There’s been many a tear shed this past week about the supposed demise of more serious driving games on consoles.
Within the same week of Project CARS 4’s cancellation, Assetto Corsa Competizione finally released both the Challengers Pack (four new non-GT3 cars and one Audi R8) and the American Track Pack (three US venues) for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S owners.
It follows a turbulent path for console owners looking to experience the serious Competizione scene without having to upgrade to pricey machinery.
First released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2020, the official game of SRO’s GT World Challenge championships was like an internet translation as opposed to a localisation. Yes, the sentence will still make sense, it was still GT3 cars driving around hyperrealistic tracks, but something didn’t quite feel right.
The cars lacked detail, the rain effects looked aged and at Spa-Francorchamps, the frame rate drops made it, quite simply, unplayable.
Publishers 505 Games had seen great sales success with the original Assetto Corsa on these same consoles four years earlier, so it made sense to hire a third party tasked with porting Competizione. But it was never comfortable.
No matter, soon the ninth generation of video game consoles had arrived and provided enough power to run ACC at the required levels.
Earlier this year, in February, the expected versions arrived. As ever, the car models, sounds and track representations were superlative. This is an unabashed simulator, so while Kunos must be applauded for including a single-player career, hot lapping and a competitive online scene are the main draws.
It was a somewhat rocky launch, however. I wrote in our review that there were some instabilities, but they were being worked on, and the core driving experience remained moreish.
I tested on a PS5, but several Xbox owners were at pains to let me know that they were experiencing progress transfer challenges and even further woes. Still, several patches later and soon after launch, it was in a much better place.
But, a disparity between current consoles and those with powerful PCs remained. Visually the version for the more affordable devices punched far above their weight, but they didn’t deliver the same exact driving satisfaction.
This was chiefly because in November 2021, on PC, the platform received the now fabled ‘version 1.8’ update, which rewrote the tyre model and revised the handling characteristics.
This didn’t arrive on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S until 29th September this year, and now, at last, the vehicle handling was on par, alongside noticeably improved wet weather visuals and performance.
Now with more car choices – the Challengers Pack costs $10.99/£8.99/€10.99 – and three excellent new circuits – Indianapolis, Circuit of the Americas and Watkins Glen – for $17.99/£14.99/€17.99, I’m tempted back to the realm of Competizione on PS5.
While the set-up remains uncompromising, the appeal certainly not for everyone, if you have a steering wheel peripheral, this is as serious as it gets.
I hopped into the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (992) and immediately revelled in the shrill flat-six naturally aspirated engine. The spikey weight transfer and lack of traction control combine to create a learning curve steeper than an alpine ski course.
The Glen, too, was slowly but surely getting under my skin, after cutting laps recently in Gran Turismo 7 too.
Competizione’s opponent’s skill window is relatively narrow so, initially, I was netting Verstappen-like victory after Verstappen-like victory. But, that’s not really a challenge.
This is a sim that eggs you on to push the levels higher and higher. Placing myself at the back of the grid with my computer-controlled rivals now on high alert, I needed to be at the top of my game to scrape out a 12th-placed finish.
Perhaps that’s too masochistic for most, but after years of playing more approachable racing games, this is what you look for to take things up a notch.
I then jumped into some open lobbies, and while some of the driving standards left a lot to be desired – hey, open lobbies are open lobbies, regardless of the title – I was able to have several close battles.
One area where PC owners continue to have a leg up is active communities such as SimRacing.GP, The SimGrid and Low Fuel Motorsport creating competitive esports races and ranking systems the native platform can’t cater for.
Even regales of a lack of third-party support, there’s still room for improvement online for console users. Some competitors can be jittery in response, and you cannot change tracks or room settings once a lobby is open.
But, when you’re hurtling down Hangar Straight in a fire-breathing Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo, or gargling your way around the bumpy opening sector of COTA in a Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo EVO2, you won’t mind.
I can now say with absolute confidence that if you’re looking for the most focused racing experience ever on PlayStation or Xbox, Assetto Corsa Competizione is it.
It’s perfectly timed with the launch of even more console-supported direct drive wheels and load cell pedals from the likes of Fanatec and Logitech too. As a final bonus, the PS5 version is included in a PlayStation Plus Extra or Premium subscription.
Now, there really is no excuse to become engrossed in the world of console sim racing.