Here at the beginning of summer, Assetto Corsa Competizione sits in a rather unique position. It has the spotlight all to itself, at least until F1 2019 touches down later this month. While we first got to know it with our hands-on preview last year, we’re now back to put our spin on the retail release.
There’s no denying that ACC is something special, but whatever you do, don’t call it a sequel. Competizione takes a different path than the original.
The current iteration in the franchise serves as the official game of the Blancpain GT Series. With it comes the official cars, teams, and drivers of the series — all recreated in painstaking detail.
All it takes is one race in ACC to discover it means business, much moreso than its predecessor. Everything is more focused, even down to HUD that judges players on their race craft. The question then is whether it improves on the existing formula.
Content and Value For Money
We won’t mince words here: both the car and track roster pale in comparison to the original game. With that in mind, ACC does brings dynamic weather and night racing to the table. Both make for an altogether different experience.
You can lose yourself coming to grips with (pun thoroughly intended) a rain-soaked circuit for hours. Even better, you can race under the black of night while navigating Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps. Despite ACC having a singular, laser focus, it’s no less of a complete package because of it.
There’s enough to sink your teeth into with five available modes: Career, Championship, Special Events, Single Player, and Multiplayer.
Career mode takes you through the paces of racing in the series itself, and leans into that aspect. Things kick off with a video introduction from 2017 Blancpain champion Mirko Bortolotti. From here things get interesting, and ACC’s career mode is far and away better than the original.
Before jumping onto the track, you start off as a driver in Lamborghini’s Young Driver Programme. You’ll need to prove yourself through an assortment of trials in a Huracan Super Trofeo, including car control and driver awareness. After the in-depth testing program, the game will create a profile for your experience, down to the AI level and driving assists.
Veterans may find it to be a chore, but it’s a welcome feature for newcomers as it lets them get a handle on things before diving into the deep end.
Once the driving program is complete, players will advance to the Sprint Cup season, with an eye on the eventual Endurance Cup.
Those wanting to jump straight into the action can do so in Championship mode.
Up next are the Special Events, giving players the option of tackling any one of four event types. Think of these as the equivalent to Rivals events in Forza Motorsport, but with a twist. The current events consist of a Hotlap at Silverstone, Hotstint at Spa, Superpole at Barcelona, and another Hotstint around Brands Hatch.
The Hotlap session is as you’d expect: a series of hot laps in ideal conditions. Said conditions are static and reset at the beginning of every new lap. A Hotstint pushes players to log consistent lap times, all while being fast over a single attempt. Unlike a hotlap, leaving the track won’t invalidate your lap, though gaining an advantage because of it will incur a penalty.
Hotlap Superpole is where things get a little more interesting. This is a two-lap shootout in a specific car/track combination. Starting from the pitlane, you’ll have a single outlap followed by two timed laps. The fastest lap of the two will serve as your time, and leaving the track will invalidate your lap.
Single Player is where players can let loose. Here, you’ll be able to customize events and race weekends in agonizing detail. Race length can go to a full 24 hours, or you could scale a full day/night cycle down to an hour.
While Competizione may lack the content of the original game, there’s no shortage of fun in sight. In fact, we’d argue that because of its singular focus, you know exactly what you’re getting. 10 tracks and 18 cars is nothing to sneeze at for a game representing an official racing series.
With the term “Competitizione” in the name, ACC expects you to treat racing with a keen seriousness you might expect to see in the latest Gran Turismo’s titular ‘Sport’ mode or iRacing. It’s a gameplay philosophy that is growing in the genre as the ongoing fight against trolls and crashers rages on, with an end goal of providing racing experiences that keep people heavily invested and coming back for more.
ACC looks to make players earn a host of ratings which dictate their in-game persona, spread from fundamentals like pace through to intricate safety and trust ratings which set the scene for what players expect from you on the track. The ratings can be overbearing at first — not only because the game makes a seemingly conscious decision to try and teach you about these on the track instead of giving you a formal introduction. Text in the top corner of the in-race HUD will give you specific challenges like “Drive 3 clean laps in a row” or “perform clean overtakes” and in doing this, you’ll see your numbers slowly start to climb.
It isn’t just a singular motion upwards though: drive dangerously or prove you don’t have the pace and the score will adjust accordingly. It’s best not to obsess with how the game does judge you because this ironically can have the opposite effect. This might be frustrating for some, especially where the safety rating is concerned as this is incredibly harsh by comparison to other offerings in the genre. It doesn’t matter if you crash into someone or they ram into the back of you — both players will get a safety penalty (admittedly to different degrees). It’s hard to know if Kunos implemented this as a simple solution or a very intelligent 4D chess play to discourage defensive driving long term. Either way, unless everyone buys into the ratings system and completely change their driving style because of it, it is best to let it do its own thing instead of setting out solely to improve your figures. Apply keen racecraft and the game will reward you accordingly — just expect some bumps along the way.
