Driving in Assetto Corsa is a joy- sadly, everything else simply isn’t up to the mark.
I‘d heard a lot of mixed things about Assetto Corsa in the last couple of months- some people simply love the game and how it plays, while others just can’t stand it. Curious about which of the two more accurately represents the game, and owing to my own liking for the racing simulation genre, I decided to give the game a try myself, and spent a good few hours playing it on the PS4. The end result? I’ve landed somewhere in between the two polar opposites. Driving in Assetto Corsa is an absolute joy, more so than most driving sims out there, and is probably good enough to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Dirt 4 and Grand Turismo Sport. Unfortunately, everything else surrounding the driving is lacklustre at best and broken at worst, and as a result, the game ends up becoming a disappointing and frustrating experience.
As I’ve already said, the driving itself in Assetto Corsa is sheer bliss. From the handling to the physics, everything feels appropriately weighty and ridiculously accurate. Almost every car feels different from all the others, with its own unique quirks, strengths and flaws, and mastering how to drive each vehicle is a joyous exercise in and of itself. Assetto Corsa is best played with a steering wheel, which is how I spent the bulk of my time playing it, but even without one, using just a regular controller, it plays really, really well. Sure, there’s a noticeable lag, and the pinpoint accuracy of the steering wheel isn’t quite there (nowhere is this more apparent than when you’re racing your own steering wheel ghosts), but on the whole, driving cars using a controller still feels pretty great.
"Driving in Assetto Corsa is an absolute joy."
There is a learning curve here though. Kunos Simulazioni clearly made this game with the most dedicated and hardcore driving sim enthusiasts in mind, which means that someone who doesn’t have much experience with this type of game, or someone who’s racing games experience is limited to the likes of Burnout and Need for Speed, probably won’t enjoy this game as much (not unless you’re willing to invest a lot of time into learning its ins and outs). As for myself, I probably fall somewhere in the middle ground. I like racing sims, and I play a few of them every now and then, but I wouldn’t call myself a veteran of the genre. As such, the learning curve was a bit of a steep one for me, but as far as the driving was concerned, I enjoyed how responsive and natural it all felt, and I couldn’t help but enjoy every minute of it.
But while driving is, admittedly, the most fundamental foundation a racing sim is built on, there are a lots of other strong pillars it needs to stand on as well, and without all these supporting elements in place, the game is nothing but a rickety house swaying on top of a single pillar. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Assetto Corsa is, because outside of the driving, it falls short in almost every other area. Starting with the basics, the roster of cars here is disappointingly small, while the selection of tracks is even more limited. Variety in both these areas is quite important in a game such as Assetto Corsa, and it’s disappointing that it falls short in both of them. Sure, the cars that are in the game are all excellently built- they all drive great, and they all look good too (some of them have really neat and detailed interiors as well), but it’s hard to understand why the developers couldn’t include a much larger roster in the game.
"Outside of the driving, Assetto Corsa falls short in almost every other area."
The biggest issue, however, has to be with the game’s difficulty. I understand how ridiculous it usually is to criticise a game for being too difficult, with “get good” being an appropriate response in most cases, but that just isn’t true for Assetto Corsa. Why? Well, because the game’s difficulty isn’t a product of it being actually challenging, of it putting your driving skills to the test. No, Assetto Corsa is difficult because of how poorly optimized it is, which makes its difficulty frustrating rather than rewarding. The biggest offender in this case has to be the AI- just as an example, AI racers seem to be almost completely immune to any physical impact, whereas even the slightest touches can send you veering completely off-course and losing all control. A good racing sim is one that puts you and the computer on equal footing, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case in Assetto Corsa. AI opponents can crash into you to send you off the track, but when you try to do the same, it has the opposite effect.
As a result, career mode and special events end up feeling more like a chore. What also doesn’t help is that rather than making you feel like you’re actually progressing as a driver, as a career mode in a racing sim ideally should, the career mode here feels more like a checklist. There’s no real sense of progression here, no real satisfaction or achievement, and most of that boils down to how unfairly difficult the game can often be. Going online and playing against real opponents is a markedly better experience, but sadly enough, finding races isn’t as quick and convenient as it should be.
"Assetto Corsa is difficult because of how poorly optimized it is, which makes its difficulty frustrating rather than rewarding."
There’s a lot of other stuff that gave me the impression that Assetto Corsa is kind of an unfinished game. The user interface, for one, is surprisingly obtuse (crawling through main menus is a chore, and this isn’t a criticism I thought I would ever have to make). All of this comes together to make Assetto Corsa feel a little barebones, like it could have used maybe a year more of development to help add more content and polish to the overall package.
All of these criticisms feel even more ingratiating because if not for them, this truly could have ended up becoming one of the best racing sims out there. When I was simply doing time trials or racing against my own ghosts, Assetto Corsa was an absolute joy- because in those moments, the game was about nothing more or less than pure driving, the one area where it excels. Sadly enough, it’s let down in almost all the other areas that matter, and as a result, what we end up with is a solid core, but one that is wrapped in layers and layers of mediocrity.