When one normally thinks about a handheld mobile racing game, what are some of the commonalities? Simulation normally doesn’t come to my mind. Between the Real Racing games and the Asphalt series, the officially sanctioned games like Formula 1 Mobile Racing and NASCAR Heat mobile, usually these games have fun tendencies, but they all lean towards the arcade side of video game racing.
Assetto Corsa Mobile introduces itself as an entry point into simulation. The handheld version is in relation to the 2014 release of Assetto Corsa on PC, later released on consoles in 2016. A lot of the same assets and content are ported over from the original game. In essence, this is handheld Assetto Corsa.
Before anything, I hopped on my PC racing simulator and drove a few laps on Assetto Corsa. I then ran a few laps on the iPhone edition. While things look fairly similar, we need to treat this review in a few different ways.
This entry by Digital Tales and 505 Games is deemed a sim racing entry point. There aren’t any games on the market it can compare to. Mobile games aren’t simulations, and simulations are usually found on PC or consoles. We’ll have to judge this game on its own, as it really is one of a kind.
JUMPING IN HEADFIRST
The game starts with the choice between two starting cars. On one hand, the Alfa Romeo MiTo QV offered slightly better acceleration and grip. With the Abarth 500 EsseEsse as the other choice, the benefits included a better max speed and improved braking.
The EsseEsse looked like my current personal drive, so I went with that as the game welcomed me in for the first time. There are three main category modes on the main screen. On the left is the Career. The middle is Free Practice. On the right, an option titled Scuderia. The home screen also displays your current currency level and two more buttons in the top right for options and profile.
The Career mode is the bulk of the game. Here, players advance levels, earn in-game currency and unlock new cars by completing challenges. A bronze-level effort will yield the minimum to advance where silver and gold trophies in these challenges may yield faster rewards and more money. More on that later…
In Career, there are six different ways to race around are nine tracks: Imola, Barcelona, Brands Hatch, Red Bull Ring, Mugello, Silverstone, Vallelunga, Zandvoort and Laguna Seca. There are 63 challenges in the Career, including some events in the rain.
Those same nine tracks can be rehearsed in Free Practice. There is no multiplayer option besides posting your fastest times on the leaderboards, by the way.
The final category is Scuderia, and this is where players look at their current cars, upgrade those cars, choose a different unlocked paint scheme and, of course, buy new cars with the money earned in the career. There are 60 cars to unlock, and each can be upgraded. There are some achievements listed under the profile button, but they don’t provide anything extra to the game.
DIFFERENT WAYS TO PLAY
Upon opening the game, it will ask you what your skill level is. That really doesn’t matter at all because it’s all about getting comfortable with the mechanics of racing on a handheld device. If you choose the most expert settings at the start, you will likely look like a drunk driver on your first attempt.
There are eight different control schemes to play with, an option for how sensitive you prefer the inputs to be, as well as having a fixed or relative placement of on-screen icons.
The different options on the Assists section are great to turn on at some level to learn cars and tracks. The assists that can be set at low, high, or off are ABS (anti-lock braking system), TCS (traction control system), ESC (electronic stability control), Brake Assist and Steer Assist. Ideal Trajectory is otherwise known as a racing line or best line and that can be toggled on or off.
For a mobile edition of a game released in 2014, the graphics are fairly similar in comparison. There are some things that have been turned down for the sake of the game not melting your iPhone, but otherwise, the detail is surprisingly good for a mobile game. It’s definitely not on the level of other more arcade-like racers, but it includes full modelled interiors, and overall gets the job done. On my iPhone 12 Pro Max, it didn’t kill my battery either.
At first, I used all the assists, especially Ideal Trajectory, to learn the course and try out different control settings. There are tilt steering controls with and without automatic throttle. There are thumb drag steering controls with and without automatic throttle. There’s also a left / right arrow steering method with a brake pedal in between, but that mode only offers automatic throttle. I wish there was a left / right arrow steering method with both a brake and throttle, but unfortunately, there is not.
After vigorous testing, I opted for the tilt steering as I was able to drive the smoothest using the gyro feature on the iPhone. My left thumb taps on the screen for the brake pedal and my right thumb plays the throttle. While this method works for me, it’s also quite embarrassing tilting my body around to steer. I can’t imagine the weird looks I would get on the train trying to take the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.
Thumb drag steering is what I would prefer if my finger didn’t constantly come up off the screen, which in turn caused the steering to reset to the center by the time my finger got back on the screen, which in turn led to many visits to the many gravel traps.
The assists were crucial to start, but they are a huge disadvantage when attempting to pass the career mode as they hindered my outright speed. As of the time of writing this, the only control I have set to low is Steer Assist, and my sensitivity is set to medium with relative brake and throttle position.
