I’ve played racing games for as long as I’ve had a suitable platform to play them on. From Out Run to Gran Turismo, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge to TOCA, they’ve all held a fascination and dragged out my desire to win at all costs. To call Kunos Simulazioni’s Assetto Corsa a racer is a little inaccurate. To compare it to the adrenaline rush of other racers is a touch unfair, but really, in all honesty, there’s nothing else that I can compare it to.

The first thing you should notice about Assetto Corsa is that it looks stunning. The colours are bright and vibrant and the cars themselves all have that showroom spit and polish that you come to expect from racers of today. This isn’t to say that they can’t get down and dirty on the track though and they do, but I’ll move on from this as I’ve a few issues with the damage dished out to the cars.

After a short intro, you’re presented with a simple-looking menu with three raceday options, Special Events, Career and the mysterious Drive option. In truth, its not so mysterious. This is simply the quickplay option that contains a shortcut to the main types of play modes available in the Special Events section. I’m going to put this right out there from the start, this is a simulation. If you have a full wheel and pedal setup, use it. You’ll get a much more positive and rewarding experience.

OK, so, this is a full on simulation. Let’s get that right out there. The game is not a racer in the traditional sense that Forza or the F1 franchise is. There are so many settings that you can tweak when you’ve picked a car and a track and the usual track temperature, weather, ride height, tyres, tyre pressures, fuel load and a multitude of other settings. It’s a little bit daunting at first, but if you’re patient then you can find the exact setup that will suit your driving style.

Onto the racing then. Assetto Corsa has a huge list of available cars. Mercedes, BMW, Abarth, Audi, Ferrari to name but a few, you can find a full list of available cars, here,  although some of the vehicles on release are download only and some were not available, even in the store. There are also a large number of tracks, from racer mainstays like Silverstone, Nordschleife, Brands Hatch and Spa, to lesser used tracks like Black Cat County. More info on the tracks can be found here.

Assetto Corsa

Jump into the game and the first thing that hits you is the detail of the car. They’re beautiful to behold. The tracks are also detailed to the max. The one thing that bothers me about the environment was the lack of rain in the weather options. On a track like Silverstone, its very rare that you’ll get a full race weekend without a few showers at least. Getting to grips with your vehicle is the hardest thing about the game. This in itself is one of the most disappointing aspects of the title. I know it’s a simulation, and believe me, I have to keep telling myself that as I play it, but there are aspects to Assetto Corsa that simply don’t make any sense to me.

Touch the grass at high speed and you’re very likely to slide into the gravel. Kiss one of the sausage kerbs and you can kiss goodbye to a tyre. Touch one of the AI during a race and they’re likely to be fairly unaffected, you on the other hand may find yourself spinning into the barriers. Its all just a bit unforgiving, even if it is glorious to behold. The in-race camera is also a little on the drifty side in third-person view. The racing side of Assetto Corsa feels like it’s been tacked on to what is an astonishingly technical simulation. This is a massive shame.

As a simulator, the game is fantastic. You want to get involved in the bumper to bumper action on the track though, and this is where the game is let down. The AI settings can be dropped a couple of notches but even on the easiest of these settings the computer racers are bullies. They also appear to have the ability to simply power away from your seemingly bogged down charger. You’ll need a lot of practice to get used to the way each car handles and the way the cars chop and change from event to event do not help this. The various Event modes do mix the fun up a little, although trying to get a ton of BMWs to drift round a short drift track is pretty frustrating. Something else that you might find yourself tearing your hair out at, is the Hot Lap mode.

Assetto Corsa

This mode, while fun, is massively unforgiving when it comes to the track limits. Basically, in this mode, if its tarmac, you should be OK. Have a mm of rubber on the grass or heaven forbid, flick a single gravel stone and it invalidates the lap time. Slip one corner, no matter where on the lap, and all of your hard work is scrubbed. People will say that this is true to real life, but if you think about it, it really isn’t. The frustration factor gets higher in a Race. Touch an opponent and you’ll spin with absolutely no chance of catching the pack. Mis-time your braking zone and you’ll be left eating dust. It simply doesn’t feel like a level playing field.

The car on track also doesn’t feel connected to the tarmac. The way the vehicle travels across the tarmac, to me, felt like it was floating slightly above it. As the tracks pitch and yaw the car around, while in chase camera view, it also seemed as if the car was pinned in a particular axis through the centre of the graphic. The end result makes it feel like you’re spinning something attached to a pole.

That being said, the sound that the cars make as you over-rev and slide round track corners is impressive. Each vehicle has a life-accurate engine roar and even tyre rumble and wind rush has been thought of. The in-game menu music is not too intrusive either. All-in-all not an unpleasant experience. The cars are pretty responsive to your frantic stick-twitching too. The issues I have with Assetto Corsa could be far outweighed by the sheer technical detail that Kunos have packed into the game. Sadly, for most gamers, the racing experience of games like Project CARS and Forza will have spoiled the type of racing that Assetto Corsa can currently offer.

Assetto Corsa

All in all, Assetto Corsa is a spectacular, if flawed racing simulator. The visuals and audio are both ultra-accurate. The many tracks that are available are all laser scanned for pinpoint accuracy and you have a massive array of technical settings to play around with if you so desire, to get the most from your driving style, the conditions and the track itself. There are some flaws in this though. Not nearly as much detail has been poured into the wheel-to-wheel racing. What should be the meat and drink of the game is turned into a frustrating tag along at the back of the grid thanks to some poor AI difficulty ramps and some pretty unforgiving physics. The Hot Lap and Drift modes, while fun, also verge on the level of impossible thanks to over-zealous track limits and heavy car settings. If you love racing simulators, then by all means, purchase the game, but make sure, to get the maximum enjoyment from it, that you have a decent wheel and pedal setup otherwise it’s just a frustrating grind.

Thanks to Xbox and Kunos Simulazioni for supporting TiX