Disclaimer: Not everyone is a racing game fanatic. If you are, you’re probably already aware of this game or own it already. This review is authored by a more casual fan and is directed at the more casual consumer to help them decide if this is the right game for them.
There are people with natural gifts who will pick up Assetto Corsa and excel, perfectly suited to be race car drivers in another life. I am not one of these people. I fall into the larger, less gifted group. The category that looks in on games like Assetto Corsa and dreams of being a master behind the wheel. This game is probably not for us. There are plenty of racing games out there that are more forgiving and more accessible. However, if you’re a die-hard racing game fan with a homemade sled in your garage equipped with wheel and pedals that your wife hates, read on!
Assetto Corsa presents gameplay in the standard racing game forms: A Career mode, Quick Play mode, Practice, Online, Special Events, etc. There’s little here in terms of variety, but this hardly hinders the game. Most players will end up spending most of their initial time in Career mode, gathering medals for completing races or time trials on assigned tracks with assigned cars. Once players get their fill, there are online races to be won and stock special events to compete in. Assetto Corsa never really breaks the mold of modern racing games, choosing instead to focus on realism and experience.
This game is a passion project from a small indie team, and it shows. Developer Kunos Simulazioni has been developing Assetto Corsa for years (the game entered early access on Steam back in 2013), partnering with companies like Ferrari and Red Bull to offer “the best driving simulation on the market.” Tracks have been accurately recreated using lazer scanning and the cars are beautiful and detailed, down to the accurate modification available for the most dedicated players. If nothing else, the game is a testament to the hard work the team has put into developing something serious and larger than themselves.
Unfortunately, there are cracks in their realistic representation. While the 26 tracks may be presented realistically, they can also look…well…bad. The static fans in the stands look like PS2-era 2D representations, the track itself looks cheap and fake compared to the cars on it, and aesthetic features such as trees look like they were pulled out of a previous console generation as well. It’s frustrating, particularly when the game promises so much. It’s difficult to feel as though you’re getting the best and most realistic racing experience on consoles when you’re racing through a digital world that feels a decade old.
The cars themselves are better graphically. Not only is there a large variety available (over 90), but they all look excellent. The shine off of the exterior makes each look impressive, and they all feature unique and accurate handling. An impressive number of camera angles while racing allows you to get the full view of your cars exterior and interior. It’s simply a shame that the tracks look bad — if you zoom out and look at your vehicle from the side, it appears to float over the track, losing any attempt at realism. My impression is that the small team, with limited resources, had to make some decisions on where to focus their attentions most. Unfortunately, I’m not sure any one area shines enough.
Then, there’s gameplay: If you’re going to play Assetto Corsa, be ready to commit. This is, in main ways, one of the most realistic racing games around, particularly in the way cars handle. That means the game can be brutally unforgiving to the casual gamer. Turns out, racing is more difficult than holding down X and steering for three minutes. This is not a game for young kids or for friends looking for a better-looking Mario Kart (or even Forza) experience. Each track has unique turns and features, and each vehicle controls drastically different, which can be great for the racer ready to practice each race over and over again for hours until you’ve mastered it.
As previously mentioned, there’s an immense amount of modification available for each vehicle, though the menu is so obtuse that the vast majority of players won’t touch it. In fact, almost all of the menus are difficult to navigate. A series of driver assists are available to help inexperienced players, but they’re largely useless. There’s no way around it: This is NOT a game for the casual gamer. Kunos stated that they wanted to create “a real sense of challenge and progression as you master each vehicle and track.” They succeeded in creating the most realistic gameplay experience possible, featuring realistic challenge, but it’s probably far too daunting for most players.
Those few who push through the pain, however, can find a serious sense of progression and satisfaction in completing the challenges before them. There’s almost nothing to gain or unlock by pressing onward (most, if not all, vehicles and tracks are available from the start in various modes), but the sense of accomplishment when you finally succeed in a race or time trial is reminiscent of succeeding at a difficult arcade game. It goes back to the tried-and-true concept of self-achievement and reward. Proving yourself a master in Assetto Corsa is truly something worth bragging about.
The music in the menus is actually quite good; a mix of driving rock and driving tunes. It adds a sense of atmosphere that most racing games have implemented, driving up excitement and engagement. However, as far as I can tell, the music always cuts out of the race. Perhaps this is intentional, to increase the realism of the experience (listen to that engine purr!), but it would be a nice option to play some music during races. I found myself putting on headphones and listening to music or podcasts by the fifth or sixth time I had slid off the track.
Yes, Assetto Corsa may be the most realistic racing game in town thanks to some dedicated design approaches and some serious handling additions. Hardcore racing fans should probably own this in their collection, and masterful players will have bragging rights for years. But realism and fun are two separate things, and I’m not entirely sure that Assetto Corsa can be fun, particularly for the casual player. Nothing new or exciting is offered in terms of modes and the actual gameplay is extraordinarily difficult. Graphic design also weighs down the project from truly being “realistic.” In the end, there’s a home for Assetto Corsa in our world, but you’ll have to decide if you’re ready for it.
A PS4 review code for Assetto Corsa was provided by 505 Games for the purpose of this review