A Predictable Disaster

IntroI really wasn’t looking forward to writing this article, because there’s just so much to cover in an effective and concise format. Many of us knew full well dating back to the initial announcement last spring that the release of Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One would be a legendary embarrassment for Italian developer Kunos Simulazioni thanks to a slew of technical issues and design choices plaguing the PC version, but watching the disaster unfold in real-time among online communities far and wide has almost surpassed our expectations when it came to just what kind of product would land on the shelves of your local electronics retailer. It was a safe guess that console owners would be upset at the lack of features, and on paper you can clearly see both systems would struggle to run the software without crippling hiccups, but it seems as if an entirely new set of issues have been discovered by those simply wanting a hardcore driving experience beyond what the competitors currently offer. Assetto Corsa is a complete mess, and many are unhappy with the product they’ve received.

Now I don’t explicitly want specific racing games to fail. As a hardcore sim racer, any developer attempting to eschew a casual-oriented experience in favor of something like BAJA: Edge of Control or Saturday Night Speedway earn major points in my book just for daring to create an interactive environment not focused around generic car collecting objectives. However, if a developer establishes a negative reputation among even a portion of the community who can present tangible evidence that the men working behind the scenes are giant assholes, it’s difficult to cheer them on as the release date nears and problems pop up. Assetto Corsa had astounding potential when it was introduced into Steam’s Early Access platform during the fall of 2013, yet over the years this potential has completely evaporated, and the console release is simply the explanation point on an already disappointing lifespan for the franchise.

Let’s start from the beginning, before moving on to how we got to this point.

Intro 2During a time when iRacing ruled the sim racing landscape, a little Italian company by the name of Kunos Simulazioni burst onto the scene with a surprisingly competent tech demo featuring a little-known European track bundled alongside a modern Lotus sports car. Dubbed Assetto Corsa, hardcore sim racers were blown away by the fidelity of the physics engine and overall driving model once the Early Access version of the game was unleashed to the wild in late 2013, with Kunos promising to flesh out the racing simulator and bring it up to par with other, more established racing simulators over the next year or so. It was a fantastic time to be a sim racing enthusiast, as most agreed that if there was one game that could sort of dethrone iRacing, the new king would most certainly be Assetto Corsa. Light on modes, features, and functionality, people still flocked to this game, perfectly content with running laps on an isolated track. The driving experience was sublime – magnified by an era where iRacing had forced sim racers to merely tolerate absurd tire characteristics.

And then development just sort of stopped. Rather than flesh out the game with weather changes, pace cars, night racing, or even the ability to pick the color of your car for online races, Kunos Simulazioni began to obsess over insignificant physics engine changes that only a fraction of the already small community could notice. This really served to split the Assetto Corsa fanbase in a way that was detrimental to the game’s overall success. The first group believed Kunos could do no wrong, eagerly ate up these minuscule updates, spent long hours on the game’s official message board competing for brownie points from staff members, and aggressively attacked anyone who questioned the sandbox-like direction development of the game had taken. The second group promptly lost interest and grew frustrated with how Assetto Corsa had almost turned into another iteration of BeamNG’s Drive – a lifeless, unfinished race car sandbox with phenomenal physics. There wasn’t much of anything to do in Assetto Corsa, and some began referring to the game as a Chris Harris Hotlap Simulator because it’s not like the AI worked, and online racing functionality paled in comparison to other simulators.

acs-2015-11-01-14-06-34-701These complaints continued as the downloadable content packs piled up, and despite an increasing level of displeasure over what this title had turned into, both Kunos Simulazioni and their fans were convinced that this valid criticism was simply the result of a few mentally ill individuals embarking upon an endless smear campaign. To some extent, they were right. We’ve profiled a few sim racers here on PRC.net who indeed spent every waking moment roaming the internet to spread an anti-AC sentiment to anyone who would lend them an ear. However, their complaints would often be echoed by much more stable personnel as the months wore on, and a collective gasp from the entire sim racing scene was heard when Kunos Simulazioni announced that rather than polishing the PC version in order to win over the sim racing crowd who were disappointed with the current state of the game, the Italian developer revealed that Assetto Corsa would be released for next-generation consoles with the help of 505 Games.

Yes, you heard that right. With only a portion of the sim racing community supporting this game in the first place, and a lot of people either losing interest in the title or being frustrated with how it didn’t quite live up to their rather basic expectations aside from the driving physics, Kunos believed it would be a wise decision to push this unfinished driving sandbox on the mainstream console audience – who were almost spoiled with massive, engrossing simulators in Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo, and even DiRT Rally. Even if, by some miracle, Kunos managed to weld Assetto Corsa into a state where the majority of sim racers were happy with it, there was simply no incentive to buy this game over what was already available for a discounted price at GameStop. It was totally unnecessary and almost foolish to port this game over to the console market in the first place.