The ratings provide the baseline for online play but it also feels like Kunos didn’t quite go all the way with making the most of what it could provide. Despite the in-depth ratings system, there is no generic matchmaking based on this whatsoever. Hit Quick Race and you’ll be dropped into a room with drivers across the whole spectrum, from the uber-quick-and-mannerful aliens to the nervy twitchy sim racer who doesn’t quite understand why people are angry at him dive bombing down the inside at La Source.
Ultimately, all drivers need to learn how to race in GT3 vehicles and being exposed to all levels of player helps push a player forward long term (at least that’s been the case for me), but you can feel the stress building up any time a group of cars enter a proper battle for positions, caused by the Big Brother rating system that watches your every move.
Ironically though, this feeling on the track probably emulates real-life Blancpain almost identically as the series is known for being unpredictable due to the criteria that allows drivers to compete. We’ve all seen the huge crashes and breathtaking battles at the front of the pack. If anything, perhaps ACC’s relaxed approach to online racing will harbor this. If that doesn’t float your boat, custom lobbies can be set up with control to your heart’s content. If you don’t fancy having some greenies or aliens coming into your race then ACC gives you liberty to do this. Gameplay settings are full featured too, so if you fancy setting up a race at Monza with a full 16 driver grid in stormy conditions then that is entirely possible. Activating dynamic weather and time of day changes just sweeten the deal too and with the visual prowess of the game, it offers online immersion that is incredibly tough to match across the board.
Server quality is serviceable as it stands and whilst my racing experience so far has been smooth, those who have sketchy connections will have completely unnatural car movements, moving laterally through corners as the car turns slightly on an axis. It helps mitigate the jumpiness of games like GT Sport in these situations but can also throw off the overtake you’ve been patiently holding off on for five laps. As the game becomes more entwined with esports, hopefully server quality does improve. This slight caveat does not ruin the potential for exciting battles though and the carefully recreated racing machines offer a brilliant platform for close racing.
In ACC so far, I’ve had some of the most exciting battles in quite some time and I’m glad the ratings system is harsh long term but doesn’t impose anything mid-race (by default) to break the immersion. As a niche title on PC, it’s easier to simply let players go at it since the amount of disruptive drivers is significantly less than on console. Giving us all responsibility can be frustrating in moments of idiocy but it is through learning mistakes in this environment that ACC helps you build racecraft too.
Driving Physics and Handling
The physics engine is an improvement on the system used in the original Assetto Corsa. The cars feel planted and very natural to steer. When pushed to the limit, they’re difficult to save should you get a little too friendly with the curbs.
One car in particular stands out as our favorite among the pack: the 2018 Bentley Continental GT3. For a car with such a commanding presence, it is very nimble around the circuit. It feels as wide as it looks, but that never impedes its performance. The Bentley is delightfully stable through every twist and turn and never misses a beat.
The GT3 machine responds to changes with nary a peep and picks up speed like no other. That’s to say nothing of the throaty engine note, but more on that later. In our time behind the wheel, it feels more planted than the mighty McLaren 650S GT3. The Conti GT3 never sets a wheel wrong, and carves through corners with the utmost ease with warm tires.
All 18 cars are an absolute thrill to drive, with each having its own nuance. The Ferrari 488 GT3 feels more temperamental when pushing it around the track, whereas the Audi R8 LMS has excellent turn-in ability. At the end of the day, all the cars feel quick with plenty left on the table to go above and beyond.
As we remarked in our original preview, it feels brilliant to use a pad with the game. Curiously, vibration is off by default. Dialing that up made for a much better impression than last September. It never feels cumbersome to use anything other than a dedicated steering wheel.
With a controller in hand, the cars feel as intuitive and responsive, which is always a good thing. Recovering from a sudden steering upset is just as challenging on a pad.
If we had to nitpick, the default settings are a tad on the twitchy side. More than once we found ourselves over-correcting for a tiny hint of oversteer at low speed. We found the solution to be dialing the Speed Sensitivity setting up to 26%, up from its default of 20. This made for a much smoother experience.
To the surprise of no one, the best experience will be had with a steering wheel. Using a Logitech G27, every bit of feedback comes through the wheel. Compared to their AC counterparts, the race cars feel heavier and more alive in Competizione.
Both under and oversteer feel more detailed this time around. We don’t want to say AC feels easier by comparison because that would be stretching the truth a little. Instead, it feels as if you’re always aware that at any moment, the cars can break free and leap over the nearest barrier. Some GT3 machines are more well-behaved than others.
