Racing games are a dime a dozen and we usually we can separate them into two distinct categories: first, we have arcade racers (like Forza Horizon, Driveclub or The Crew) that are focused on fun and accessibility for everyone, and simulators, created to mimic real life driving situations in the best way possible and cater to a very small but passionate demographic, one that values realism above everything else. Sim racers are true car enthusiasts that follow their favorite drivers and racing teams on social media, watch 24-hour races on live streams, appreciate the minutiae of tire compound, temperature and pressure, rear wing angle, anti-roll bar stiffness, fuel consumption. They’re very dedicated to this hobby, spending countless hours driving the same car on the same track, experimenting with settings to exhaustion, trying to shave precious tenths of seconds at each consecutive lap.
On consoles, sim racing titles like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo were always considered the standard, with each one exploring their consoles’ strengths to the limit but failing to deliver the true simulation feel that hardcore players crave. That changed when Project Cars was made available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One back in 2015 and even more so when a small Italian studio called Kunos Simulazioni stepped in the ring with its own title, Assetto Corsa, in August 2016.
Now Assetto Corsa Competizione finally reaches the console space after being regarded as one of the best racing simulators available on PC, but with a much different focus. Instead of dealing with different types of road and racing cars, Competizione is now a licensed title created to simulate the GT World Challenge Series (formerly known as Blancpain GT Series), based on the SRO and FIA GT3 car specification. This kind of focus usually makes sense on the PC world, home of the most hardcore sim racers with expensive cockpits, powerful processors and graphics cards. But how does it translate to consoles?
I consider myself a hardcore racer, but living in a country where computer components and gaming accessories have become unreasonably expensive, I try to live on a budget and was thrilled when ACC was announced for consoles. Watching many sim YouTubers racing in this title using their powerful PCs the last year, I was pretty worried about two aspects: graphics and controls. But I can say now that both are well represented in this port, with some caveats.
Controls are truly a nice surprise: following the original Assetto Corsa, which was a very complicated affair in the controls department with its clunky setup and absurd number of adjustment options that made little to no effect on the driving experience, ACC dials down the complications with a far more convenient and simple user interface. A bit of tuning is still necessary to filter the sudden movements that an analog stick is capable of, but with stability and traction controls correctly adjusted, you can truly feel in control. Just as a reminder, the GT3 category allows for use of traction control and anti-lock brakes on their cars (contrary to many other categories which banned electronic aids on their cars), so using them is fair game when dealing with a joystick.
The graphics are the biggest downgrade from the PC version, which was also the case with the first Assetto Corsa on consoles. Unlike the original game, which used its own in-house developed graphics engine, Kunos decided to switch to Unreal Engine 4 in ACC. This change was the solution found in order to implement new features like dynamic time cycle and weather effects, but the side effect of it was a big drop in framerate. ACC runs at a fixed 30 frames per second on all consoles, even the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. According to Kunos, this is the solution found in order to keep the underlying physics simulation and audio working correctly. Another imposed limit was the number of cars on track. The PC version allows for 30 AI cars in single player mode, while consoles are limited to a 20-car grid on single player (fewer than the official 24 cars on track for sprint races and mind-blowing 50-car grids on endurance ones).
To summarize graphics on console, ACC runs at dynamic resolutions on both platforms, reaching up to 1080p on the base PS4 while PS4 Pro offers a 1080p with increased draw distances, anti-aliasing and extra particle effects or a maximum of 1800p. Interestingly, the original Xbox One also reaches up to 1080p in the best scenarios with Xbox One X offering up to 4K presentation with the same extra effects available on the lower res PS4 Pro mode. On all consoles, the cap is 30 FPS.
Assetto Corsa Competizione is a licensed product of the SRO and FIA GT World Challenge and it faithfully recreates the 2018 and 2019 European Championship in its base form, consisting of 11 iconic european venues like Barcelona-Catalunya, Nürburgring, Silverstone and Spa Francorchamps. Four more international tracks are available through DLC right now as the Intercontinental GT Pack. All tracks were accurately laser-scanned to ensure maximum precision in every detail, from imperfections on pavement to the way rumble strips can unsettle the cars at high speed corners.
Speaking of cars, there are only 24 available right now (contrasting to the 837 cars available on Forza Motorsport 7 or the 334 on GT Sport at the time of this review), but they’re precisely modeled and feature many functional details like dynamic display numbers on the windshield and multi-function displays on the dashboard, with all important car data and statistics being fed in real time to the driver. There’s also a multi-function screen that can be accessed mid-race and allow on-the-fly adjustments to many electronic aspects of the cars, like engine mapping, ABS and traction control strength, lights, windshield wipers, turn signals and even the pit-speed limiter.
