by critics for its handling and physics, the title is finally making the transition to the console. The question is, can it bring all of its successful elements to the Xbox One? Can they reach their target of producing the best driving simulator available on a home console and win over a whole new legion of fans?
In some ways it says everything you need to know about Assetto Corsa
that the headquarters for the small 20-30 man development team at Kunos Simulazioni are actually based at the Autodromo Vallelunga racing circuit just outside of Rome - a circuit that is also unsurprisingly included in the racing title. The team must see, smell and hear racing cars and track cars every day. From the beginning the team have focused on building the best possible simulator. It’s in the company name, it’s in their goals, mission statements, and emblazoned on their website, it’s even on the sun visors in some of the cars. It’s also part of the Assetto Corsa
logo – Your Racing Simulator – they might be trying to make a point.
At first glance, and going by the numbers alone, it might not seem too appealing for console racers. There are only 12 different track locations - all European - providing 26 different configurations between them. This isn't as many as Project CARS
or Forza Motorsport 6
– the main competition for the new title. There is also a slight bias towards Italian tracks, but given the team’s locale that’s understandable. There are 90 different cars available across a spectrum of racing classes. Although only slightly less than Project CARS
, it's massively dwarfed by Forza’s
gargantuan garage selection. But this title is about car and track mastery, it’s not about jumping from one exclusive car to another like a parking valet at a yacht club. Kunos want you to experience racing as real as it possibly can be and mastering cars under those conditions will take some time.
Single player mode presents plenty of opportunity for players to familiarise themselves with the cars and the tracks and begin their quest to absolute mastery. Quick race, time trials, practice, hot laps and drift racing are all present. All vehicles and circuits are available right from the start – other than DLC - and can be used in any of the single player modes. There are also over 90 special events challenging the player to reach certain targets on a specific track using a specific car, consisting of a mixture of the other driving modes. Whilst there are no leaderboards - anywhere in the title - they still provide a clear benchmark on the player's individual progress as none can be considered particularly easy. This is a title that offers no compromises anywhere.
The career mode follows a familiar tiered structure with the player starting in the novice tier progressing through to increasingly difficult series. It’s here however where Kunos’ philosophy starts to show. This is all about driving. There is no XP to be gained, no credits to be won, and no additional content to be unlocked. Other than some form of personal satisfaction, there is little to encourage the player to progress through the different tiers. Again it provides the player with a benchmark to their own individual skill level. Getting out of the novice tier is already challenging enough for some and to get further will require real progress in the player’s level of performance driving. It's also worth noting that there are no dynamic weather conditions or day and night transitions. This might seem strange as most other racing titles have these, but again, this is about learning to master the cars and tracks, and trying to do this in anything except optimal conditions would be insanity.
It is in the driving experience where Kunos have excelled and Assetto
rises above other racing titles on the console. In short, they have managed to bring their acclaimed simulation, with all the handling and physics, perfectly to the Xbox One. Cars drive and handle in a way that is simply stunning and when experienced with a force feedback wheel and pedals, every piece of racing theory can be put into practice. Kunos have developed simulators for Ferrari and when driving in Assetto Corsa
, you can feel the benefit of that partnership. When going from Forza
, to Project CARS
, and now to Assetto Corsa
, there is a subtle but yet very palpable difference.
With the physics and handling model being so realistic, it really challenges drivers to keep everything together whilst pushing their cars to the limits of their performance. The physics are unforgiving. When cornering, you really have to balance the car, set up correctly, manage the laws of motion, centrifugal and centripetal forces, friction and traction. You can't flip a switch and make Newtonian laws easier. It's a question of constantly juggling these forces on the edge. This is stressful enough when simply hotlapping, but doing this with opponents breathing down your neck, whether human or AI is intensely nerve-wracking.
And the AI is good, very good. Even on the easiest setting, the AI is pretty tough. They will put up a fair fight. The AI drivers are not overly aggressive and will occasionally make very human mistakes, drifting wide on corners or allowing themselves to be trapped into running out of track by other drivers. They will also back off if you defend your line and not simply drive into the back of you. Generally, the only time I was hit by the AI was when I had done something wrong, unpredictable or just plain stupid. There are four settings for the AI: Easy, Medium, Hard and Alien. Whilst I could win easily in the lower class of cars, once I started racing the performance cars, the AI started leaving me for dead.
The tracks provide their own small moments. Eau Rouge at Spa is daunting in any racing title, but the Monza 1966 track is something totally unique. "Hell no!" moments are usually reserved for survival horror titles, but approaching the huge concrete banked curves of the Sopraelevata in a historic Lotus 49 racing car, initially looming on the horizon but all the while rushing towards you - that was the first "Hell No" moment I've ever had during any racing title. All of the tracks apart from Zandvoort in the Netherlands are laser scanned, and the level of detail was uncanny.
