Assetto Corsa is seen by many in the Sim Racing community as a Spiritual Successor to netKar Pro, which was an underrated Gem in the Sim Racing community. netKar Pro featured some of the most advanced driving physics in any racing simulator, and featured elements such as dynamic visual tire wear and rain modeling way back in 2007! Another cool feature was the ability to click on different buttons in the car, like in a flight simulator. However, lack of single-player and a very limited third party community led to this sim not gaining the attention it could have.
Enter Assetto Corsa. Originally announced in December of 2011, Kunos Simulazioni announced that Assetto Corsa would be a huge advancement from netKar Pro, and would incorporate new features, such as Single-Player against AI, an open-ended ecosystem to promote modding, and also acquiring officially licensed content!
Oh yeah… netKar Pro only had three out of fifteen pieces of content that were officially licensed; the Fiat 500 Abarth AC, the Osella PA-21S, and the Trento Bondone Hillclimb. With Assetto Corsa, Kunos Simulazioni features a myriad of officially licensed content, including cars from manufacturers such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and now Porsche!
With this game plan shown in full for the Sim Racing community, Sim Racers were very eager to get a taste of Assetto Corsa when the tech preview launched in 2013, which was quite promising. In the tech preview, you would take a supercharged Lotus Elise to Magione, and just drive hot laps. The physics felt good, and we had something to get excited about.
Fast forward through the release in November 2013 via Steam’s Early Access, the 1.0 release about a year later, and a ton of patches and updates in the past 2 and a half years, and that takes us to now. So how does Assetto Corsa fare now, in July of 2017?
Well, my simple explanation to that is that Assetto Corsa has taken a few giant leaps ahead of netKar Pro, but also has taken a few steps back.
In most of the categories, Assetto Corsa absolutely DOMINATES netKar Pro. Physics. Car and Track Count. Single-Player, Customizability, Modding, Online play. Assetto Corsa has that in Spades. Back in 2011, Kunos Simulazioni laid down their plan for what they wanted Assetto Corsa to be, and I’d say that did exactly what they planned nearly 6 years ago!
In terms of driving, Assetto Corsa is definitely one of the top contenders in Sim Racing. The cars behave realistically, and a lot of the driving mechanics work well together. Building off of the dynamic tire model in netKar Pro, Assetto Corsa enhanced that, and also has incorporated tire build-up and tracks rubbering in. Different drivetrains are simulated, including turbocharged and hybrid systems. Engine and Transmission damage is also simulated effectively as well. There are a few gripes though, namely when driving cars that largely rely on aerodynamic grip. It seems that those cars, like high performance open-wheel cars, tend to struggle in low speed corners. I talked with David Dominguez, who does physics for some of the mods for Assetto Corsa, and he stated that the physics engine in Assetto Corsa “has some issues when it comes to stiff cars and body roll”. Not a deal breaker, but it is something worth mentioning.
Assetto Corsa has a first party roster featuring over 100 cars, and over 20 tracks (with 39 variants). Almost all of the tracks are laser-scanned (with Zandvoort, Trento Bondone, the 1966 Configuration of Monza, Historic Silverstone, Highlands, and Black Cat County being the exceptions). The majority of the content is very impressive, and is quite enjoyable. Out of all the available PC sims, I would say that Assetto Corsa has the most content in terms of “Cars that I would want to drive”.
However, some of the best content is only available as paid DLC content, such as the modern Ferrari Formula One cars, most of the Porsches, and the Le Mans Prototype race cars. In the future, I would love to see an “Ultimate Edition” package for Assetto Corsa, with all the DLC included, or at the very least, a “Full DLC Pass” on Steam.
In terms of display support, Assetto Corsa has some of the best support for the multiple options available. In addition to single and (true) triple screen support, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are supported. The Vive is supported through the OpenVR protocol, so in theory other headsets can be supported in the future as well.
Another thing I really do like about Assetto Corsa is how the UI is controlled via “Apps”. You can add or subtract apps, and make the UI your own creation. Assetto Corsa supports third party apps, and they can really help. I like the Sidekick app myself, as it brings a lot of information in a small package.
