Assetto Corsa Competizione (Console) Review: Niche But Nice

Assetto Corsa Competizione 165 June 24, 2020 by

When Assetto Corsa Competizione first launched on PC, there was one question ringing out from console gamers: when do we get it? Kunos Simulazioni had previously ported its first title, the renowned PC simulation Assetto Corsa, across to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One back in 2016.

The answer was simply if the studio could make it good enough. Now, a little over a year after the first launch, KS believes it can do just that, and ACC has hit the seven-year old machines in the console market.

ACC isn’t really a sequel, but more of a tie-in set in the AC environment. Rather than the expansive — and strange — selection of cars and tracks you’ll find in AC, the game zeroes in on a single, core principle. Competizione is the official game of the GT World Challenge, formerly the Blancpain GT Series.

That means that it features every single car and track of the series and nothing else. Some DLC adds to that, but essentially on the same theme: you’re racing GT3 cars on scheduled race circuits, with Assetto Corsa‘s lauded physics model. We’ve been putting the sim through its paces to find out how it has coped with the transition to console.

Content and Value For Money

Every single car and track of the GT World Challenge? That sounds like a huge selection — after all, GT3 cars pound round race tracks all over the world, with grids of 50+ — but cutting down to the core it’s less impressive. In essence, ACC ships with 24 cars and 11 tracks. If you pre-ordered, you get the Intercontinental GT pack which adds four more circuits and no additional cars.

Like so many “official game of” a sporting event titles, what ACC does is recreate who you are playing as. Each of the cars, which cover the 2018 and 2019 seasons of the Blancpain GT Series, appears under the banner of every team that ran it. That means every livery and every driver line-up — and each car may be different depending on whether it’s a sprint race, or three-, six-, or 24-hour endurance.

You can drive alongside David Perel in the #333 Rinaldi Ferrari 488, or in the sister car. If you want to team up with Lucas Ordonez in the #23 Nissan GT-R — or the #110 Bentley Continental — you can. In essence the cars are identical beneath the livery, but it’s like a FIFA game for GTWC fans. Racing with Maro Engel in the Black Falcon Mercedes is like receiving a through-ball from Lionel Messi. You can also create your own liveries, from a fairly extensive list of mix and match presets.

Similarly the track count seems a little light, but what KS does with it disguises that considerably. It’s not a ribbon of asphalt you simply need to learn and move on to the next, but a living, breathing road that changes as you drive.

That doesn’t just include the weather, though there is plenty of that too. The surface temperature affects grip, as does the amount of rubber laid down — a “green” track (fresh and unspoiled) is less grippy than a “fast” track. Varying weather conditions also play their role, from clouds to full on storms, and you can expect a lot of aquaplaning with the latter. Every track has a full day/night cycle too.

All this means that despite the very small amount of content, ACC rarely feels repetitive, and you won’t often be doing the same thing twice no matter how much you play, unless you choose to do so.

There’s an interesting career mode too. You’ll start off with a Young Driver test in a Lamborghini Huracan. These three, ten-minute sessions — in clear conditions, in the rain, and then at night — gives the game an idea of your abilities so it can set your driver assists and opponents to suit. That said, we’d not recommend you start here, and instead take some time running in single player to get used to ACC‘s foibles.

From there you can pick a team and get yourself into competitive racing against the AI. There’s a sprint cup weekend first of all, but even that pair of short, 20-minute blasts feel like being inside a Blancpain GT weekend. You can also bypass the whole career thing and just run a Championship event to get the feel of it.

However, we really do need to talk about the “game” aspect of ACC here. There is a lot of assumed knowledge and almost zero guidance. If you’ve chosen to go the Career path, it’s highly likely that you’ll spend at least 30 seconds wondering why you can’t go anywhere. That’ll be because you haven’t told the game you want to use the steering wheel you’ve plugged in, or because you haven’t assigned a button to actually start the car’s engine.

This pervades a lot of the game. Regular GTWC viewers will know that a race start involves driving along slowly in a train of cars two abreast, before smashing the gas when the green flag (or national flag) drops, but if you’re coming at it for the first time in your career race at Zolder you won’t know this. Nor will you know that there’s a compulsory pit stop and a window in which to do it. Or that engaging second gear disengages the pit lane speed limiter.

