Whether it’s their love of good food, fine wine or close family, Italian culture is renowned for being passionate. Developed by a tiny Italian studio named Kunos Simulazioni, Assetto Corsa is a love letter from Italians to the art of motorsport, alight with the fierce obsession many Italians feel for high-speed vehicles. There’s a reason that the world’s most recognised supercar manufacturer, Ferrari, calls Italy home, and that desire is celebrated in this wonderful simulator.
At the heart of any good driving sim is an accomplished physics model, the complex mixture of mathematics, science and art that attempts to replicate the way each car interacts with the road. It’s here that Assetto Corsa absolutely shines, with every cars’ tyres making sweet, sweet love to the tarmac in a subtle yet wholly believable fashion. Every bump and ripple on the track is transmitted perfectly through the force feedback, but it’s the way that the rubber flexes while cornering that is unrivalled. There’s an understated give to the wheel while careening through corners that I haven’t found in any other racer, perfectly communicating the exquisite balance necessary to power each vehicle through a turn at just the right speed, maintaining the delicate dance between grip and acceleration.
Many of the cars in Assetto Corsa are surprisingly easy to drive fast, with none of the crazy oversteer found in other racers, which makes sense given their voluminous amounts of grip. I’ve been lucky enough to drive Ferraris and Lamborghinis around private race tracks, and can honestly say that they really weren’t that difficult to tame at moderately high speeds, which the game mirrors perfectly. However, driving the exquisite steeds within at race-winning speeds is another matter entirely, as the perfect approach to each corner becomes progressively narrower as the speeds increase. It’s here that the game’s force feedback interplays with the squeal of the tyres as they try to hang onto the track for dear life, communicating clearly how the car needs to be handled.
Obviously the handling differs depending on the car being driven, and it’s also here that Assetto Corsa really outshines the competition. Thanks to the Italian connection, the developers have had intimate access to some of the sexiest supercar brands in the world, such as Ferrari and Pagani, along with other European manufacturers including BMW, KTR, Mercedes and McLaren. A highlight has to be the supercar that adorned the wall of every teenage boy in the 1980s, the fearsome F40. Its twin turbocharged V8 engine has some of the most horrific turbo lag I’ve ever encountered, and learning how to extract the most out of this handful of a vehicle is one of the most enjoyable virtual driving experiences I’ve encountered. In contrast, the Pagani Zonda R and McLaren MP4-12C GT3 are both race-bred supercars which stick to the track like flies to honey, provided you remember just how much power resides under your right foot. For the ultimate in high downforce traction, you can’t go past the blissful Formula Abarth race cars, open wheelers that plough through corners like a heated axe through butter. They all feel utterly individual, with each car having a distinct personality that will take weeks to learn. It’s a huge contrast from the likes of Project Cars, which feels like each vehicle is based on the same mathematical basis with a few numbers tweaked. While the range of vehicles isn’t massive, with around 15 in total, they’re unique enough that it doesn’t feel like there aren’t enough.
Sadly the same can’t be said of the number of tracks, which currently resides at around ten. Each arrives with multiple routes, but it’d be nice to have a few more to hoon around. Each has been built using the same laser scanning technique made famous by iRacing, and they can look incredible when the game’s dynamic lighting casts rays through the trackside trees. However, at other times the tracks seem relatively sparse, lacking in crowds, marshals and other objects that can imbue a course with a sense of life. Despite the relatively low trackside detail, the game’s hardware requirements are pretty steep – I had to drop back the reflection settings to medium on my dual GTX 780 Ti system to keep the frame rate smooth.
A career mode is included, but due to the lack of tracks it can get awfully samey rather quickly. The AI is also rather rudimentary, with races often looking more like high-speed conga lines than packs of competitive drivers trying to overtake each other. Fleshing out the singleplayer content are several dozen challenge races, which involve drag races, drifting competitions and straight up race weekends. Even more content will come thanks to the fantastic modding support, which is some of the finest I’ve seen in years. Just a few months after launch there are already several community tracks and cars ready to be downloaded. There are also hundreds of other mods available, including tyre monitors, setup calculators and anything else a virtual driver could need. Throw in regular content updates and Assetto Corsa will continue to grow into an ever larger experience. Besides, there’s always the online mode to keep you busy, which can accommodate up to 18 or more racers depending on the server’s bandwidth and hardware.
With arguably the best physics model available on the PC, Assetto Corsa backs up its exquisite handling with a healthy roster of sexy supercars and excellent presentation values. While the singleplayer content is currently a little limited, the inclusion of modding support will ensure that this racer is one that you’ll be firing up for many years to come.