That learning curve doesn’t exist in Assetto Corsa, the car simulation game from Italian developer Kunos Simulazioni. Instead, players are presented with a highly realistic racing game that doesn’t hold back. It’s designed so that a single bad turn in a five lap-long race is enough to ruin an entire weekend of competing. It’s brutal and unforgiving, but that has certainly worked for other titles such as DiRT Rally.
The issue here is that unlike DiRT Rally, which had fantastic videos going over every facet of racing and introducing players to the concepts they had to master, there is no semblance of any tutorial. Players just start racing, be it in quick race or the bare-bones career mode, and will have to struggle their way through the game. That isn’t fun for anyone who doesn’t have hours of free time to spend practicing a single track.
Help me, Tom Cruise!
That isn’t to say that Assetto Corsa doesn’t have any driving assists, as it does, it’s just that they don’t do nearly enough for new drivers. Even the automatic gearbox is needlessly difficult to deal with, as players still have to manually shift into reverse if they end up pinned against a wall. None of these options are explained as players are selecting them on or off either, so new racers will have to guess what the “automatic blip” does and if they want “tyre blankets” on or off.
Worst of all is the game’s ideal racing line that is beyond useless. Instead of being a dynamic line that changes due to the speed of the player, like in F1 or Forza, the line is static. This meant that whether I was going a single kilometer per hour or 300, I was given the same direction. That isn’t helpful at all, and its usefulness topped out at telling me that I should brake before corners. Well, thanks for that.
Not having a great driving line isn’t a deal breaker alone, but Assetto Corsa is so unforgiving that it’s just one of the many problems. When coupled with a lack of rewind, which has become a genre staple at this point, and the expectation to race several laps (on tracks that can last for up to 10 minutes) clean it becomes crippling. There is no satisfying ramp in difficulty, as players are instead just tossed into the deep end with a shrug.
A lot of Assetto Corsa‘s issues boil down to the easy difficulty providing a more than healthy challenge. It often took me several attempts of clean racing (I quickly learned that if I spun out once I was better off restarting since I could never make up that time) to get a podium finish, let alone win a race. Considering the career mode mostly revolves around races (although there are time attack and drift challenges as well), that caused a big issue where I was left replaying the same stages over and over during the opening hours in order to progress. That isn’t fun, just tedious.
While the career mode starts off being composed of singular events with the goal being to gain enough medals to move on, it eventually has players racing in full fledged championships — well, if they can progress that far. Even if one does manage to do well in Assetto Corsa, the career mode (which is the main single-player offering) still feels like a poor man’s Project Gotham Racing.
Another major issue comes from the presentation and user interface, both of which are atrocious. Something as seemingly simple as selecting a car to race as becomes a monotonous process of trial and error as players have to select the car out of a menu just to see its statistics. If that wasn’t the exact model I wanted (maybe it had a lower horespower than I was looking for), I had to go through the process all over again. The same goes for the tracks where the length and course design were not displayed until after I had selected them. It’s baffling to me that simple things that racing games have done correctly for decades have regressed to the point where it’s a real problem here. Since I didn’t have the horsepower of the Abarth 500 EsseEsse Step1 and the length of Autodromo di Monza memorized, I was constantly running into issues simply trying to begin a quick race.
If You Ain’t First, You’re Last
Presentation is also a major factor and the game gives little fanfare to the player for finishing a race. When I finally get a gold medal after spending an hour on a single track, I expected to at least see a nice congratulations screen, right? Instead the game merely flashes a standings screen a few seconds after the finish line is crossed. There’s also a special event mode (which basically allows the player to take on career mode style events without dealing with the hassle of progression), but players aren’t even told the goal they are trying to accomplish (or if they’ve done it before) until after they load into a race. There are no leaderboards either, so the player is merely left to try to better their own scores if they can muster up the ability to care about the events.
I haven’t even touched on the many graphical issues Assetto Corsa suffers from. These include poor animation, screen tearing and pop-in. I didn’t notice the latter two issues much while playing since my eyes were focused on the road ahead of me, but as I watched someone else play I saw graphical issues pretty often. What I did constantly notice, and this actually became distracting enough that I stopped using the first-person camera due to it, is that the driver freaks out while steering the wheel. It seems like developer Kunos Simulazioni tried to get too fancy with the steering animations, and I would see my driver’s arms flailing about inside the car as if he was having a seizure while driving. He’d also do huge hand movements over the slightest of turns, which I could even see in third-person.
The real shame is that I feel like Assetto Corsa actually has a solid core. The cars feel natural to drive, and are faithfully replicated here. Tracks have been laser scanned so they are accurate down to the millimeter, and it’s super fun attempting to tackle the monstrous Nürburgring Nordschleife. It’s just that everything surrounding the core gameplay is done so poorly from the computer AI to the presentation. There are parts of a good game here, but every aspect is held back from reaching its full potential.
Assetto Corsa may succeed as a simulation, but it fails as a game. Clearly a ton of work has gone into making sure the cars handle correctly and that the tracks are as realistic as possible, which just makes the end result even more heartrending. It has a terrible user interface, isn’t fun to play and doesn’t feature any of the helpful tools that make Forza such an appealing game.
Review code for Assetto Corsa provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.