It’s authentic, but absolutely none of it is explained in any way. A few more information screens would go some way to getting rid of a lot of frustration that gamers who like cars but don’t know about GTWC will inevitably experience.

Online Features

“Competizione” is Italian for “competition”, and as such you’d expect to find competitive racing a particular focus. There is plenty to do when it comes to multiplayer.

ACC gives players a driver rating, made up of seven different characteristics. Most of these change on a race-by-race basis even if you’re driving offline, and include things like pace, car control, and safety, though the “competition” component is only affected by specific online races. Together the seven give you an overall rating, which can govern what online events you can enter.

The full public multiplayer mode simply dunks you into one of the available public servers. At this early stage there’s more servers available than players, but there’s plenty of races available — so long as you meet the minimum Track Rating to do so. You can also set matchmaking preferences to show you servers that meet specific requirements.

A Competition server also exists for ranked driving. You’ll need a minimum safety rating to jump into this server, but the ultimate goal is to see how you compare to others. Whereas the other ratings all vary depending on your own abilities, the competition rating is solely about who you can beat and who can beat you.

There’s also a set of solo online ranked events, called Special Events. These consist of short challenges, with your time placed in global leaderboards. There’s a number of different types, from hotlap (drive until you have a fast lap you’re satisfied with) and superpole (two chances to set a timed lap) to hotstint (a number of consecutive laps, with aggregate times). The combinations change regularly, so there’s always a fresh challenge.

All in all it’s a pretty well developed online multiplayer that allows drivers to develop their abilities offline and compare them online.

One minor problem at present is that there’s no ability to create private servers. That means you can’t just jump onto ACC for an evening’s mucking about with mates, or an organized private event. However this should come in a future update.

As for esports… KS hasn’t announced anything specific just yet. ACC hosts events for PC gamers, and whether console gamers will be allowed to participate in those or have their own — or there will be none at all — remains to be seen.

Driving Physics and Handling

Quite simply, ACC has no equal on console right now when it comes to driving physics. This was the one area that KS did not want compromised in the transition to consoles, and it looks like it has its wish.

Generally speaking, GT3 cars are pretty easy to drive. They may be pushing through 600hp, but they’re designed so that an amateur driver can buy a seat and drive it for four hours without having to buy another one. Giant tires harness the power, all the aero surfaces keep it squished into the floor, and almost every control is power assisted — they even have ABS and traction control. ACC‘s GT3s are no harder to drive than they ought to be.

However, GT3 cars are only easy to drive until they aren’t, or when you’re wringing the maximum out of them. Once you start nosing at the limits, the ACC vehicles start to show their true colors. The mid-engined McLaren 720S is a twitchy thing that doesn’t really enjoy trail braking, but the Aston Martin Vantage benefits more from cheekily dragging the brakes. Weight transfer at Zolder’s Butte corner (no laughing back there) upsets the front-engined GT-R, but the 911 stays fairly planted.

Unsurprisingly when things get wet the simulation starts to shine. Lower surface grip results in all kinds of interesting behaviors from the various vehicles, and aquaplaning up over the rise at Raidillon is a true clencher of an experience.

The vehicle setup possibilities are almost endless and affect the car just as they ought, although we wish there was a great deal more guidance and help on that front. Typically drivers decide what they want from a car and engineers decided how to set the vehicle up to achieve it. Though there is some crossover and a great driver will also be pretty clued in to what a 0.2psi drop across one axle might do, the ACC player is expected to know it all.

Though it’s naturally best enjoyed with a driving wheel, it’s still a perfectly playable game on a regulation console controller. There are some deficiencies, and the driver’s hands animation in the cockpit view is absolutely ludicrous on a game pad, but it’s not the horrifying experience you’ll find on some other console sims.

Graphics

The big sacrifice ACC has had to make on consoles is graphics. It’s by no means terrible, but it’s definitely a very weak aspect of the game particularly if you’re playing on base PS4/XB1 as opposed to the enhanced consoles.