As mentioned earlier, the 488 GT3 feels more temperamental and it demands your full attention. Should you overstep in any way, it won’t suffer your inability to keep it tamed. Meanwhile, you can feel the Porsche 911 GT3 R fighting against its tendency to understeer through each corner.
The game comes into its own when the skies open up and the rain begins to fall. This is one luxury Kunos’ previous effort couldn’t afford, and is what truly sets the two apart. With rain drops hitting the tarmac, you can feel that every car now has a different personality.
In the sudden downpour, you’re immediately aware that you’re in a purpose-built torpedo, barreling down the main straight at over 140mph. This is a new feeling in the franchise, and is the one thing, if nothing else, that will keep you coming back for more. Tiptoeing around any one of the handful of circuits never felt better.
AC Competizione is a good-looking game. At its core is Unreal Engine 4, and it looks like a next-gen title when compared to the original. With the sun setting over the horizon, you’ll catch rays peeking through the trees and grandstands. There’s a ruggedness to its appearance and it works well for the title, considering its focus.
There’s the same attention to detail present here as in Assetto Corsa. While it more than looks the part, it isn’t without its fair share of faults. For one, despite having UE4 on hand it isn’t as polished as the likes of Forza Motorsport 7. One nagging issue we’ve noticed is a trailing shadow behind your car once it’s up to speed.
Our biggest qualm with the graphics is the performance, or the lack thereof. For example, a full grid of cars on the Nurb GP Circuit turns into a slideshow heading down to Turn 1. We lowered the settings and restarted the race and didn’t notice any difference in this area. Perhaps it’s an issue with the GP Circuit in particular?
While it isn’t as easy to run as the original, there’s still plenty of options to tweak. A high-end PC is your best bet here for high resolution gameplay. Those with an RTX 2000 series graphics card will be able to take advantage of ray-traced reflections, shadows, and ambient occlusion in a later update.
Rain may add a new element to racing for the franchise, but from a visual standpoint it isn’t very impressive. The wet road surfaces and ambiance look great, but the raindrops are a rather disappointing misting of pixels. It’s important to point out that this doesn’t take away from the experience whatsoever. Yet, in a world where dynamic weather is becoming a standard feature in racing games, ACC doesn’t do much to set itself apart here.
There’s no in-game photo mode, which seems like a misstep in today’s racing game climate. Considering the original game featured one, we hope it finds its way back to the series in a future update.
There’s so much to take in when it comes to audio in AC Competizione. Take the AMG GT3 for example. The V8 already has a vicious growl on startup, but when barreling down a straight it sings like only it can. It sounds, if we’re being honest, a little demonic — no different than the real deal. The same holds true for the Continental GT3 and its throaty twin-turbo V8.
Upon closer inspection, there’s more going on in the game than grunting V8s and howling V10s. The noises from inside the cockpit add another dimension to gameplay immersion. You can hear debris rattling underneath the car, the transmission whining as you rifle through gears. Set a wheel wrong on corner entry or exit and you’ll soon find yourself listening to a symphony of screeching tires.
If we didn’t know any better, we may even suggest you can feel some of the audio feedback, but that would be crazy… right?
Of course, it doesn’t end there. Replay cameras paint a different picture altogether. As your car passes by and disappears into the foreground, you can hear people cheering. There’s track ambiance that adds even more depth. It’s almost unfortunate because these details are bound to fall on deaf ears in the heat of a race.
Finally, there’s the in-game soundtrack. While there’s no licensed music, it does a fantastic job of setting the mood. The menu music is a soft instrumental that eases you into the swing of things. The pre-race music is an all out affair of adrenaline and we wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Does Assetto Corsa Competizione deliver? We’d answer with a resounding “yes!”. However, if you’re coming straight from the original game, the lack of content will be a bit of a shock to the system.
What it lacks in quantity is more than accounted for in quality. There may be hiccups, but this is still a solid package and delivers on what it promises to do. ACC is a niche title in the same way Codemasters’ F1 games are: it appeals to fans of a single discipline, in this case the Blancpain GT Series.
This takes everything Kunos did well with the first game and makes it better. If you’re a fan of the genre, this isn’t something you should ignore. For fans of Assetto Corsa, this is the next best thing from the franchise. The addition of dynamic time and weather is enough to keep coming back to the game on its own.
That said, the current issues with optimization is likely to leave a few less-than-capable machines out in the cold. It’s no doubt a sour point, as even our PC struggled to play the game without dropping frames. We can’t wait to see how the current iteration evolves over the coming months.
Assetto Corsa Competizione
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