Assetto Corsa review and gameplay: Update 1.14 makes the best racing sim on consoles even better

£29.44
Price when reviewed

For the last few months, the Kunos Simulazioni team has been promising yet another free update to Assetto Corsa, and it finally arrived at the end of last week. Featuring six new cars, a brand new track and handling tweaks, the new update also brings custom lobbies and other enhancements to online multiplayer. Unfortunately, I’ve not had time to try all the cars yet, but I have driven the new 911 Carrera RSR around Assetto Corsa’s new Highlands track.

New cars

Porsche 911 RSR 2017

Lamborghini Gallardo SL Step3

BMW M4 Akrapovic

Mazda 787B

Mazda MX5 NA

Audi Quattro S1 E2

https://youtube.com/watch?v=ta_QLzmlDdk

The new RSR is mid-engined – a first for a 911, and that means it sounds pretty different to what you’d usually expect from a Porsche. On the whole it was pointer than the other race-prepared 911s in the game, and more stable at high-speed stuff too – probably because of the much larger diffuser Porsche has been able to incorporate.

I only did a few laps of the long Highlands track, and it’s very fast, very flowing and even has some jumps – so it’s fun in endurance cars and other prototypes. However, the Highlands track also exists in a similar shorter form, a drift form, and also a short layout which is more of a street course. I’ll be updating my review with footage from that layout soon, and thoughts about the other new cars soon.

Assetto Corsa review

The Mercedes-AMG GT3 has to be one of the most brutish racing cars around, and yet here I am, threading it round the thin, tarmac ribbon of the Nordschleife. Every year, drivers coax powerful GT cars like this one through the timeless curves of the Green Hell – and attempting the feat in Kunos Simulazioni’s Assetto Corsa is an incredible experience.

I’m tiptoeing around it at first, but the more I drive, the more I understand what the car can do. That’s when I decide to push the Mercedes that bit harder; I get on the gas earlier and earlier on every exit, touching the kerbs as I launch out, confident I can predict how the car will behave. After a while I’m braking hard, turning and wrestling the Merc through every delicate twist, taming its 6.2-litre V8 and using the manual gearing to my advantage. For the past 15 minutes or so I haven’t been thinking about racing – just driving instinctively. This is what playing Assetto Corsa is like, and it’s probably one of the best driving experiences around on the PS4 and Xbox One.

If you’re primarily a console gamer, chances are you’ve heard of Forza and GT Sport, but Assetto Corsa’s probably a little less familiar. That’s because for the past two years Assetto Corsa has been a PC-only game, developed by a small dedicated studio and a dedicated community of sim-racers. However, these niche, sim-based beginnings are glaringly obvious when you first boot it up, and they’re both a blessing and a curse depending on how you like your racing games.

For example, it’s clear that Kunos doesn’t have the budget or the manpower of the teams behind games such as Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Horizons 3, as Assetto Corsa’s menus look like something from a PS1 game. They’re pretty bare, too, but you’ll still find options for Time Attack, Quick Race and Hot Lap modes, along with a Multiplayer mode for racing online.

While races can be close, pushing you to nail every exit and work for your track position, the AI isn’t great. It’s not as bad as early Gran Turismo games, where your opponents would all drive in single file, but they’re often good at taking you out the race completely. At tracks such as Spa, I was spun out by the AI several times – so much so that I decided to play it safe after my tenth restart.

As for the graphics? Take a spin around somewhere such as Brands Hatch and Assetto Corsa looks nice, but it lacks the jaw-dropping visual we’ve seen in games such as Driveclub – or even the latest trailer of GT Sport. There are some nice touches – especially the reflection of the dashboard in the windscreen when it’s sunny – but overall Assetto Corsa just isn’t as lovely as you might expect for a simulation game. When combined with a total lack of Night mode, and no weather either – something most of its rivals included years ago – Assetto Corsa falls behind in presentation. 

Assetto Corsa can’t compete when it comes to the sheer amount of content offered by other games, either. Where Project Cars and GT Sport put hundreds of cars and countless tracks at your disposal, Assetto Corsa gives you around 100 cars and only a few tracks.

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That said, it’s probably a bit unfair to compare Assetto Corsa to the likes of GT Sport and Project Cars, because it’s a very different beast. Everything in this game caters towards those who love driving, and that has to be admired. Firstly, Assetto Corsa includes some unlikely but brilliant tracks that will appeal to petrol heads. Larger international tracks like Silverstone, Spa and Barcelona are here, but they’re mixed with legendary circuits like Nordschleife, Brands Hatch, and even Mugello.

It’s the same with the cars, too. The infamous 1989 Sauber C9 is here, and so is the Ferrari 458, a McLaren 650S GT3 and incredible Lotus 98T – by far one of the most powerful, unruly cars in the game. Each car feels different as well, and driving can often be a process of learning each vehicle.

A Mercedes-AMG GT3, for example, feels far less composed through corners than something as squat as an Audi R8 LMS car, and it’s down to you to adapt your driving style to get the most out of it. Playing with the incredible Lotus 98T is another thing altogether, and trying to coax the 1,000bhp, turbocharged car around Brands Hatch gives you an idea of just how good drivers such as Senna, Mansell and Prost really were.

If you’re worried about difficulty levels, you shouldn’t be. Like most racing games nowadays, Assetto Corsa gives you a range of assists, from ABS to traction control to an ideal racing line – and you’re able to change the last two in gradients. This game is certainly playable with a controller, but pad players will only scratch the surface of the game’s physics and tyre simulation, so you’ll really need a steering wheel such as the Thrustmaster T300RS to get the most out of it.

While you’re taming each car, you’ll also experience some of the best engine noises in any game. When watching replays from the outside, engines growl and reverberate in the stands, while in-car engine noises are even better. Kunos Simulazioni has captured every whine of the transmission, every pop on the overrun, every whistle of a turbo, and the results sound incredible. 

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Multiplayer

I’ve been playing Assetto Corsa for the past few months, so it’s now possible to talk about the multiplayer mode – and on the whole it’s not great. Online races themselves can be fun, frantic and enjoyable – probably because of the type of player Assetto Corsaattracts – but everything else is slightly shambolic.

The lobby is pretty confusing, so finding a game itself is pretty unintuitive.  And once you do, it’s hard to know how to get into a race. You’ll often be trapped in qualifying sessions, only to find your car moved to the grid seemingly at random. There are no replays for online races either, so even if you do have a good race, there’ll be no way to relive it – other than your recorded gameplay. Sometimes Assetto Corsa feels like a game made by a huge studio, and other times it’s clear just how small the project is. Sadly, the multiplayer reminds you of the latter.

It’s a shame really, because the Assetto Corsa console community deserves better. On the whole, Assetto Corsa racers are great at close racing, and I was rarely punted off the track – if anything the AI is much worse. The racing is great, it’s just getting there that’s the problem.

Verdict

If you’re a casual racer and enjoy games such as Need for Speed and Forza Horizon, this isn’t a game for you. Even Forza 6 and GT Sport fans might find themselves wandering, so if you’re after a Career mode and lots of content and challenges, I’d suggest you look elsewhere.

However, while Assetto Corsa isn’t the most complete driving game on the PS4 and Xbox One, it certainly offers the best driving and racing feel by a country mile. If correcting slides, balancing the throttle, and fiddling with brake bias from corner to corner sounds like your idea of fun, Assetto Corsa has no equal on consoles.

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