But don’t take my word for it. Stefano Casillo of Kunos Simulazioni feels the same way – so already there’s evidence of the developers themselves not being entirely on-board with this project. Why on earth would you not care about how two thirds of your customers feel about your game? That’s a bit of an interesting stance for a developer to take on a game that’s about to get infinitely more exposure than a PC game sold only through Steam.

stef1I knew things were going to be bad when Sprint Car driver Billy Strange of Inside Sim Racing started uploading preview footage of the console version, albeit alongside some fairly robotic & awkward commentary. You see, Strange mentioned at the beginning of each video that he was under what’s called a review embargo, where usually the editor of a website signs some kind of agreement not to publish any critical writings about the product until launch day – and this is done primarily to ensure that bad reviews don’t put a substantial dent in sales numbers.

As a result, Strange introduced the video by saying he was only allowed to show “certain cars on certain tracks”, and forced to choose his words carefully as AI cars in the console version of Assetto Corsa filed into the pits on the final lap of the race – signifying a major issue in the PC version of the game still hadn’t been fixed almost a year later, and after several alleged AI updates that were supposed to eradicate this altogether. Yet despite Strange obviously making up a few spots in the running order thanks to this hilarious problem, the running order still scored him as eighth in the final race standings – completely omitting the fact that he’d passed four or five cars within the last kilometer of the circuit.

This set the tone for what was to come.

t3_4ygwmdWe now jump to August 26th, 2016. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Assetto Corsa have been released across Europe, with the North American release date scheduled for the industry standard of Tuesday, August 30th. I’ve done my fair share of reading, mixed with a bit of watching and even a bit of listening, and I’ll do my best to give readers a summary of how this title has been received by those who purchased it.

Assetto Corsa is a game you will want to avoid until there is a unanimous consensus from a large portion of consumers that indicates the several show-stopping technical issues have been fixed, and certain basic features most would deem as standard inclusions have been added. To my surprise, most people went into the game quite educated about what they had purchased, and were fully aware that the focus would be on the driving physics first and foremost, not the bells and whistles typically displayed in a more expansive title such as Forza Motorsport. However, these individuals were greeted with crippling framerate problems, screen-tearing glitches, poor audio optimization, and dated graphics that forced many to completely abandon the title altogether mere hours after opening the package. Those who were able to extract an acceptable level of performance from the software via the use of certain camera views and car/track combinations soon discovered an underwhelming experience featuring poor artificial intelligence, lackluster gamepad support, and an utterly pointless single player campaign mode.

And as they poked around for things to do, a lack of time trial rankings or even support for creating your own personal online sessions to avoid the numerous trolls were simply non-existent. It’s not that people went in expecting Forza Motorsport and were upset that they couldn’t draw dicks on their cars – the game had crippling performance issues, looked visually inferior to last-generation software, and wouldn’t even let you race with your friends.

It was an abomination of a racing game, and if there’s one positive aspect about the mess of the console release, it gave those critical of how the game had evolved some much-needed justification in the face of fanboys everywhere who were convinced Kunos could do no wrong.

In my opinion, there are four main factors which contributed to the reason why Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is not just an underwhelming racing simulator that will be forgotten in a month, but a failure unlike any other in this particular genre. It’s one thing for a game to be released in a state that’s a bit bland and boring – Simbin’s Race Pro just sort of stumbled onto the Xbox 360 without much of a peep from the community altogether – but the sequence of events leading up to this launch, as well as those after the game arrived in the hands of the public, have created a situation that is just downright embarrassing for both Kunos Simulazioni, as well as their fans. While some could argue that Project CARS was an objectively bigger train wreck,  Assetto Corsa was supposed to be the game that relieved people from Project CARS, not subject them to the same bullshit, all over again.

hfogoElement #1 – Hostile Developers and Empty Promises

The whole debacle really started during the holiday season of 2015. Complaints about Assetto Corsa were skyrocketing, and the PC version was in an eternal science project-like state. The tire model continued to receive meticulous updates, but the game itself had been stuck in a limbo that relegated it to the status of the aforementioned Chris Harris Hotlap Simulator. Sure, Assetto Corsa had received numerous downloadable content packs, but the experience you received upon starting the game could be accurately described as an expansive tech demo – a fair bit of European cars, an okay-ish list of tracks, but no real purpose to the game aside from driving by yourself. As you can see above, Kunos responded to an increase in criticism by telling their own customers to “have fun or get out.”

As if this wasn’t enough, they began tracking people down who had made critical comments about the game outside of the official forums, and banning them as well.

