Tough, uncompromising and light on frills, Assetto Corsa is a racing title for serious drivers that arrives on the PS4 and Xbox One nearly two years after its debut on PCs. As a pure driving experience, it’s perhaps the finest one consoles have ever seen, but it lacks the pomp and ceremony to make casual fans really sit up and take notice.
Existing fans won’t care and Assetto Corsa‘s pedigree is in no doubt. This is a firm favorite of the PC community due in no small part to the legion of modders that have helped tinker with its foundations. Modding on consoles is a different beast entirely (and time will tell whether it gets the same treatment on PS4 and Xbox One), but the good news is that this console edition of the game is bundled with the DLC that PC players had to wait for.
The core experience is largely unchanged in the transition and presents a steep learning curve that demands you treat it with respect. There’s no way you can get away with attacking corners Burnout-style or expect to slide around a la Need for Speed. You want to be light on the brakes, lest your stubby fingers send your car jackknifing into the advertising boards. Ignore the screech of your tires and you’ll wind up coming to a costly standstill.
Novices like me will take several hours to get into the rhythm, and it’ll be several days before you tentatively ease the difficulty up from Easy to Medium. For experienced players, there’s Hard — and an Alien mode I didn’t even bother touching. Driver AI is clearly a computer at work; one that means all your opponents doggedly stick to a pre-conceived racing line they hug like a pack in unison. I wish the AI made “mistakes” more often, but it doesn’t, and with one misstep you can kiss your chances of victory goodbye. Driving assists are spartan, and though there is a racing line, it doesn’t dynamically adjust to your speed, meaning it’s really just a visual marker of when you should be cautious and when you should depress the accelerator. You can forget about a rewind option for mistakes, too.
Give up on the idea of being coddled and you’ll realize very quickly that this is a staggeringly good simulation of real-life racing. Every car feels suitably different. The KTM X-Bow hugs the road like a supercharged go-kart, while a standard BMW feels heavy but powerful. Hypercars are another league altogether: complete with F1 style interiors and the snap, crackle and pop of a supersonic engine at work.
On the other hand, Assetto Corsa is not always fun. It’s a bit dour, all told. Menu screens are bare. Races simply come to an end, plastering the drivers’ results on screen; there’s no fancy cutaway, or a voice-over congratulating you. Heck, you’re told to “Quit” back to the main menu after every race – then asked if you’re sure — making it easy to think you’re wiping out your progress by mistake.
There’s a Career Mode, too, which is entirely bereft of colour. You’re a nameless Stig behind the wheel, going through the motions as you take on an assortment of time trials and quick races. Sure, there are different scenarios to tackle as you plot your course towards driving immortality – culminating in the chance to get behind the wheel of the very best hypercars — but why not just stick to quick races?
Gamers reared on the excess of Project Cars will be disappointed by the lack of environmental variety in the tracks, too. What we have here is a standard assortment of GP circuits, like Silverstone, Imola, Monza and the Nurburgring, which you can tackle by day, not night. All of them look accurate and have been laser scanned (bar one), but the game is crying out for a splash of color; a sweeping vista, a nighttime jaunt, something to sink your teeth into.
This, then, is less Top Gear and more Car Aficionado. It cares about what’s under the hood, and there are a huge number of options to tinker with as a result, including setting the steering deadzone to a T. If you’ve been holding off on buying a steering wheel, this might be the game that takes racing seriously enough to warrant one.
Casual fans will be put off by its sternness, and Assetto Corsa misses a trick. A title like Forza Motorsport constructs a careful balance between casual thrills and serious racing, but Assetto Corsa forgets to do the same. It’s crying out for a car showcase or a garage mode to unwind in.
Still, behind the wheel — where it matters — you have to doff your cap to it. The game gets the details right, like the whine and crackle of the Ferrari 458 GT2 as it thunders off the line and the sound of oil spitting in a pan as the C7R switches on. The car’s interiors are accurate too, with the cartoon excess of the Chevy C7R perfectly captured (and the HUD too, which looks like it’s been taken from Pong).
Assetto Corsa is a game for the long haul, one you pour over for weeks and months as you grow accustomed to its uncompromising style. Many players won’t have the appetite for it, but for anyone who takes racing seriously, it’s an impressive showcase. It might well be the best simulator on the market — it’s just not the most complete.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Gritty and realistic, Assetto Corsa is for serious racing fans. It lacks finesse, but it's one of the best racers on the market.