Since KS revealed it last week, a lot has been made of one number: 30. That’s the frame rate at which ACC runs on console, and it is an absolute maximum regardless of whether it’s the base units or the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. For players who’ve become used to the smoothness of 60fps offerings in recent years it is something of a distraction — especially as we’re six months away from games promising 120fps or more…

The lower frame rate is pretty obvious, but nowhere more so than when it fails to hit even that. On PS4 Pro it doesn’t happen all that often, but on PS4 it can start to churn a little bit any time there’s a lot going on. Chucking in a handful of opponents early in the race on a slow corner in the rain can make it chug pretty badly but for the most part it does stay up near 30.

For the most part the game does look pretty decent in terms of resolution. PS4 and PS4 Pro run at 1080p, although we’ve experienced some curious issues with overscan on older panels that crop off important information like the race length and current track status.

The vehicles and tracks themselves are faithfully recreated and look authentic. We love the nice little touches like banner-waving members of the crowd, all of which add to the atmosphere. The track-side marshalls are neat too, and are ready with the correct flags — you’ll see the meatball early on while you’re getting used to it all (or if the AI has punted you yet again).

You can spot the compromises on the base PS4 though. Run in third-person view and there’s little to suggest that the car is even connected to the circuit. There’s plenty of pop-in, particularly when it comes to textures, and evident jaggies under rotation. The general impression overall is of a really, really good-looking PS3 racing game.

Sound Design

In terms of sound though, we have very few complaints. For the most part, ACC has it nailed: driving a GT3 car here sounds just like driving a real one. The GT3 category has a pretty wide range of engine configurations, and they’re all as close to real as our ears can tell. You can certainly tell them apart with a great deal of ease, even above the pervasive semi-auto transmission whine.

One much underplayed aspect of a GT3 racer is how raw the sounds are. For most road cars, there’s considerable insulation involved. Even when a marque wants you to hear its engine, there’s a lot going on that it doesn’t want you to hear at all. Race cars have no such need, and insulation is just wasted weight, so they’re often stripped bare, and that creates a remarkable effect where the car sounds almost fragile. Even running over a rumble strip can sound like a wheel bearing has gone in your road car, and ACC has that pretty much down.

That said, it can over-egg things a little. The first time we hit the chicane at Zolder, it sounded like a full-on crash from classic Commodore Amiga hit Stunt Car Racer. Adjusting the sliders in the audio menus helped with that somewhat.

In fact a lot of the game is really very loud indeed, and you will need to head into that menu to fix things. The one thing you can’t fix is your spotter’s voice. They’re either on or off, and they’re far too quiet when they’re supposed to be in an earpiece inside your helmet.

There’s a general lack of ambient noise too, with nothing like cheering crowds, or TV helicopters doing the rounds. Although perhaps they’re just not audible above the PS4 doing its own helicopter impersonation — ACC does make the console run hot.

The Verdict

Assetto Corsa Competizione will be a pretty hard sell on consoles. It’s essentially a single series sports racing game like the F1 series, or NASCAR, but for a series that doesn’t have that level of popularity. Coming in from outside of the GT3 racing world, it’ll look like a game with 24 cars, 11 tracks, and it’s not much to look at.

It then doesn’t help itself by not helping the player. There’s almost no explanation for most of what’s going on, and the UI is far from intuitive even when you’re not buried in menu screens. ACC assumes far too much player knowledge.

However, you can’t deny that there’s a lot more to do than the basic car/track list suggests, and an excellent physics simulation model running underneath the game. There’s an almost infinite scope for vehicle setup and it sounds great too. If you can’t raise $250,000 in sponsorship or win a flagship gaming event, ACC is the best way to experience top-level GT3 racing.

Assetto Corsa Competizione (Console)
Obvious graphics compromises for console performance, but an excellent simulation underneath.

Learn more about how our rating system works.

Content and Value For Money
Obviously small car count is enhanced by dozens of official liveries. Full weather and time cycles mean the tiny track count rarely feels repetitive.

Online Features
Myriad different online possibilities, with in-depth driver ranking system. No private lobbies at launch.

Driving Physics and Handling
Is there a match for Competizione’s physics on console? No, no there isn’t.

Graphics
Sacrifices made for consoles mean ACC never looks truly convincing. It’s far from dreadful, but 30fps is obvious and not locked.

Sound Design
You’ll need to adjust the various levels, but generally ACC does a solid job of sounding like you’re inside a GT3 race car.

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