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But they weren’t done yet. After allowing the third party modding community to flourish within the official forums for several years, really helping to turn Assetto Corsa into the cult phenomenon you see today, Stefano randomly closed the huge community hub and told people to find somewhere else to go, effectively splitting up what was once a mammoth group of users dedicated to helping inject some life into the game. And rather than treat their customers with at least some resemblance of respect when making basic press releases that indicated maybe the game wouldn’t come out when they said it would, Kunos then used the Red Bull Gaming media outlet to announce that the console version of Assetto Corsa would be delayed due tofootball.

football

Anyone who owned the PC version of the game could go to the official message boards and discover that this was complete bullshit – the vast array of bugs found by random users of the PC version indicated the title was nowhere near ready for a mainstream console launch, but this didn’t deter Kunos from establishing themselves as a rather hostile developer, and they confirmed this would be the approach taken during PR pieces shortly before the launch of the console version. Not only were they incapable of taking criticism, going through great lengths to ban people from their official forums, and unable to admit that maybe there were a few problems behind the scenes by blaming delays on fucking soccer games, the team thought it would be a great idea to attack the community directly, and out of left field claimed that anyone who thought there would be differences between the two versions of Assetto Corsa was simply a conspiracy theorist.

marcoTechnically, Marco was right – the underlying physics engine powering both versions of the game would remain the same. However, the list of content between the two games would receive drastic changes. Cars found in the PC version of Assetto Corsa, implemented throughout the game’s lifespan as free updates, were suddenly removed from the title and offered as exclusive pre-order downloadable content. Two major DLC releases that have already been available on the PC for several months, dubbed The Red Pack and The Japanese Pack, were yanked from the game even after Kunos stated that the console rendition Assetto Corsa would ship with all previous PC DLC packs as vanilla content. Even more confusing, PC owners learned the would have to pay extra for the Ferrari FXX-K, the cover athlete for the console version, which is found on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 Blu-Ray disc by default.

Assetto_Corsa_9car_bonusLGAssetto Corsa fans did not learn the game would ship without the inclusion of custom lobby support until 24 hours before the European release date, meaning a hell of a lot of individuals intending to use Assetto Corsa as their new online league platform to get away from the mess that was Project CARS were shit out of luck. The recent kerfuffle between Sony and Fanatec parting ways was not explicitly stated by Kunos Simulazioni, and Fanatec steering wheel owners purchased Assetto Corsa only to discover that a day-one patch disabled support for their expensive toy steering wheel – meaning a lot of people were intentionally rolling back their system or frantically disconnecting from the internet just to play their new game in an enjoyable fashion.

Combined with the review embargo, which prevented news outlets from letting consumers know what they’d be receiving with Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it made Kunos Simulazioni look less like the heroes of sim racing, and more along the lines of a developer trying desperately to make a quick buck off a poor man’s Gran Turismo.

Element #2 – Severe Technical Issues

Before Assetto Corsa had made it out into the wild, an anonymous video game journalist had taken to Reddit in a desperate cry for help with the game, hoping to be aided by Assetto Corsa experts after a less than satisfactory experience. During the review process for Assetto Corsa, he simply could not understand why the PC version of the game had received such glowing support from the sim racing community, as the console edition suffered from embarrassing technical issues making the game virtually unplayable to the point where he thought he’d actually done something wrong himself. The guy’s complaints had nothing to do with the overall purpose of Assetto Corsa as a hardcore racing simulator; he essentially described a Chinese knock-off version of Forza Motorsport that could barely maintain a playable framerate, featured the worst instances of screen tearing he’d ever seen, and visually could fit in with most PlayStation 2 games.

All of his posts and comments were promptly down-voted by a mass of Assetto Corsa fanboys, who were convinced he just didn’t understand the point of the simulator, but his impressions were soon supported by hundreds of individuals also wondering what in the world they just bought.

complaintsContrary to what a lot of people expected – myself included – complaints about Assetto Corsa from the normal folks populating Facebook have nothing to do with the lack of content. This was a big concern some of the more rabid fanboys had over Assetto Corsa being unleashed to the console masses – that the normies would grow bored with the game’s focus on the raw driving aspect, rather than giving them hundreds of cars to collect or liveries to design. Most customers appeared to have genuinely researched what kind of product Assetto Corsa was trying to be, knew exactly what they were getting into, and were instead presented with show-stopping performance issues that outright ruined the game. They were not disappointed by the fact that Assetto Corsa had around ninety cars and twenty tracks (well, some were), or lacked a massive career mode complete with narrative bits from Jeremy Clarkson – the content that was on the disc, didn’t even work. All of this, after they’d been told from several news outlets that the PC version of the game was basically the best racing simulator money could buy, and that Kunos could do no wrong.

