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Assetto Corsa

How Assetto Corsa set the template for modern-day simulators

How Assetto Corsa set the template for modern-day simulators

Assetto Corsa (AC), was released on PC 19th December 2014 after a period of a year or so in Steam Early Access. It generally received positive reviews, gaining a score of 85/100 on Metacritic, with particular praise for its driving physics, visuals and sounds.

A subsequent release on the PS4 & Xbox One occurred on 6th May 2016, at a time when it was unusual to see a ‘serious’ racing simulator on console, especially one comparable to its PC cousin in terms of features and content. The developer, Kunos Simulazioni, had previously worked on the PC sim NetKar Pro, and later the Ferrari Virtual Academy game in 2010, which helped forge long-lasting links with Maranello-based sports car creator.

Both were highly praised for their physics. Although they were found somewhat lacking in the content department, they gave Kunos the impetus to expand their ideas into a fully-fleshed title. Over one million copies of AC have been sold worldwide to date, garnering a legion of fans across all motorsport disciplines – from classic F1 aficionados all the way up to followers of modern-day tyre-melting drift machines.

So, why was AC so popular, not only with PC gamers, but also with the console brigade? And why is it still relevant today, despite the emergence of an indirect sequel, Assetto Corsa Competizione?

Be Jim Clark Drive the Monza banking in Assetto Corsa in a very special Lotus…
Be Jim Clark Drive the Monza banking in Assetto Corsa in a very special Lotus…

PHYSICS, GRAPHICS and SOUND

Fire up Assetto Corsa today and you’d be hard-pushed to say that this game is nearly seven years old. It still looks great!

Crisp visuals, incredibly detailed car models and some engine notes that will make you wonder if you’re watching an in-game replay or a live TV broadcast. It’s a title that also simulates KERS & DRS systems, even those found on the ridiculous hybrid Le Mans prototypes.

Want to change your MGU-K setting mid-race? AC lets you do that.

So AC is a proper sim with a ton of horsepower under the bonnet, which makes it all the more impressive that it appeared on the previous generation of Playstation and Xbox.

This is what sets AC apart from its console rivals; its physics engine. On the flip-side however, there’s no changeable weather or a day/night cycle, and there’s very little in the way of car customisation, so AC can come across as a little po-faced in comparison to Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport.

Assetto Corsa, BMW M3s: creating skidmarks worldwide since 1986…
BMW M3s: creating skidmarks worldwide since 1986…

CONTENT – AKA: THE NORDSCHLEIFE

‘No Nordschleife, no buy’.

That infamous phrase within the sim racing community that insinuates your racing title is inferior if it doesn’t have the world-renowned Nürburgring Nordschleife in its roster. Of course, this is nonsense, but seeing as it’s one of the most challenging and enjoyable tracks to drive it makes sense that it means so much to sim fans.

With AC you’re in luck, as it’s faithfully recreated in-game, and is arguably the best version you can drive (albeit only as part of the ‘Dream Pack 1’ DLC). For many casual gamers or hardcore sim racers, simply lapping the Nordschleife is a deeply rewarding experience in itself, with some fans spending the majority of their time thrashing the full gamut of AC’s vehicle lineup around ‘The Green Hell’ to get their motoring kicks.

This is fair enough, but AC also offers a good variety of other DLC cars & tracks to keep the experience interesting. The highlights of these include three Porsche-themed packs featuring classic Porsche race and road cars, plus the ‘Ferrari 70th Anniversary Pack’, starring a number of the Prancing Horse’s most iconic cars.

Nisaan GT3 NISMO at Imola in Assetto Corsa
GT3 cars; de rigeur in modern-day sims, but AC did it best before ACC came along!

These kinds of manufacturer tie-ins attract casual gamers and seasoned sim-racers alike. Which motorsport enthusiast wouldn’t want to drive a modern-day Ferrari F1 car on a laser-scanned Spa-Francorchamps, especially with a physics engine arguably more advanced than Codemasters’ F1 franchise?

Sebastian Vettel, perhaps…

AC also has a rudimentary career mode, with the player starting out in slower cars like the Abarth 500, gradually progressing through to racing tougher opponents in GT3 machinery and beyond. There’s also an expansive ‘special events’ single-player thread – although a lot of these are simply hot lap challenges or short, sharp races. To finish all of these would certainly test the skill (and patience) of anyone!

One could say two things about AC’s single-player experience; it’s either an uninspired grind, or it’s laser-focused on the driving experience.

Porsche 917 Nordschliefe Assetto Corsa
No Nordschleife, no bu… oh, AC has it.

ONLINE and ESPORTS

When AC was first released on PC, the online side of things was in a pretty shaky state. I remember the horrific booking system, that was massively confusing at the time, especially compared to direct rivals like rFactor 2 where… actually, no, that was also horrific. Game Stock Car had it nailed though.

Seriously though, once Kunos got on top of the multiplayer issues AC became a hugely popular place for a number of communities, both racing at ‘pro’ and ‘club’ levels. The drifting fraternity is particularly well-catered for in AC, with numerous sim communities enjoying popular drift cars such as the classic Toyota Supra & Toyota AE86 (of ‘Initial D’ fame), both available as part of the ‘Japanese Pack’.

In fact, Ferrari still uses AC to run its official Ferrari Esports Series, highlighting that even many years after release the sim still has relevance today. Maybe one day we’ll see a Ferrari Esports driver make it all the way to the F1 grid, perhaps becoming part of a future ‘Sbinalla’ meme. One can only hope.

Not only has Ferrari got in on the act, but Dallara has also joined the fray with its own esports competition using AC.

Modern-day Ferrari F1 action at Spa. On a sunny day. That’s how you can tell this isn’t real-life.
Modern-day Ferrari F1 action at Spa. On a sunny day. That’s how you can tell this isn’t real-life. 

Asetto Corsa: A Template for Modern-Day Sims

So, AC has been massively successful. It’s sold 1.4 million copies (and counting) and covers a huge range of motorsport disciplines – including hillclimbs, historic and modern sportscars, classic and modern F1, old-school DTM, modern GTs, single-seaters and even the bonkers modern-day Le Mans Prototypes from Porsche, Toyota and Audi.

It has a wealth of single-player content to keep your typical GT/FM fan satisfied, plus a handling model that kicks the average console racer into touch. Sure, it takes itself seriously as a game, but that approach hasn’t exactly harmed Gran Turismo’s sales figures.

The fact is, if the physics weren’t up to scratch then AC wouldn’t be as popular as it is today, and thanks to frequent sales and discounts, more people than ever can get their hands on a ‘proper’ simulator across devices for an incredibly low price.

Those enticed by watching a YouTube video of AC’s eye candy in action won’t be disappointed by the driving experience at all, and one wonders whether the upcoming editions of other popular racing franchises will be inspired by this platform’s focus on the driving experience.

The fact that manufacturers like Dallara and Ferrari still use it as a platform for their own esports competitions shows it has modern-day relevance, and sim racing communities have embraced the variety in-game to grow their online player-base, which, after a shaky start for AC’s online functionality, has gone from strength to strength.

It’s also got the Nordschleife, so that’ll keep Mr ‘No Nordschleife, no buy’ happy…

Acque Minerali Imola Assetto Corsa
Real-world tracks are recreated in all their glory in AC. This is Acque Minerali, at Imola. Loosely translated, this means ‘mineral water’. Probably.
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