As mentioned before, Single Player races are a notable addition to Assetto Corsa. The AI was known to be relatively poor, but the recent version 1.14 update has brought some considerable updates, and has made for a more authentic experience. I did notice minor issues at times with some third party mods, but that may be chalked up to external circumstances. With first party content, and most mods provide an awesome racing experience.
However, there are key elements for single (and multi)player play that lag behind. Racing rule options are still relatively minimal, and Career mode still lags behind other titles, feeling like an afterthought. I would love to see the ability to do timed/endurance races, and to maybe incorporate Driver Swaps in the future, like iRacing and rFactor 2.
When Assetto Corsa was announced to feature compatibility for modding, the community decided to latch on, and it shows. Over 100 cars and over 300 tracks are now available for the sim, but they are in varying levels in quality, ranging from “Acceptable” to “Amazing”. Some of the content, such as the Honda NSX, Le Mans, and Donington could be seen as “Must-Have” content for the sim. However, sometimes updates to the sim can “break” the mods, so keep in mind that the third party mods are also dependent on support by the modders.
Online Play is somewhat of a mixed bag for Assetto Corsa, but there is an active community around it. Kunos seemed to make some somewhat questionable decisions, such as not having the ability to select your livery for your car. Also, as mentioned before, the lack of racing rules is somewhat disappointing in terms of simulating different racing series. Utilities and services such as Sim Racing System have helped improve the racing, but I feel that Kunos is more than capable of implementing a solid first-party option.
There is no denying that Assetto Corsa is a great title, and is a solid progression from netKar Pro. However, it’s the trivial things that ends up holding Assetto Corsa back. Assetto Corsa is a heck of a driving simulator, but it feels like it’s somewhat of a gimped racing simulator.
netKar Pro featured elements such as rain on the track, full racing rules (with flags), and some features that may have been ahead of their time. One example was a “more realistic” repair/garage adjustment mode, that would make setup adjustments and car repairs take longer, more like real life. This wasn’t a very popular feature, but it was easy to turn off if you didn’t like it. It was nice to have that option though, for people looking for the most realistic possible experience.
With Assetto Corsa, it feels like Kunos decided to “play it safe”. They didn’t take many drastic risks, no wild innovation, etc. I would have loved to see Kunos take the “quirky bits” of netKar Pro, and bring them to Assetto Corsa, to make it even more of an in-depth title.
Speaking of Clickable Buttons, can we please get some more advanced driving controls? Or even the ability to map ignition and starter controls? I find it strange that this is the ONLY racing sim that doesn’t allow you to do that. I know I’m getting a bit nit-picky, but still. In addition, we can’t even adjust button mappings while in the sim itself. You’d have to exit, go into settings, adjust it, and then re-map. That can get slightly irritating at times.
However, I wanted to close with this. The great thing with the modern age of racing simulators is that ANYTHING can change! Racing rules are in development, and likely will help flesh out the racing side of the simulator. Weather is unlikely, but crazier things have happened! Time will tell, but Assetto Corsa is still a great title, and it’s one that I can easily recommend.
Now, lets get to the Pros and Cons.
- Solid Physics, including dynamic tire model and track build-up
- Best Car roster of any PC-based Sim
- Great Track List, with plenty of variations
- Active modding community brings a variety of content to the sim
- AI has seen some solid improvements
- Simulation of different powertrains
- “Apps” can bring solid customization to UI
- Solid Oculus Rift/VR Implementation
- Limited Racing Rules
- Limitations in Online Racing/Lobbies
- Best content is locked behind DLC barriers
- No Weather/Time of Day
- Career Mode feels “tacked on”
In terms of “Would I Recommend Assetto Corsa?”, I would say it’s a no brainer. Assetto Corsa is definitely one of the most immersive titles in Sim Racing, and despite it being relatively hindered on the racing side, it’s a great title that you can get a lot of enjoyment out of!