And then the masses found out about the lack of private lobbies, the last-minute incompatibility with Fanatec gear, and the intrusive downloadable content plan aiming to re-sell content already available on the PC version, and it just sort of snowballed into a mess beyond control. Their PR guy eventually gave up, pasting one of the same five responses to any negative feedback.

rabidElement #3 – Bizarre Fanboy Defense

So it’s pretty clear that Assetto Corsa shipped in a less than satisfactory state. Between framerate trouble, screen tearing, a decline in visual fidelity, and the lack of an ability to create your own online session for your buddies, the masses who picked this title up absolutely slaughtered it for completely justifiable reasons. The game was virtually unplayable thanks to performance issues that should have been ironed out after numerous delays, and when it came to extremely preliminary features – such as being able to host a session or compare fastest laps with your friends – all of these had been left on the cutting room floor in favor of… well… nothing. It’s important to note that a whole host of people were in unanimous agreement that the physics enginelived up to every last portion of the hype, but the product around it was so broken and almost non-existent, it was hard for anyone to justify dropping Forza Motorsport or Project CARS for a title of Assetto Corsa’s caliber. Again, it had nothing to do with the lack of a livery editor, massive campaign mode, car collecting meta-game, or fancy progression features. Assetto Corsa couldn’t even get the basics right.

And yet, the fanboys are acting in a way that almost follows a script. You can go check out the various message boards and Facebook comments section to see it in action for yourself, but it’s like a cohesive group of people are currently racing around the internet to dismiss any legitimate criticisms of Assetto Corsa as console idiots who don’t understand what a simulator is – and I’ve taken a screenshot of some of my favorites above to display just how absurd this can get. Let me make this as clear as I possibly can – Assetto Corsa is not being roasted for not being the next Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport. Many actually knew what to expect going in, a sign that modern gaming news outlets are doing wonders for keeping people informed. People are instead pissed because this game doesn’t fucking work.

But you have these obsessed basement dwellers totally convinced that people are just butthurt over Assetto Corsa not being the second coming Gran Turismo, and they’re attacking disgruntled customers for complaints they haven’t even made. Are there some people upset that the track count is a bit heavy on the European side, and that Career Mode is uninspiring? Yes. Is that why most are trashing the game and are asking for refunds? No. Assetto Corsa barely works in the first place, nor does it accommodate the needs of modern racing game fans when at its best.

ItElement #4 – Dishonest Reviews

Let’s cause some problems here. If you want to check out something beyond hilarious, take a journey over to the Metacritic page for the PlayStation 4 version of Assetto Corsa page. Almost every review of the title that gives the game a score of 80 or above is from a strictly Italian website, the same nationality of the game’s developer, Kunos Simulazioni. The rest of the reviews written primarily from English-speaking outlets, score the game somewhere between a 50 and a 70 – about right for a hardcore racing simulator suffering from numerous technical problems. I mean, because of libel lawsuits and such, I can’t come out and say that I believe there’s some shady business going on, but a truckload of highly positive reviews from Italian and Spanish websites glossing over major issues which are currently causing people to return this game en mass are extremely questionable.

Untitled-4As we dive deeper into the English-spoken reviews, some of the writings don’t even align with each other. PlayStationLifeStyle.net writes that Assetto Corsa features a bare-bones career mode, while USGamer describes Career mode as “fairly comprehensive.” Digitally Downloaded writes that online racing worked as advertised (and completely omitted the lack of private lobbies, which has pissed a lot of people off), while the anonymous reviewer asking Reddit for help stated there wasn’t anybody else online to actually test the game with. You can do these little comparisons with practically every positive and negative review of Assetto Corsa; it’s like anybody who scored the game above an 80 was either Italian or didn’t play the game at all, but merely regurgitated the list of features and slapped a score on at the end.

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So this is the console version of Assetto Corsa, the product in which Kunos Simulazioni have slaved over since the endeavor was announced early last year. If you’re in the market for a new racing game, and for whatever reason aren’t entertained my the numerous offerings currently available on the market, I’d advise you to wait this one out until it drops in price and Kunos are able to iron out the bugs. Given their work ethic, Stefano’s tendency to stop what he’s doing to fight with forum trolls or play guitar, as well as the snail-like pace of the PC version’s development progress, early adopters of this game might be waiting a long fucking time for the product to evolve in a way that meets people’s expectations of what they hoped to receive on launch day. Between the empty promises, numerous technical issues, rabid fanboys who are convinced none of these game-breaking problems actually exist and people were just expecting too much, along with the totally dishonest reviews of the product, it’s becoming increasingly clear that you aren’t missing much if you skip out on Assetto Corsa for the current crop of home consoles.

Five “Little Things” F1 2016 Does Right

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-31-08-68While waiting for all of the details to emerge regarding a particularly bad racing simulator that was just released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, let’s instead kick off the weekend by discussing the opposite – an exceptional product centered around the world’s most prestigious racing series: Formula One 2016 by Codemasters. This will not be a complete review in the traditional sense, with all of the fancy writing that makes your morning poop at work that much more enjoyable; I would much prefer our boy Sev to give this title the full shakedown considering F1 is a series he’s infinitely more familiar with than I am, but it needs to be made clear as soon as possible on PRC.net that Codemasters has yet again has shocked the world by producing arguably the best racing simulator on the market for the second year in a row. Unless you are an absolute dogshit road racer who is completely unacquainted with modern Grand Prix racing, you owe it to yourself to pick up Formula One 2016. It’s that good.