Finally, there are different camera options for every driver. There are two chase cameras, one closer than the previous. There are also two cockpit cameras, one with a steering wheel and one a little closer to the windshield without a wheel. There is also a roof camera and a front bumper camera. That is fairly extensive for a handheld racing game. I liked the cockpit with the wheel, but my preferred view was the far chase camera.
WHAT AC MOBILE DOES WELL
Now that I’ve talked about the game and its features, let’s go back and talk about some of those good things to consider. For one, this game is definitely different from all the other mobile racing games out there. It takes patience in learning the ropes and getting the feel of the racing down, but it’s rewarding when you learn just how much tilt, gas and brake you need to get through a corner at maximum speed.
There are no advertisements, nor are there any in-game microtransactions. There is only one currency, and that’s the in-game tokens that are won by playing the game, so no further spending is required to get the full experience. The game itself is $4.99/€3.99 outright.
The cars all drive differently and require different skill sets to get them around the track faster. A car with greater acceleration is great off the drop of the flag and through corners, but if it’s low on grip, you may find yourself contorting your body to save the car. The fact that it takes skill at all is a fantastic breath of fresh air.
There are upgrades to make the cars faster. It’s fairly minimal, but a mobile racer doesn’t really need to dive too deep into various parts, pieces and other components that will make a car tick. The distilled upgrade system works here.
Finally, I think that the overall gameplay can be a fun, challenging time. The fact that nothing is handed to you from the get-go and everything is earned through progressing the game is refreshing.
The amount of time that it takes to progress, on the other hand, can be taken as a positive and a negative. I look at it positively as it means more time playing to beat the game.
WHAT AC MOBILE COULD IMPROVE UPON
My number one gripe has to be that the game is very bare-bones, and tasks are sometimes repetitive. I mean, sure, there are different combinations of cars, tracks and conditions that make each challenge different in a way, but the constant grind gets to be overkill at times.
63 different challenges sounds good on paper, but the fact that I’m still stuck on the seventh set of challenges at level 10 is a bit disheartening. I doubt if anyone will unlock one of the top cars shown in the game’s trailer any time soon unless they just play this without stopping for days, maybe weeks on end.
Those supercars do look cool and are likely pretty fast, but I wouldn’t know. You can’t test drive a car before purchasing it or unlocking it. I also don’t really know how to or when I’ll unlock these cars as it doesn’t indicate what needs to be done. If I click on the blacked-out car’s box, I can at least see what the car looks like, but I have no idea when I’ll get the chance to unlock it so I can then purchase it.
The aforementioned assists are such a disadvantage, they slow you down to the point where you can’t even pass with a bronze trophy in Time Attack or get around anyone in Classic Races. For dedicated racers, learning the secrets to a no-assist career is rewarding, but I think the general clientele of mobile gamers are not going to have that patience.
For an entry point to sim racing, the fact that there are no controls for manual shifting is fairly upsetting. Sometimes, I would get caught in the wrong gear out of a corner when I know I could be in a better one. How to implement that into a handheld system that is already contorting fingers for controls is another question, but if it can be done, it should be.
Alongside this, the AI drivers are a bit clumsy. They seem determined to slow down way too much, and that causes unintended fender benders or spinouts when trying to avoid them. On top of that, there is no damage, no tire wear, no fuel consumption, no part failures – all things you’d find in a simulator. There are no custom races or multiplayer races. Overall, for a game to be considered a simulation, it really only lets me barely simulate what they want me to simulate
MOBILE GAME? SIMULATOR? VERDICT?
When you compare Assetto Corsa Mobile with other grown-up simulators, it’s awfully bad. When you compare Assetto Corsa Mobile with other handheld mobile games, it’s pretty difficult and bare bones. So, let’s not compare them to anything else. Let’s take it for what it is.
Assetto Corsa Mobile can be considered a sim racing entry point. A very small sample of what sim racing can be, but considering that the game isn’t on rails, it takes practice and skill to succeed, and different things race differently in different conditions, it’s pretty cool that this is all available in the palm of your hands.
I like Assetto Corsa Mobile for what it is when viewed from this angle. It’s fairly grindy, and the payoff of unlocking better and cooler vehicles seems too far away to be putting so much effort into learning the mechanisms.
This could all just be the start for the title, however. Who is to say that they won’t add new features down the line? Who can say that the assists don’t get another look? This game has the potential to be on the levels of the Asphalt or Real Racing platforms with the right adjustments.
It’s not quite at the top level right now but considering how the PC Assetto Corsa community has kept that title going as long as they have, considering the successes that Kunos and Digital Tales have had in the past, I don’t think this game drops and is forgotten about.
The mobile industry is alive and well, and a well-rounded mobile IP could mean huge things for all involved.
|Release date||31st August 2021|
|Available platforms||Apple iOS devices|
|Version/s tested||Mobile Phone|
|Best played with||iPhone 12 Pro Max|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.