Originally launched in 2014, the PC version of Assetto Corsa has garnered a reputation as one of the most realistic driving simulations available. Developed in Italy by Kunos Simulazioni, it features a meticulously detailed handling engine, and a roster of real-life tracks that have been very accurately reproduced using laser-scanning technology.
I haven't actually played the game on PC, but have been looking forward to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One ports with much anticipation ever since they were announced earlier this year. The big question on my mind has been whether the console iterations would follow the same hardcore simulation approach of the PC version, or whether they'd be made more accessible for the console market. After spending time learning to drive the game, I think the answer is the former: Assetto Corsa is one of the most challenging racing games I've ever played.
But before we get to the nuts and bolts of driving the game, let's talk cars and tracks. Assetto Corsa's standard edition contains 93 autos, and while that might not be as impressive a number as some race games, the car list nevertheless offers a very broad spectrum of driving experiences. The vast majority of vehicles are European, but a smattering of Japanese and American cars are also included on the roster.
Representing beginner vehicles are hatchbacks like the Abarth 500 Esse Esse and Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV, while classic saloon cars like the BMW E30 M3, and BMW coupes such as the latest M4 and Z4 are the next step up. There are actually five versions of the E30 M3, ranging from the standard road car through a Group A racer to one that's specially-prepared for drifting. The ubiquitous Nissan GT-R makes an appearance in Nismo form, and there are a slew of Lotus vehicles, including classic 60's open-wheel racers like the Lotus Type 49 through modern-day road cars such as the Evora and Exige (along with tuned/track variants) to the Lotus 98T Formula One vehicle.
Ferrari is also well represented, with a choice of cars that includes the F40, LaFerrari, and FXX K, along with old-school racers such as the 1975 F1 312T. Other prestige brands include Mercedes-Benz, Pagani, Lamborghini, McLaren, and RUF, and there's even a Shelby Cobra, if you want to experience the brutal power of that much-loved motor. In all, it's an eclectic list of historic to modern-era cars that features a wide array of handling capabilities and characteristics to enjoy, from front wheel drive road cars through RWD supercars and 4WD hypercars to top-of-the-line racing machines.
There are 14 different locations where you can drive the cars, with 26 track configurations overall. Like the car roster, the track list might not be as expansive as some racing games, but the driving experience it delivers is a varied and interesting one, from the short Vallelunga Club track through Silverstone, Monza, Imola, and Brands Hatch to the Nurburgring Nordschleife Endurance course.
Moving onto game modes, Assetto Corsa features an impressive array of racing options, and a fairly comprehensive career mode. Those who just want to jump straight into the game and get driving are well catered for. Practice mode lets you take any of Assetto Corsa's cars out onto its tracks for a free run, while Quick Race enables you to set up an AI race against your choice of cars without needing to run a qualifying lap. The Race Weekend option is a step up from Quick Race, and offers you the chance to set up a full race, complete with practice and qualifying sessions. Hotlap is where you run lap times within a timed trial, while Time Attack is an open-ended session in which you keep on lapping until you've had enough. Finally, there's Drift mode, which puts you on the track with the objective of scoring combos while spectacularly driving sideways around as many corners as possible. At least, you do if you're doing it right.
Racing with other players is also an option, of course, and to that end the Online mode offers 50 different preset events for up to 16 simultaneous participants to tackle. Each race features a particular set of rules and regulations in terms of types of cars and assists allowed, and the proceedings follow the Race Weekend format, with a practice session and qualifying laps ahead of the main race. Players can drop in and out at any time, and start from the pit lane if the practice, qualifying session or race itself is in progress.
Career mode is where many players will spend the majority of their time, and this portion of the game presents quite a stiff challenge. There are essentially 27 tiers of increasingly difficult racing, each featuring between four to eight different Time Attack and Quick Race events.
Time Attacks are solo sprints against an ever-decreasing timer. Lapping successfully garners points and adds more time to the clock, and the objective is to score enough points to earn either a gold, silver, or bronze medal. What makes Time Attack races challenging is the fact that if you run off the track at any time, you're punitively deducted points, so staying on the track is extremely important if you want to score sufficient points to earn a medal.
