Assetto Corsa: First Impressions

You can't race a helicopter or run through police barricades, but Assetto Corsa's attention to pure automotive detail will have petrolheads salivating

By all rights, I really shouldn’t be reviewing Assetto Corsa. Developer 505 Games wasn’t kidding when it labelled this title a racing simulator. Need For Speed is a game. Forza Horizon 3 is a game. Project Drift is a game. You can casually pick up a controller and enjoy any of these for a few minutes. However, if you’re not an expert of the genre and/or a serious petrolhead, Assetto Corsa is a punishing experience – albeit, one with stunning visuals and almost fetishist attention to detail.

Assetto Corsa
Look at that line running along this Pagani’s skirt

I’m someone who’s been average at best when it comes to racing games. I drive only automatic against easy opponents with guide lines on the track. So, stepping into a BMW Z4 GT3 with all settings for a practice run, I felt like a man afraid of flying finding himself in the cockpit of an F16. Mid-flight. The horrible whine of an over-revving engine invades my ears. The controller rumbles as I roll over dirt, probably causing irreparable mechanical damage to this vehicle after failing to negotiate yet another hairpin turn. The trees by the track in Barcelona are lovely though.

Assetto Corsa
Vehicle interiors (and exteriors) have been reproduced following extensive collaboration with manufacturers

Realism is what Assetto Corsa is all about. The developer says each track in the game has been laser-measured for perfect accuracy. Track and telemetry data from car manufacturers has been fed into the program to ensure each vehicle’s handling is as true to form as it would be in real life. The result is physics that are on point. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. This simulator was developed at an R&D office located at the Vallelunga international racing circuit outside Rome. This track, of course, is one of the 16 featured in the game, which also includes the legendary Nürburgring.

There are tyre flat spots, heat cycles, graining, blistering, differential adjustment, PSI monitoring. You can get lost in the wheels settings alone (intentionally or otherwise). Differential and traction settings can also be adjusted.

Assetto Corsa
Bird’s-eye view of the drift track. These have been laser-measured for precise, faithful reproduction

The mode that’s probably most noob-friendly is drift. Here, lowering the tyre pressure makes an immense difference to the points you can rack up. That said, in keeping with the rest of Assetto Corsa, this mode is unforgiving in many ways. Lose control for even 0.1 seconds and even a harmless touching of an inch of grass is the difference between 800 points and none. Our highest in a single drift was a paltry 89, which wasn’t even sufficient to hit level 2.

The developer has liased and worked with manufacturers to such a degree that any race, even on easy mode, requires you follow the track in ideal a manner as possible. For me, this meant staying among the pack of 15 competing racers for all of about 20 seconds. Come the first hairpin, my chances go up in dust as the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 I’m piloting spins off the track.

Assetto Corsa
The car’s interior even shows you the proper multimedia system in this Audi R8

Visually, this is a spectacular title. This is most evident when racing on a clear day. I saw a crisp reflection of an overhead sign as my Z4 sped underneath. The various shades of green on the trees are vivid, as is the detail on the stands around some tracks.

Assetto Corsa
You might remember Germany’s Nürburgring from 2013’s Rush (starring Chris Hemsworth)

Our friends at Wheels magazine will give this game a proper go. Stay tuned for their review!