If you want to sim-race the Nordschleife, you will have to go grab Assetto Corsa.
In the gaming world there are a number of options when deciding how to get the best bang for your sim-racing buck, with strengths and weaknesses to all sims there is no one “right answer” for everyone.
Deciding on the right sim for you boils down to research and (if you’re lucky) a free trial or demo of the sim. The goal of this article is to help you decide if Assetto Corsa is one of the sims suited to you, and with the release of the first DLC (the Dream Pack) last month there’s never been a better time to consider Assetto Corsa for your sim-racing library.
Assetto Corsa is arguably the best looking racing game ever created, but that beauty comes at the cost of computing power. Running the game on the highest settings requires a powerful and modern gaming PC. The game will run fine on just about any gaming rig made in the last half decade, but to truly appreciate the detail of the aesthetics you’ll need something above average.
Having built a new PC for myself earlier this month I am finally able to run Assetto Corsa as it was meant to be run, on the highest settings; and I can honestly say I had no idea what I was missing. For pure eye-candy it’s hard to beat Assetto Corsa. The only sim that really comes close is Project CARS, which was recently delayed to May 2015, and that’s only the PC version (Project CARS will also be available for console).
The consensus among most sim-racers is that Assetto Corsa does not have the best physics, but it does have better physics than Project CARS. My time with Project CARS has been limited to just a few hours of single-player gameplay and from a build that is many months old at this point, so I cannot make a personal comparison while still being fair.
The original rFactor is still widely considered by most to have the best physics of any sim-racing game currently on the market. Not even rFactor 2 has physics good enough to wretch the title away from its predecessor. While the rFactor series has a firm grasp on physics, the visual aspect of both games is certainly lacking in comparison to the aforementioned grandeur of Assetto Corsa. With that being said, Assetto Corsa is very much a work in progress, and large strides have been made in the physics department (Force Feedback, Tire Models, etc.) and continue to be made all the time.
The sound in Assetto Corsa is good, but certainly not a key selling point (although when is sound a key selling point anyway), some cars seem to have better sounds than others. There are certainly sims with worse sound, the biggest of which being iRacing. With subscription service, dedicated servers, and a safety rating system there are plenty of reasons to give iRacing a try, but sound isn’t one of them. Many of the cars sound wimpy or underwhelming in comparison to Assetto Corsa.
The single-player experience in Assetto Corsa is a tricky area to judge because the idea of single-player might be very different from one person to the next. There is a career mode, but for anyone who is looking for a PC version of the famed Gran Turismo career mode, you’ll probably be very disappointed. The career mode in Assetto Corsa essentially boils down to “race this car against these other cars” and not much more.
There is no economy where performance means more money to spend on cars, and in turn there is no “upgrade system” which allows you to improve the performance of your existing cars. If you’re looking for a sim to jump in and race against the computer with, Assetto Corsa is a good choice but not the best. The computer AI drivers are fairly quick at the tracks included with the game, but suffer from a number of issues still.
There have been a number of improvements, and I expect more improvements down the road, but games like RaceRoom Racing Experience have AI that is more celebrated than that of Assetto Corsa. If you are just looking to go out on track by yourself in a time trial sort of fashion, Assetto Corsa is among the best games you can buy. There is a solid replay system as well that allows you to watch your races from a variety of camera angles, and even save those replays for later viewing (not unique to AC, but always appreciated).
The online aspect of Assetto Corsa is, in my opinion, the biggest issue with the sim. There are no dedicated servers (which iRacing has) and not safety rating system (which iRacing also has) which means there is little to no incentive for safe driving. Add to that the fact that the aforementioned beautiful nature of the sim results in plenty of players who said “Oh it’s so pretty!” and bought the game for little else. There are servers that you can rent though, which provide the sort of stability that you’d expect from the more expensive iRacing (or if your connection is good enough you can host your own server).
The multiplayer experience is perfectly fine if you have a group of friends (or even acquaintances) but in “public lobbies” it’s a whole other story (although Assetto Corsa is not alone in this problem, even iRacing has some pretty bad drivers in the lower licenses). Joining an online racing league isn’t a bad idea if you’re looking for clean racing in a multiplayer setting.
There are over three dozen cars available in the base version of Assetto Corsa (not including the new Dream Pack DLC) and over a dozen different tracks and configurations of tracks. Being an Italian-made sim, the focus is definitely on Italian cars and tracks, but there are plenty of British and German cars and tracks available as well. All of the cars and tracks are fully licensed and crafted to near perfection. With the addition of the Dream Pack DLC, you get an additional ten cars and the new laser-scanned Nurburgring Nordschleife.
Assetto Corsa is the first (and currently only) sim with a laser-scanned version of this legendary circuit and it does not disappoint.
The opinion of many within the sim-racing community is that the real strength of Assetto Corsa lies in the mods that are available for it. Much like rFactor (both the original and the sequel) before it, Assetto Corsa benefits greatly from a robust and talented modding community that collectively have created countless cars, tracks, paint jobs, sounds, and user interface enhancements that can be downloaded and installed to Assetto Corsa for exactly zero dollars.
The mods available have proven to be of such high quality that one of the cars is now included with the game. The Shelby Cobra was originally a mod car that needed to be downloaded from a third party website in order to drive, but has since been added to the base version of the game for all to enjoy. More mods are available for Assetto Corsa on a daily basis, and most of them are worth trying out. The downside to this, however, is actually in the multiplayer. Some servers are running older or newer versions of the mods you might have installed, preventing you from being able to join the server. It’s a minor inconvenience, however, especially if you’re avoiding public lobbies.
Assetto Corsa is a beautiful game, the result of laser-scanning accuracy and precision, with good sound, AI that needs improving, and a multiplayer community that could really benefit from more clean racers. The mods available for the sim, however, take it to the next level. If you’re looking for a good sim to enter the sim-racing community with, Assetto Corsa is a fantastic choice that will provide an incredible amount of cars and tracks for a one-time payment.
The sim is always improving, and updates are regular despite the small team of developers working on it. When I first downloaded Assetto Corsa in 2014 as an Early Access title there was lots of promise but not a lot of substance, however things have improved drastically and I have no doubt they will continue to improve.