Quick Races start you at the rear of an eight-car field, and the goal is to place third or higher to earn a medal. Even on the easy difficulty setting, I found Quick Races to be extremely tough. The AI is very good, and makes few mistakes, meaning you have to drive very well to stay with the pack.
What I like about Assetto Corsa's Career mode is that it's progressive. The first rung of racing starts you out in fairly easy-to-drive FWD cars such as the Abarth 500 Esse Esse and Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV, giving you a chance to get a feel for the game at a fairly slow pace. The next tier ups the ante with races featuring the BMW E89 Z4 and BMW Z4 GT3, which are far more challenging to drive. And so it continues, with each new tier featuring increasingly more powerful and difficult-to-drive vehicles, through supercars, hypercars, and a raft of GT tiers until you eventually reach Formula One.
The only pitfall of this system is that it is possible to get stuck on a tier, and have to play the same races repeatedly until you master them sufficiently to earn a medal. If you're easily frustrated, this could become a bit of a bugbear – but if you like to rise to a challenge, Assetto Corsa's Career mode should be something you'll enjoy. Time Attacks are a little more forgiving, with a fairly generous amount of time given to notch up a good score, while Quick Races are far tougher, and require a very good performance to place on the podium. To defeat the AI, you need to properly learn the correct braking distances and optimal acceleration points for each corner, and understand which parts of the track are best for performing overtaking maneuvers.
Bottom line, Career mode is really quite exacting, and you need to learn to drive the game very well to be able to make headway. That makes the game one that requires you to invest a considerable amount of time and effort to master – but on the positive side, the process of doing so really improves your driving skills. I found fairly early on in Career mode that I was way too aggressive when entering corners, and had to work really hard on finessing my braking distances. However, as I learned the tracks and the limits of the cars I was driving, I began to slowly reel in the racers that were initially lapping many seconds ahead of me. It felt really rewarding to see my lap records tumbling – even if it did take hours of practice to get to where I needed to be to place on the podium.
And really, that's what Assetto Corsa is all about. It's an authentic driving simulation that's not very forgiving. To get the most out of the game you really need to be prepared to give it a lot of time. If you do, you'll be rewarded with a very engaging racing experience that gives you a great sense of achievement as you better your driving abilities. It also gives you an appreciation of the different handling characteristics of each car. This happened to me once I began to dial down the assists I employed as I got used to the game. With the training wheels off, I could really feel Assetto Corsa's impressively detailed handling engine at work as it realistically articulated such traits as the outrageous tail-happiness of the RUF CTR Yellowbird, and the outstanding grip and tautness of a Nissan GT-R Nismo.
Learning to drive Assetto Corsa has been an engrossing and rewarding experience, and I see it becoming my go-to racing game – at least, until Gran Turismo Sport is released. Its audio-visuals are excellent, but really it's the game's amazing attention to detail that makes it a winner for me. From the bumps and undulations of its exceptionally realistic tracks through its almost overwhelming vehicle tuning options to the authentic feel of its cars, it really does capture the thrills and spills of racing. That realism does come at a price however – it's a very challenging game to play well. If you're a seasoned racer, however, and don't mind the idea of putting in a lot of time and effort to get the most out of the game, you'll find Assetto Corsa, like its PC iteration, one of the best driving sims around.
The career mode presents a stiff challenge, and there's a smorgasbord of options to keep you driving - including online races for up to 16 players.
Overall, the engine sounds in Assetto Corsa are very good.
Assetto Corsa's looks are excellent. It's not quite up there with the likes of Project CARS and Forza Motorsport 6, but it's close.
Assetto Corsa is a great-looking, excellent-sounding, meticulously crafted simulation that offers a very realistic racing experience. Its authenticity does come at a cost, however - it's very difficult to drive well, and requires a considerable investment of your time to get the most out of it. However, if you're a hardcore racing enthusiast who loves a challenge, Assetto Corsa is one of the best driving sims available.