Assetto Corsa Competizione Review
In my mid-twenties I had a work colleague who owned a 2000’s era Alfa Romeo Spider. It was a glorious car to look at but my overriding memory is of it spending what felt like every other week in the garage. I couldn’t fathom why one would own a vehicle that you would spend more time taking it to and from a garage than actually just driving it. One day I asked him why and he simply replied, “When everything comes together there’s no other car out there quite like it.” I get the feeling this is the first sentence in every Alfa Romeo’s owners manual as I’ve heard it several times since from different people who’ve owned an Alfa from the mid-nineties to about 2010 onwards when the electrics were much improved. How does this compare to a computer game? Well, after spending some quality time with Kunos Simulazioni’s Assetto Corsa Competizione (ACC) I think I can finally understand what they were talking about.
When you are playing a racing simulation there are two things it must do well: the physics and handling models. If I was to score ACC solely on these two points it would almost be flawless. Taking out an Emil Frey Jaguar G3 on a lap around Zolder was an absolute treat. I could feel the weight difference in how it handled when compared to the Lamborghini Huracán I was just running in as part of the intro to the career mode. The Huracán was nimble and pointy whereas the Jaguar was brutish but when handled properly, monstrously quick. As you work your way through all the different cars on offer — twenty-four at launch from fourteen different manufacturers with more to come — you can feel the difference, not just by how they handle but how they react, too.
Every race car has four contact points on which it interacts with the tarmac you're running on, with Tyrell’s P34 six-wheel F1 car being the only exception I can think of. How quick you go round a circuit will almost entirely depend on how well you manage to skirt the fine line of adhesion. Other more simcade-style racers can often make all cars feel the same with only your lap times telling you that they are different. The beauty of ACC’s model is that each car feels different in how they translate what’s happening on the track to your wheel. From here you can sense the areas in which they excel and where they can be weak. This then allows you to fine-tune things in your car’s setup which has a plethora of options to fiddle with, hopefully translating to improved lap times. If, however, tuning is not your thing then there are three base setups, two for dry conditions and the other for a wet race. These can be modified if you’re feeling risky but just accepting the defaults of each is sufficient to get out there and race.
That being said though ACC isn’t here to hold your hand and if you don’t pay enough attention to some of the sim aspects of it you can easily find yourself on the end of a disqualification. I suffered this fate when, in a one-hour time-accelerated endurance race, one of my drivers exceeded their maximum driving time. Whilst I saw that I had to change drivers at least once, I didn’t think to check overall stint time. Some games would flash warnings and maybe even go so far as to make sure you’re rule compliant every stop. Not so here and if you’re meant to refuel but forget to set it, tough. It’s harsh but then, this is a simulation and it’s directly pitched to a specific audience that isn’t buying a game to be told what to do all the time. Even so, whilst there is an intro sequence between each section of the career mode, something to advise of the rules would be useful if just to give you a heads-up after which there can be no complaints if you forget.
If you don’t want to take yourself through a career aimed at taking you through the ranks from amateur all the way up to the elite classes you can jump into one of the championships on offer. Currently you can choose between the Blancpain 2018 or 2019 season and a custom championship. The Intercontinental GT Challenge will arrive later this summer as well as the British GT pack towards the end of this year. These championships allow you to pit yourself against a rather passable AI at all the races in their respective calendars. Like the career mode, it’s important to take note of the rules and to make sure the length is appropriate for how much time you’ve got on your hands.
I can speak from experience that even a one-hour endurance race is a tough ask, which is why being able to have time-accelerated races is a fantastic feature to have. Depending on the multiplier you can make a one-hour race pass through a full twenty-four hour day/night cycle. This truly gives you the feeling of racing one of these machines in their element. Anyone who watches endurances races knows that even the six-hour races can require the use of lights, either at the beginning or the end of a race. Not to mention the longer, twenty-four hour variants, such as Spa-Francorchamps. The time transitions are wonderful in ACC with trackside shadows shifting and the sun moving across the horizon as day turns to night. In one of my races around Monza, this shift caused one of my breaking points — a shadow of a tree just before the first Lesmo corner — to wither away requiring me to acquire a new one but not before a trip to the sand trap.
Whilst there are some aspects of ACC’s graphics that are less than amazing, like the rear-view mirror, the day/night transitions are glorious to look at. Alongside some wonderful soundwork — which even goes as far as modelling sound absorption when you’re whizzing past barriers — you start to see just how good ACC can be when everything comes together. The elephant in the room here though is the knowledge that ACC is running at 30fps. The argument put forward is that to allow the game to have the unfiltered physics model the PC version has compromises had to be made and capping the frame-rate was one of them. It is noticeable at first but after a while it blurs away and is almost unnoticeable after a while.
What is unfortunate, however, is that you can often find yourself screaming in frustration when, despite your best efforts in wheel and pedal calibration, things just seem off. For reference my review rig consists of a Thrustmaster TX paired with a set of T3PA-Pro pedals. I also switched between the Alcantara clad 599xx Evo wheel and the Ferrari F1 replica. Overall I found the F1 wheel to give a better feel and fit for most cars but you will likely notice that your on-screen wheel is out of kilter with your own.
After some investigation it turns out that the PC version of ACC will take your overall wheel settings and alter them depending on which car you’re currently in. This means you set your overall wheel-lock to a setting of your liking and the game then makes the adjustment for you. On console, it seems, this mechanic is missing and if you want to get everything spot on you’ll need to change your settings per car. Thankfully settings can be saved so you only need do this once but the fact you need to do it at all is disappointing. Equally disappointing was ACC failing to recognise my pedals until I unplugged and put them back in again. The current workaround here is to start the game with a pad, turn it off and then connect your rig. Again, you can make it work but this just shouldn’t be a thing on launch.
If you tire of taking on the AI which, despite a little bit of stubbornness, are rather fair in race scenarios, there’s multiplayer should you wish to challenge the world. These take the form of public lobbies, special events and for the best of the best, competition servers. The latter require a high safety rating which is acquired and adjusted on how you race and join other metrics such as track competence, car control, consistency, pace and racecraft as a way of determining just how good you are. If you meet the requirements you’ll be allowed to enter and take on the cream of ACC racers. Private lobbies are on the roadmap but aren’t in at launch but given the lack of lobbies available outside of main markets they can’t come soon enough. As a sim-racer who resides in Australia, being unable to join public lobbies at this time is a rather huge disappointment.
So to take this back to the opening analogy, when everything aligns in ACC the racing is exhilarating, technical and an absolute thrill to play. Managing to hit a pole, take a podium or even better a win feels like the achievement it should be. However, the mass of issues reported with various wheels and pedals, missing features such as being able to adjust your field of view and the general lack of feel unless you’re willing to put in the time configuring your wheel is a disappointment coming from a company that prides itself on its exacting replication of racing. There’s room for improvement here and one can only hope Kunos Simulazioni will come through with goods that ACC deserves as what lies underneath could, with just a few tweaks, legitimately be the best sim-racer available on console.
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