In the realm of console racing games, the word “simulator” has been tossed around pretty casually over the years, thanks mostly to the almighty franchise that started it all, the one which refers to itself as the “real driving simulator”, the one we call Gran Turismo, blessed be its name.

It was all – as most true racing nuts know – a bunch of exhaust fumes though, as Gran Turismo as well as all of its rivals were lighting up the forums with heated debates over video games that were just that… games. A simulator is not a video game, its primary focus is to provide as real of an experience as possible by using complex physics and a whole bunch of other digital trickery, often at the expense of a lot of the other cushy parts of video games we love so much.

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Assetto Corsa is a simulator, and unlike video games that masquerade around as simulators, Assetto Corsa seems to do just the opposite.

It’s at this point that I’d like to mention that this isn’t my first rodeo with Assetto Corsa. I have been playing Assetto Corsa here and there for a very long time, as it’s the first (and only) Steam Early Access title that I ever bought in to. This means that I got to see it go through a lot of the different phases of development as it slowly grew into the final product we have today. When I heard it was coming to console I was intrigued, because I was interested to see how they would convert a pretty clunky bunch of modes and interfaces into a full-priced title that could go up against the like of Gran Turismo, Forza and Project CARS.

Thing is, they didn’t really pull it off – and that’s a little sad.

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Now I need to say this pretty loud and clear, Assetto Corsa is the probably the most realistic driving simulator available on any console. Its ability to deliver an incredibly solid driving experience when completely rigged up is not the problem and it really doesn’t hurt that it has some of the most desirable cars ever built in its stable. The problem, as mentioned before is that this is not a game – but a simulator with a few modes bolted on so that it can pretend to be a game, and anyone walking into it hoping for the next great console racer is going to be very sad.

Assetto Corsa is designed to simulate track driving and racing, and for driving simulation you really need a wheel and pedals setup or you’re going to have a pretty bad time. Some games have done a great job of translating the driving experience over to the controller, but this is not one of those games and the more I tried to tweak the settings to get a better experience, the more frustrated I got.

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Without any form of 1 to 1 steering method the game just doesn’t feel fun to play, and the only other way to get around that is to crank on as much stability assistance as possible, and if you’re doing that… then why are you playing this hardcore simulator in the first place? Most upsetting is that on the PS4 version, there is no way to make use of the DS4’s tilt controls, which worked wonders for Project CARS. While that’s not as good as a wheel, it offers that all important 1 to 1 input method that makes for smooth and satisfying steering and doesn’t leave your car’s nose darting all over the track.

It does have one really great feature for controllers (or even wheels that don’t have a clutch & shifter) that I wish other driving games would steal though, and that’s the ability to turn off automatic rev matching (auto throttle blipping) when changing gears. In a real car (manual / stick shift) if you change gears from say, 3rd to 2nd without accelerating to match the revs, the car undergoes heavy slowdown due to what’s called “engine braking”. You avoid this by blipping the throttle with your heel (please note that the editor has most likely fallen asleep by this point in the review, so please do excuse any mistakes from this point forward) while braking with your toes (the other foot is on the clutch).

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All this really means when translated into the game itself, is that as you downshift into a corner, you need to blip the throttle on your controller to keep the car rolling smoothly or alternatively leave the revs low if you need to make use of engine braking. This little additional element is an absolute joy for racing fans who are looking for a bit more of an engaging racing feel on their console racer. The idea of having full clutch control on a controller has never really worked out, so this is a really great middle-ground and one that I wish games like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport would just include as an optional assist that can be turned off. On my PC’s tilt controller it worked out great and gave me hours of joy.

Another great feature it includes that many other games overlook is that it has “factory” settings for the car assists. For example, the Ferrari 458 has a manettino switch on the wheel that allows drivers to flip through 4 different settings that range from ultra-safe road driving to degrees of ass-happiness and even a full blown race mode, but in almost every game, those are lost to a simple on/off option in the assists.

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Similarly, 60 year old sports cars shouldn’t have traction control or ABS either, and this setting makes sure you are properly limited, or opened up to, the exact types of assistance that those cars actually offer in the real world. Neat.

In terms of career modes, levelling and all those other things that gamers have grown to expect, don’t pull up to this pit garage either because you’re going to find yourself feeling underwhelmed. The career mode starts you off in slower vehicles and gets you to work your way up, also mixing it up a little between races and various other modes including a drift mode that is nothing short of impossible on a controller. For the most part it’s uninteresting and feels more like a playlist of setups rather than a real career mode.

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There’s no real feeling of progression and the only other alternative is a set of premade challenges that you can tackle. There is of course multiplayer, and a game like this will only have the most dedicated racers in its community after its first week, so if you’re looking for something that will serve you up a simulated, realistic racing experience that’s more about tenths and tyre wear than big outside-line drifts to take the lead, then this is the place to be.

This is the sort of title made for true piston-headed racing fans that want to buy an expensive wheel and pedal setup and just sit down and drive for the sake of driving, all night, because that’s what they love to do. That’s where Assetto Corsa shines, when there’s a competent control method in play and when you are out on the track, doing the do. There’s also a truckload of tuning settings available, as one would expect from a simulator, so those that get a kick out of knocking off tenths by adjusting their gear ratios or playing with camber are also in the right place.

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The whole experience is ultimately a little bit of an up and down. When it comes to sound, some of the cars sounds a lot better and more true-to-life than others. It must be said that visually, the cars are drop dead gorgeous across the board, with insane levels of detail. The all-important framerate isn’t so solid though. While it does what it can to try and hit 60fps where possible, a variety of factors including track, camera view and number of opponents can bring hell on the frame rate, not quite making it unplayable, but rather very unstable with constant shifts between smooth and… well, not so smooth.

You also deal with many other situations that serve as constant reminders that this game might still somehow be in Early Access, such as crossing the finish line at the end of the race and instead of being greeted with epic music and some visuals, the cars in front of you sort of start disappearing, and you unceremoniously just get yanked out of existence and plonked into your pit with some timing stats in front of you.

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Something that really didn’t rub me the right way either was being in a brand spanking new title, fresh out the box, and seeing a car I really wanted to drive like the new Ferrari 488 GTB, only to discover that it’s DLC and I need to pay to download it. You know what? That’s just not okay when a game is lighter on content than most other console racing titles and you’ve just gone and dropped a significant amount of money to play it, only to have it tell you to [insert coin].

The tracks are also pretty limited compared to what you may be used to these days too, with only a handful of really different locations, despite some tracks having a fair amount of layouts to play with. Some of the bigs ones are in there though, namely Spa, the Nurburgring (the GP track and the “Green Hell”), Monza and a bunch of others from the F1 and GT calendars, but scrolling through them always left me feeling like there should be a couple more available.

Last Updated: August 30, 2016

Assetto Corsa
Summary
Assetto Corsa may try to parade around on console as a video game, but it’s not fooling anyone. It’s a simulator made for those that want the most realistic driving experience possible. Even then, it’s fairly rough around the edges and is only in any way recommended to diehard racing fans who are willing to drop money on a decent wheel and pedal setup.
5.5
Assetto Corsa was reviewed on PlayStation 4

Nick De Bruyne

Video games writer, editor and critic since '08. Living and breathing video games, movies and cars since the 80s. Follow me on Twitter if you love tons of gaming talk, and @pennyworthrevs for fun stuff and links.

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