I’m nine races into the game’s expansive career mode, driving for the McLaren-Honda team on Legend difficulty with Fernando Alonso acting as my partner in crime. This game is simply brilliant. In the past here on PRC.net I’ve written that developers need to create engaging products that have you racing home from work for an all-night marathon in front of your plastic steering wheel, and after seventeen hours of play, I have no problem stating Codemasters has accomplished exactly that. So let’s go on a brief tour of what makes this game so great, and why after six run-of-the-mill licensed F1 offerings dating back to 2010, the seventh exceeds all previous expectations.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-15-18-75A lot of people want to know how it drives, as the footage you can find of F1 2016 on YouTube often displays amateur drivers monster trucking over rumble strips, and rarely struggling to keep the rear end in check. Truth be told, F1 2016 drives like a strange hybrid between the old rFactor FSOne mods – releases that were notoriously simple to drive – mixed with the extremely forgiving slip angles of the famed EnduRacers Flat 6 mod for rFactor 2. These cars are downright glued to the ground, and you can get them pretty sideways before they give, but there is a limit to how retarded you can be behind the wheel. Personally, I think the handling model is appropriate given how accessible F1 2016 needs to be. There’s no way Codemasters could pull a DiRT Rally with this game and leave people crying on the side of the road, but there’s enough of a challenge where you still need to drive the car.

To my surprise, the tire physics found in F1 2016 shine when you’d least expect them to – in the rain. During my adventure through Career mode, I was forced to deal with wet weather driving on two occasions – once in Azerbaijan, and again in China. Usually in F1 games, racing in the rain is a gimmick, and understanding what the physics engine wants from you is a total crapshoot. You’re never really sure how to turn competitive times, and the entire event boils down to merely surviving. This is not the case in F1 2016; while navigating highly technical sectors in lower gears, the tire physics allow you to really wheel the car in a fashion similar to DiRT Rally – giving off a very natural and rewarding vibe when you get it right. As the speeds increase, you can physically feel the downforce take over, though it never quite rectifies the perennial understeer generated from the tires only partially gripping the slick tarmac.

Tire wear is a bit exaggerated, as are the turbocharger effects, and these are two aspects which the hardcore sim guys among us might grow frustrated with. As the end of a stint nears, you can generate some fairly comical slip angles, and I still believe it’s beneficial to have traction control set permanently on Medium, but experienced sim racers will usually be able to drive in a way where these two aspects are only noticeable when digging for that final tenth of a second with the race winding down. Minor quirks aside, I think you’d have to be extremely snobbish to pass on F1 2016 based solely on car physics.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-11-18-66Acceptable physics mean absolutely nothing if the artificial intelligence isn’t up to par, and I’m happy to report that F1 2016 is solid in this aspect. I mean, this is why I’m still playing career mode and on pace to finish a season rather than lose interest in the game altogether. This is actually a big deal for Codemasters, as previous games in the series have traditionally suffered from an AI package that’s either too fast, too slow, or fails to perform in a fashion anywhere near that of a human entry. In older games, the AI would shoot away from you in sector one, only to slow up completely by sector 3, or randomly click off laps three seconds faster than your personal best if you were running away with the thing. It all once felt very scripted; as if there was a puppet master in the sky tailoring the on-track action to your exact position.

I don’t want to mislead people and say everything’s been fixed and you’re looking at the new Grand Prix 4, but it’s definitely getting there. The AI are quick, they run the same line as the player, they’re aware of your existence, and they race you hard. Provided you respect the spot on the track they currently occupy, and don’t do anything too retarded, they are a fantastic substitute for human competition when it’s not readily available. It’s indeed possible to bully them and force them to give up the spot by positioning your car in a certain way (usually poking your nose under their “door” on corner entry), but I’ve had some incredibly nutty races with the computer opponents thus far – totally unlike previous installments. And sometimes, just being able to reel in a car over a span of several laps rather than capitalizing on an AI line error on the part of the developer makes the overall experience that much more enjoyable. You can basically zone out and just follow a guy for a few laps as you would in an online session among talented drivers. It’s been really nice having these epic race-long battles with a Williams or Toro Rosso entry, rather than making it past a car on lap three and never seeing them again for the duration of the event.