As a true racing simulator, ACC rewards patience and consistency. In order to really enjoy it and gather the skills necessary to compete at a higher level, it is necessary to master both the tracks and cars. To this end, the game rates you in 6 different attributes: track competence (how well you know the track), car control (driving fast while keeping full control), consistency (how much you can replicate the same speed and behavior in multiple laps), pace (measured as you reach good times on the special events leaderboards), safety (the cleaner and without incidents you drive) and racecraft (your ability to drive close to opponents without resorting to risky or dirty maneuvers). The first three first are very important and can be easily upgraded through practice sessions, without any other cars on the track, and they’re the first step in order to reach good ratings. Safety and racecraft can only be upgraded during races and a few short single player races will be the best way to increase these attributes. Pace is the only one that is measured in a separate way, when you participate in a sleuth of special events available on the main screen which are frequently updated. These events emulate different race situations (hotlaps, stints, superpoles) and the results are saved on a worldwide leaderboard. All of these attributes make up a number that fits into a classification ranking, whose function we will discuss later.
Let’s talk game modes. On ACC, you can find a few different single player options, like the championship mode, which throws you on either the 2018 or 2019 seasons with the official cars and teams (each year presents you with the correct roster of cars, teams and drivers to choose) and are presented to you in the exact same order of events as the real calendar. There’s also a career mode where you must participate in test sessions in the most varied weather conditions before entering a championship. And between each event you have to take part in more test sessions in order to fine tune your car and get better lap times before the next race. This mode takes the player on a journey from their first steps driving a GT3 sports car as an amateur all the way to professional elite classes. Last but not least, there are the special events list discussed previously, used to evaluate your pace attribute.
Multiplayer offers a set of parameters that you can use to filter races, like circuit, number of laps or time, car selection, and many other criteria. It is there that the aforementioned driver attributes play a larger role: track competence and safety levels achieved on single player races dictate your ranking for multiplayer matches. There are no private lobbies (yet) and public lobbies may limit the drivers entrance to a specific level. Even more, the true competition servers are limited to the top racers in the community.
On the gameplay side, ACC recreates the look and feel of a GT World Challenge event down to a tee. You can choose races down from five minutes and up to 24 hours, with or without training and qualifying sessions, as well as create pit strategies, define custom weather parameters that will heavily affect handling and performance of the cars (from intense heat to heavy rain and freezing temperatures). And races follow the real FIA standards, where all drivers must start their cars and drive in formation until the green flag drops. When using a joystick, some of the actions (like ignition, lights, windshield wipers and pit limiter) can be defined as automatic so you can concentrate on the act of driving (the auto pit limiter can be a little finicky and the developer is already working on a patch).
While racing, the feeling of driving a high performance GT3 car in ACC is really exhilarating. Even at 30 frames per second, the controls are responsive and you can really feel the weight of each car. Different engine layouts and other traits on each model make for very interesting racing strategies when driving a stable front-engined car (like the Lexus RC F, Mercedes-AMG GT3, Nissan GT-R or the Aston Martins), a twitchy mid-rear one (like the Lamborghinis and McLarens) or the rear-engine Porsches. The dynamics of each layout like understeer or snap oversteer and weight transfer on heavy braking really make each car very different and unique. This is especially true when driving on a wet track. Undulations on the asphalt and rumble strips on corners that can negatively affect the handling are transmitted to the player by the excellent force feedback. Setups are also very impressive, with granular adjustments of each and every imaginable parameter in a race car.
And in my opinion, the best of all: the audio. It is breathtaking! Kunos Simulazioni is on a completely different level here and no other game I’ve played comes this close (not even Project Cars). Each and every nuance of the diverse engines and effects like tire roll and screeching, bottom scraping, transmission whine and weather effects are masterfully reproduced ingame. This is a title that deserves to be played using a good set of headphones or in a really powerful home theater setup to annoy all your neighbors!
In the end, ACC is, in fact, one of the best options for those who crave for the most realistic driving experience in a console game to date. A few frame drops and small bugs like the auto pit limiter don’t really detract from the final result and, at the time of this review, the developer announced a new DLC that adds a whole new category: the GT4 Pack. Eleven new cars are coming to consoles in the next few months.
To sum it up, it is a great title that rewards the most serious racers with a great sense of accomplishment. If you are looking for the most realistic driving experience on a console and can feel gasoline running through your veins, this game was made for you. But if the sheer amount of options and the level of seriousness of Assetto Corsa Competizione scares you, steer clear of it.