When is a driving game a sim and when isn’t it? It’s a woolly point that nevertheless is often the subject of much debate – are Forza and Gran Turismo sims? You could make a convincing case for and against both, and I’d certainly not argue against either’s approximation of the driving experience – that much, as ever, is down to personal taste. But if it’s a proper sim you’re after, in the nerdy 90s PC sense of the term, where you’re managing tire pressures and engine maps and spending half your time under the hood to get your head around how it all works… Well, I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like Asseto Corsa Competizione on console before.
Let’s take a step back first, though. After a slightly unconvincing exit from early access last year, Assetto Corsa Competizione has now earned its place alongside rFactor 2 and iRacing in the premier class of PC racing simulators. It’s a brutally focussed thing, built solely around the GT World Challenge – the series formerly known as Blancpain GT – and the GT3 cars within. It’s not the place to explore an exhaustive list of exotica, or to go drifting around fictional cityscapes. Instead, it’s about diving deep into the workings of a real-life racing series, and replicating the thrill of going door-to-door with some pukka GT3 machinery around some of the world’s finest tracks.
And Assetto Corsa Competizione excels at what it sets out to do. The racing is authentic, equipping you with all you’ll need to engage with the busywork of a GT3 race – there’s a virtual spotter to help you with traffic, a series of gauges so you can keep an eye on tire wear, brake temperature and tire pressure, real-life rulesets so you’ll have to manage pit strategy and dynamic time and weather so you’re battling the track and conditions as much as you are the rest of the field. When that all comes together, there’s nothing quite like it; partake in the 24 Hours of Spa and you’ll see the sun set and rise over the Ardennes, the track gaining and losing pace as the temperatures ebb and flow. If you’ve got any affection for the real thing, there’s those same butterflies in your stomach when you trail a train of GT3 cars as they soar up Eau Rouge, their tail-lights snaking off into the forest ahead.
It feels fantastic, too. Does it have the best handling model of them all? Again it’s a matter of personal preference – a number of real-life GT World Challenge drivers swear by it, which is all the endorsement you should need – but wherever you stand, I don’t think anyone would dispute that this offers the best take on GT3 cars around. They’re weighty things, and wrestling them up Eau Rouge isn’t easy work; these chunky boys jockey and weave their way up the hill, and getting the most out of them is a case of managing all that heft as you explore the limits of each track and chew up the tarmac.
Assetto Corsa Competizione does a great job of translating all that, as well as the sheer violence you’re subject to behind the wheel of a GT3 car. Thunder along the kerbs and it sounds as if the world is about to end, while even the more sedate moments are soundtracked by chirruping wastegates, whining brakes and clunking transmissions. And when you’ve got a Bentley or a Merc coming up fast behind you – well, you’ll certainly hear them coming, their rumble sounding like a squadron of angry Spitfires.
The impressive thing here is Assetto Corsa Competizione console versions are faithful to all that. Everything that’s made Assetto Corsa Competizione such a marvel on PC is intact, and that’s quite some feat – but good lord do you have to invest some serious elbow grease to get at it all, with zero concessions made for console players and more than a few oversights and odd decisions made along the way. The headline, I’m sure you’ve already heard, is the limitation of console versions to 30fps, though it’s not really as big a deal as you might imagine and certainly isn’t this port’s greatest offence. To have a simulation of this complexity running in any form on what’s fast becoming vintage hardware remains quite the feat, and it only takes a handful of laps to acclimatise (and if you’re of a similar vintage to myself, you might also remember playing sims such as Geoff Crammond’s Formula One Grand Prix back in the 90s when 30fps would be seen as a blessing).
Elsewhere, though, it’s harder to get your head around some of the decisions made here. By default, you’ll have to map all your controls beyond the bare basics, and if you’re playing on a pad expect to put in a decent amount of time tweaking to fix the lacklustre default settings offered. It’s possible to find something approaching a good set-up, but it takes some serious work – and oddly enough, it’s not that much easier if you’re playing on a wheel, with Assetto Corsa Competizione on console not playing particularly nice with commonplace hardware. I’m primarily using a Fanatec CSL Elite kit, and had to work through all the settings myself just to get the thing to work, which is plain baffling. It takes the PC sim mentality a bit too far, for my liking.
That’s not all, either, with private lobbies not available at launch (they’re promised soon) and with vanilla multiplayer experiencing more than its fair share of failures in these early days. Be warned, too, that Assetto Corsa Competizione is a fairly slim proposition, with its single series and 11 tracks, something reflected in its slimmer price point, and something that can be addressed with some DLC that’s available on day one that folds in the Intercontinental series, with the prospect of British GT being added further down the line too. That’s if you can get your DLC code working, that is, with problems there adding to the laundry list of faults found in Assetto Corsa Competizione’s console version on day one. Out of the box, Assetto Corsa Competizione is – to borrow a motor racing term – a shitbox.
It’s deeply frustrating, especially given how Kunos has worked so hard to get the PC version in shape in recent months only for the console version to suffer from a similarly flawed start. Work at it, though – and have some faith that this port will have a bit more work put into it over the coming weeks – and there’s something pretty special here, though it’s worth knowing what you’re getting yourself into. If crawling around a track on your outlap as you gingerly get heat into the tires and brakes before really committing, or trawling forums for ideal force feedback settings or camber rates for certain tracks doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, you might want to steer clear. Assetto Corsa Competizione is a proper sim, for better and for worse – and for its many faults, it may well be the finest sim that’s ever found its way to a home console.