They’re also on-pace with the player’s skill level in wet weather driving. During the Baku City Grand Prix, I was worried that the soaked track might lead to a scenario where the AI would mop the floor with me and be granted inhuman abilities as I struggled to keep the rear end planted on corner exit. This wasn’t the case, I was able to have extremely enjoyable battles with a wide range of drivers throughout the fourteen lap affair.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-11-34-68Out of the gate, Codemasters have successfully paired the perfect combination of satisfying simcade physics with surprisingly competent AI, but F1 2016 is much more than just a decent on-track product. Part of the fun of loading up this game has been admiring just how fucking polished the thing is, and this is something that has been missing across all racing games for far too long. Unlike last year’s embarrassing release, with lifeless menus, goofy 3D driver models, and a total lack of in-game content, firing up F1 2016 is reminiscent of the old EA Sports NASCAR Thunder games which once dominated both Microsoft’s original Xbox, as well as Sony’s PlayStation 2. I don’t want to say the game is loaded with all of these little bells and whistles, like unlockable alternate liveries or bonus circuits from the 1980’s, but you can tell there’s been much more effort put into this game compared to the ones which came before it. And all of these little aspects that Codemasters have obsessed over during the development of this game add up to make F1 2016 something far beyond just another yearly release.

So let’s throw them into a top five list.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-04-49-20#5 – Presentation

Across most hardcore sim racing communities, you’ll quickly discover a vast array of virtual motorsport enthusiasts are adamantly against bells and whistles of any sort. They don’t want a victory lane celebration, they don’t want a pre-race introduction, they don’t want fancy commentary, and they sure as hell don’t care for things like watching your avatar have a sip of Gatorade before the race. All these elitists care about is the ability to wheel the car around their circuit of choice; everything else is a distraction. Formula One 2016 most certainly isn’t for them, but for those who are willing to go along with these extra curricular activities and fully immerse themselves within the environment, it’s actually a real treat.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-04-46-32In a throwback to the lengthy pre-race introductions seen in the EA Sports NASCAR Thunder games, each session (including practice and qualifying) opens with one of several different pre-recorded segments hosted by Anthony Davidson and David Croft, briefly discussing the upcoming action. While I’m sure it won’t be long before you start hearing the same lines spoken regarding different drivers or teams, taking two or three minutes every few races to admire the atmosphere created by this TV-style presentation is a fantastic way to break up long driving portions. The generic shots of teams working on their cars in the garage area, or a driver leaned up against the wall having a drink before the race introduces some much-needed life into what was once a fairly stale environment in previous games. Again, I wouldn’t recommend watching these for every single race, but if you’ve been playing for multiple hours, it’s the absolute best way to take a breather, because all of these short scenes are really well done.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-17-08-48And this actually transfers over to the menu as well. Your hub for Career mode is not just a floating semi-transparent blue box, but rather a physical desk, and after each event, new goals or achievements will be presented by someone from your team’s staff physically walking over and talking to you. These scenes don’t last long; they’re really just one or two spoken sentences telling you to check out the Research and Development report, but it adds to the overall atmosphere that you’re a Formula One driver competing for a prestigious World Championship, and not just some guy mindlessly plowing through Career mode. The whole cohesive experience is just really slick, and it’s hard to believe we once were entertained by video games without this level of immersion.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-18-04-16#4 – Setups with Simulation Value

At one point in time, when myself and a high school buddy would spend our summer nights dominating online public lobbies in DiRT 2, Codemasters games were known for exploit setups. The physics engine used in the landmark off-road series could let you get away with insane setups as long as you had the wheelman skills to hold onto it. Low downforce on Hill Climb cars? Check. Extremely stiff suspensions? Sure. It was hilarious during our experimental phase to see what we could come up with in the garage area that would produce an advantage on track, and it kind of drilled home to us what simcade physics meant. The F1 series also suffered from these kinds of bizarre garage options, but after consulting our boy Dustin and learning what goes into a real world Formula One car, this is the first year Codemasters has some resemblance of realisim within the garage area.

Real Formula One teams are stiffening the shit out of the front of the car, and softening up the rear as much as possible. Extreme downforce values are out of the question, as are extreme ride height values. Brake bias numbers in the 50% range are common in the real thing, minimum value tire pressures are solid, and rear anti-roll bar adjustments only require minor tweaks based on what the driver feels comfortable with. Just like real life, these are all setup tricks that work wonders in F1 2016, leading to a setup building experience very similar to what you’d see in a more hardcore simulator. You can basically keep one or two baseline setups stored in your save slots for use at any given track, requiring only minor adjustments that are more along the lines of user preference rather than instant speed. It’s really nice to not have to consult message boards or YouTube videos for tricks that guys have figured out by literally breaking the physics engine.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-14-19-41#3 – Cockpit Camera Settings