Inevitably, with such a deep level of simulation, Kunos have always been keen to stress that the game is best played with a steering wheel and pedals. The team has done its best to make the game accessible and playable using a standard controller, and it is possible. I did it, but it was shallow experience that paled alongside that of a using a wheel. And therein lies the problem. Kunos have delivered a supreme simulation for the Xbox One, but despite the best of intentions, this is not a title that you will enjoy playing with a controller. With the career mode offering little incentive other than personal satisfaction, casual gamers will probably either find it too hard, or too uninspiring, or perhaps a little of both. This is for the real racing enthusiast, those who are prepared to put in many many seat hours in order to improve their driving.
also makes the most of the current-gen hardware. The cars are accurately modelled both from the exterior and the interior perhaps not quite reaching the same level of Forza
, but it's a close call. Then again, for Kunos, it’s not about aesthetics, or drooling over the cars in a virtual showroom, it’s simply about the driving and racing experience.
The sounds of the cars and racing, the popping of exhausts, the deep growling of certain engines, and the high revs of others, the squealing of rubber on tarmac. The audio from the game is an outstanding feature. There’s no dialog or voice acting, there’s no chatter from the pit crew and the music is limited to menu screens. The audio is left purely to the cars and their own individual dialogues with the tracks as you push the machines to their limits. The soundscape of racing in a simulation is of equal importance with the visual and physical feedback, and Kunos has done it extremely well.
That’s not to say that the title does not have its fair share of problems. Loading times for circuits can seem as tortuously long as the circuits themselves, Nordschleife and Spa being standout examples for obvious reasons. The racing line indicator doesn’t change dynamically - despite the colours - and remains the same regardless of the car that is being driven. I never race using it, but for those that do it’s so confusing it’s better turned off. With graphics, there is texture rippling on grandstands by the trackside and some screen tearing. There were other problems too, however, there were two updates during the review period – my version went from v45 to v47 – and those earlier issues seem to have disappeared.
The major issue however is with the bare bones approach of the title. The racing and driving experience is really stunning but everything else in the title seems to be have been tacked on. Each race finishes with the player being suddenly transported back to the pit lane whilst waiting for other racers to finish. No congratulations or commiserations, just the race times. After such an intense and immersive racing experience, it's like being drenched by a bucket of water, snapping you back awake in the real world. Menus are simplified. There are only two presets for a controller. Two presets too for a wheel, and no calibration mechanism at all. It really is that straightforward. For such a complex and involved simulation, you can't help feeling there should be more flexibility in the settings and configuration.
Another minor gripe that does remain is the lack of information, from the interface through to driving. There are multiple settings from driving assists to actual car settings, none of which are really explained. It may be a case of 'if you don’t know what it is then don’t touch it.' There are no tutorials or introductions either, it feels as though you have just been dropped in at the deep end. There is also a disappointing level of information on HUD for the driver, basic but critical information such as tyre heating and wear is not shown, and without any support from a pit crew, you are left to estimate when you need to pit for new tyres. To put this in perspective, last year I bought an e-book covering racing in Assetto. It’s currently over 600 pages long and it's still being updated.
Multiplayer is a hit and miss affair with regards to matchmaking with players' abilities. Currently there are only public lobbies - no private ones at this time. Whilst technically all works well, and there seemed to be little lag in the online races. It does mean that you might find yourself at the mercy of the other players which can be frustrating at times, as it only takes a slight nudge from one to ruin your race. And that's if you even get started. In one particular race, there was a monumental pile-up at the start and half of the 16 strong field never made it across the starting line. It could take some time to unlock those online achievements.
In total the title has 41 achievements spread across multiplayer and single player with a few miscellaneous ones thrown in among them. There are a number related to progression through the career mode some of which will take some time to acquire. The real challenge will be completing all of the special events with a gold medal – with the bar set so high you’re going to need to be an alien yourself to complete that particular one.
Kunos always stated that they wanted to bring the best simulator to the console and they’ve certainly done that, but it has come with a price. Standard gaming features found in other console racing titles are absent. Couple this with the difficult learning curve and the demanding driving level, it will put casual racers off. For those who have the patience and the real desire to learn how to drive and race performance cars, how they handle when pushed to the limits, then there is nothing better to learn with. This is a title for those who see racing as a hobby, those who are prepared to burn endless seat hours striving to shave another hundredth of a second off their previous best times, with nothing but their own personal satisfaction and sense of achievement. You can't bend the laws of physics and Kunos aren't going to let you do this here either. You have to learn to work within those laws and understand how to make them work for you, the car and the track. When it all works and you are driving right on the edge, there is a massive sense of achievement. In summary, it's a brilliant simulation, but it comes at the price of even being called a game.
- Supreme handling model and physics
- A real racing simulator for the console
- Each car feels uniquely different
- Provides a challenge for even the best drivers
- Game elements are sparse
- Limited content compared to other console titles
- Tough learning curve
The reviewer spent 18 hours racing novices and aliens both human and AI, losing to all, whilst enjoying some of the best sim-racing the console can offer. 15 out of 41 achievements were unlocked whilst scraping through the novice tier. The download code was provided by the publisher for review purposes. The season pass was purchased separately.