In the old days of PC racing games - and by old I don't mean too old but think mid 2000s, there weren't many choices. Sure, there are plenty of arcade racers, but many of them unfortunately were forgotten and relegated to the proverbial dustbin of history (though there are ones that still thrive, like TrackMania and Whiplash). As for more realistic games, there were a few titles PC players could choose from; Simbin with their GTR2 and Race 07 titles, ISI with rFactor, Papyrus (RIP) with Nascar Racing 2003 and even though they were incredibly arcadey, EA's Need for Speed, among others. However, two franchises never came to PC and stayed console only - those being Gran Turismo (for PlayStation), and Forza (for xBox). And PC players, myself included, yearned for a great racing game that had the graphics of those games whilst the level of realism offered by more hardcore games like the SimBin games or rFactor. This isn't to say PC didn't have good games, but what the consoles got was something else altogether.
Fast-forward a few years and here we have a game developed by a small Italian firm named Kunos Simulazioni. Their goal was to produce a realistic racing game that has the intricate graphics offered by console games (at least, that's what I gather with this game; I assume that's what the devs were going for). It was given a fancy Italian name because what is more Italian than race cars? I digress, but anway, Assetto Corsa, when it was first released, was eye opening. Who would've thought that a game of this caliper would come to PC? Granted, Kunos aren't exactly a new firm; they did produce NetKar Pro, but I've never played that game, so I cannot say what it is like. However, what I can say about Assetto Corsa is this: it's a really good game, but it does have some issues.
The first thing I noticed about this game after setting up my race wheel was the force feedback. Holy ♥♥♥♥, the force feedback is incredibly well done. The fact that you can actually feel the road while driving is astounding, and because of this gives me confidence in what the car is doing. Every kerb, every crack in the road is felt but not exaggerated, making playing fun and exciting. It makes rFactor's limited force feedback feel like mushy peas in comparison. I will say this; you might've noticed I said "race wheel." Yes, this is a game that benifits incredibly from a game wheel with force feedback, or at the very least, a controller with force feedback. Keyboard control is possible, but it detracts from the game and using a keyboard removes one of the most highly praised parts of the game.
The game is more than just force feedback though. What I really like about this game is how easy to drive a good number of cars are. I know a lot of people are going to say "but the GT3 cars should be incredibly twitchy and nervous and blah blah blah" but hear this: GT3 cars are meant for regional racing series (like Blancpain, Super GT GT300, or Dutch Supercar Challenge) and also meant for "gentleman drivers." What is a gentleman driver? Simply put, someone with limited (or in some cases, no) race experience that wants to race. It's no wonder these cars are going to be easier to drive than say, the Lotus 98T or the Ferrari 312T or even the new McLaren F1-GTR. Sure, there are some hard to drive cars in the game; the 3 I mentioned earlier are good examples of that. However, not everything requires superhuman skill to drive. And for that, I give Assetto Corsa high marks.
I also love the tracks; they are incredibly well done and I love the atmosphere that surrounds them. Whether it is something as primitive or "organic" as the Nordschelife or as high tech as the Nurburgring GP circuit, you get a good idea on how the track feels. And finally, no more awkward versions of Spa! The one in this game is one of the most realistic versions out there.
Onto graphics; what can I say? They're great. Just take a look at some screenshots. Kunos has easily matched the graphics level of the console games, with highly detailed car models and tracks. The UI is unobtrusive, though can get a bit clunky trying to select cars and skins. Sounds are for the most part good, though there are some better third party sounds available. I guess that is a good thing since they can be replaced, but by the same token you'd think Kunos would've done good sounds themselves; I guess it was a cost issue. Oh well.
Now the things this game needs fixed, and there are a bunch of them.
First is netcode in multiplayer. Quite frankly, it needs reworking. A small tap from one car could send another car flying off like some sort of Newton's Cradle. It's hilarious at first, but there needs something to be done about that. Sure, at high speed having cars bounce off each other in two different directions makes sense but not while the cars are going 20 or so mph. Multiplayer racing, while good for the most part, does need improvement because of that.
Second is optimization and stability, which this game needs. I know piling on mod after mod can make the game more unstable, but ever since the game started using FMOD for sounds I have been having more and more sound crashes, making playing a sort of ticking time bomb. It especially sucks when you're on a great hotlap and suddenly the game goes six feet under. Optimization is sorely needed as well. I understand with the Dream Pack update there were CPU optimizations brought in, which is great, but there need to be graphic ones as well.
Third is the general state of the game. And I don't mean "Is this game going to die out or not" because right now I feel that Kunos is doing its best to keep the game ship shape. However, what direction does Kunos want to take this game in? As a hotlap game, it's great, but put any sort of AI racing and it's quite frankly subpar. Multiplayer has its own issues to deal with, and on top of that the game has probably one of the most insipid penalty systems in any racing game. Going off track - even if there is no advantage gained - grants you either a 10 second penalty OR you have to slow down to 30MPH. This is incredibly dumb and in multiplayer situations it can lead to some stupid crashes. I know the first thing people will say is "well don't go off track" but let's face it; you are bound to go off track sooner or later. But back to what this game wants to be; does it want to become the next rFactor? the next Gran Turismo/Forza? Or both? It is hard to say, and maybe Kunos doesn't know either.
In all, this is a great racing game, and is a breath of fresh air that PC players desperately needed. The collection of cars and tracks is great, and the modding community is thriving, producing some content that rivals the stock content. Would I recommend buying it? Yes, but if it's on sale with the DLC as well. And when Kunos does fix the issues and takes the game in whatever direction they choose, the game will be on every PC racer's bucket list to play.