Sweet Jesus, Codemasters has been reading PRC! That was my first thought upon discovering a menu entitled Camera Options. Look, every single person on the planet who has obtained a valid drivers license has their own personal preference when it comes to the seat position inside their daily driver, and race cars are no different. Rather than subject us to truly awful default camera views that required the use of a third party XML editor to adjust – with varying results, I might add – Codemasters baked an entire menu into the game for us. Simply put, this functionality is awesome, and you can access this menu while driving to fine tune your own personal driving view. This is actually the first racing game I’ve ever played where I’ve been able to use the physical mirrors attached to the car, rather than proximity arrows or a virtual mirror found at the top of the screen as seen in other games.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-06-36-64Being able to move the seat around, adjust your mirrors, and change the field of view may seem like the most abstract thing to praise in a $60 video game, but given how brutal the default cockpit views included in Codemasters titles have traditionally been over the years – save for Grid Autosport – this level of customization is a welcome change of pace, and really shows just how far Codemasters have gone to dot their I’s and cross their T’s in F1 2016.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-32-02-12#2 – Black Boxes and Data Mining

All major racing simulators powered by the ISI Motor engine, as well as iRacing, rely on something most sim racers refer to as the Black Box – a small navigational interface located in the lower right side of the screen allowing you to cycle through tire temperatures, pit strategies, and other miscellaneous in-car adjustments such as fuel mixture and downforce settings. This functionality has now found it’s way into the Codemasters Formula One series, and F1 2016 has what is by far the best black box ever included in a racing game. One screen lets you change both your fuel mix and your upcoming tire compound to be fitted during the next pit stop, another screen monitors tire wear, and damage, while a third outlines your overall strategy and team expectations. What was once only a feature seen in hardcore racing sims has found a new home in F1 2016, refined to present all of the information you need at a moments notice. Just like rFactor, it uses the same five buttons as well – four directional commands, and an “accept” trigger.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-36-51-01But this is only one half of the data mining element found in Formula One 2016. The game’s extensive career mode has introduced three practice-specific mini-games as a way to help kill time during the numerous warmup sessions, though they’re much more than just gimmicks. Focusing on the three most prominent ways to use practice time effectively – learning a track, managing tire wear, and embarking upon mock qualifying runs – F1 2016 not only rewards you with car upgrade points for the successful completion of these challenges, it also spits a ton of data at you which can be used to help refine either your driving or car setup. In some instances, the game will actually offer suggestions to your setup or tire strategy for you after completing these challenges. Yes, it may be fun to blow through these on autopilot, but the feedback they give you is essential to your success on the race track.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-20-30-28For example, I’m not an F1 guy, so I’m totally unfamiliar with both the new Baku Street Circuit, as well as the Sochi course in Russia introduced a few years ago. With the track acclimatization program offered in practice, I was able to not only learn the general racing line for two tracks I’d never driven in my life, but the game clearly conveyed to me the kind of pace I needed for each corner to remain competitive, and as a result, I was able to score points for my team in both races on Legend difficulty. And on tracks I was already familiar with, I could instantly use the mock qualifying program to make setup adjustments and check my pace without fucking myself over via the parc ferme rules. These little mini-games are so effective at keeping you engaged and spitting out valuable data in easy-to-read menus, that it will be difficult and boring to do it all by hand in a more serious simulator.

At one point I was indeed somewhat against these goofy little three lap mini-games, until I seriously needed to rely on one to learn a brand new track, and I’ve never been able to learn a circuit as fast as I have with the Codemasters practice programs. Seriously, this stuff is a complete game changer.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-16-11-21#1 – A Career Mode We’ve Always Wanted

If you’ve gone around the internet and read a bit about F1 2016 already, you’ve probably discovered that the game’s Career Mode is every Grand Prix fan’s wet dream – or at least somewhere in the ballpark. Gone are the days of a generic floating menu and racing for a ride at McLaren or Red Bull, the experience has been radically altered to produce a more dynamic, breathing virtual rendition of Formula One.

The big change this year is the evolution of not just your car, but the teams around you as well. The completion of every successful practice regime or satisfactory race result nets you Research and Development points, which can be used to purchase small performance upgrades for your ride throughout the season. Yes, contracts are still around, you can still be promoted to the position of first driver, kicked off the team for shitty results, or signed by a new squad altogether, but it’s now possible to remain under one roof for the long haul and raise (or lower) the team from their current status in the Formula One hierarchy. Yet as you’re busy upgrading your own vehicle – parts which will also be applied to your teammate’s ride, so you can dominate the series together – other entries will also be evolving throughout the season. Manor might finally figure their shit out and advance up the performance charts to compete on a level with Force India, while Toro Rosso can suffer from a slump and be relegated to a backmarker position. It’s not super detailed, Codemasters hasn’t gone all Grand Prix Manager 2 on our asses just yet, but this extra level of unpredictability turns Career Mode into something out of Madden or FIFA rather than a monotonous road trip.

If we can get to a point where Formula One allows drivers to switch rides, recruit rookies, or even lets the user create their own team and custom livery, there will be people who will become utterly addicted to this game. For now, it’s a really nice progression from the simple beginnings of F1 2010.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-14-37-91Yet these extra progression elements aren’t what defines Career Mode in F1 2016, they merely add to what is an already solid base. With the practice programs, formation laps, pre-race introductions, and post-race discussions with team staff members inside your personal paddock area, there isn’t a point where playing through F1 2016 feels like a chore. You want to spend some time in practice because you not only need those R&D points, you become genuinely  interested in gathering additional data for the upcoming race. When the pre-race introduction comes on, you don’t always want to skip it – sometimes you want to stop for a minute and admire the atmosphere of the TV cameras poking their nose into your pits, or a crew member changing the tires on Sebastien Vettel’s car while parked on the grid. And of course, with much-needed improvements to the artificial intelligence and overall driving physics, the racing itself is the best it’s ever been in a Codemasters release. It’s honestly difficult for me to sit here and pick out an element of the game’s career mode I could do without – there have been a couple days where I’m not just doing a single race before abandoning the application to shitpost on the forums, I’m doing two or three at a time.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-04-26-62But It’s Not Perfect…

As this is PRC.net, I can’t always dickride the work of Codemasters; it’s simply not in my nature. There are indeed a few grievances I’ve had with the game, and I absolutely must inform you guys of them, because on some occasions they can really get in the way of your overall enjoyment.

The first thing I really need to get out there – it’s something I can’t not talk about – is the penalty scoring. No, you won’t get flagged for incidental contact with another car, or for liberal interpretation of the track boundaries. In this aspect, F1 2016 is actually a gigantic improvement over previous iterations, where severe penalties were handed out like halloween candy at your local mall. The place where the problem lies is actually during the infamous turn one wrecks. Even if you manage to avoid getting caught up in someone else’s problem, merely taking evasive measures to slip by a spinning car, or exploring the outside line to shoot by a few people who have obviously slowed the fuck down… Yeah, the game claims you’ve illegally passed under yellow flag conditions. Depending on the track, this can be rectified by a simple restart or two, but if you’re on a circuit known for producing chaos – such as Melbourne – we’re talking a solid twenty or thirty restarts just to make it through sector one without the game bitching at you.

Now there are times where you’ll be lucky and the car the stewards want you to let by was the first car in the pack – which is a problem easily rectified by simply lifting until the car gets around you – but other times the game will demand you to basically park on the track for a guy who’s been shuffled to 20th place. If I were Codemasters, I’d just eradicate penalties altogether for the first sector of lap one, because there are some circuits where it’s an infuriating mess.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 20-05-22-82Speaking of infuriating, the artificial intelligence can frustrate you to the point of wanting to snap the BluRay disc if you don’t adhere to the strict rules I outlined earlier in the article. Yes, the AI are extremely competent, and a candidate for some of the best ever in a racing game – if you respect their mentality. They will make some daring maneuvers on you, and once they’ve got their nose up to your rear tire, 99% of the time they are fully committed to the overtake – they will not give a shit if you try and stop them.

Throwing a passive aggressive block or merely trying to pinch them and take away the desired line into a corner is a quick recipe for getting dumped in dramatic fashion. If you’re an old-school single player racer who refuses to respect the AI and treats them as moving roadblocks, they will almost instantly channel their inner Dale Earnhardt. The more laps I’ve turned, the more comfortable I’ve gotten with their driving style and aggressive maneuvers, but for some people, it will be a bit too much. I can’t say it’s something I want Codemasters to change, but I can see a lot of people complaining about the AI’s aggression level as more and more racers spend time with this game. If you don’t give up the position when they’ve got a clear run, or at least give them a foot or two of room when defending on the outside line, your ass is in the wall. End of discussion.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-16-47-66Lastly, and this is something that will only affect those running on medium range hardware – the performance of the application can be a bit hit-or-miss at times. For most of the time spent on track, F1 2016 hovers around 60 FPS, but in my experience the game has a tendency to microstutter, and this can actually start affecting your control input – something that’s not good when you think of how technical the tracks on the schedule can be. For me, I’ll experience an interesting microstutter for about a quarter of a second every two to four laps – not enough to become the subject of a gigantic hissy fit, but it’s definitely there and noticeable. I’d advise you to read as much as you can about this title and search for feedback from other users running your equipment to determine how F1 2016 will perform on your system.

F1_2016 2016-08-25 18-56-04-96

As I stated earlier, I’d really like for someone who’s passionate about Formula One to give this title a mammoth shakedown, as they’re able to spot the little insignificant details that I wouldn’t even notice in the first place. However, as a fully competent hardcore sim racer who knows just enough about Formula One to be competitive on one of the hardest difficulties in career mode across all circuits featured in the game, I’m seriously impressed by what Codemasters has put together. F1 2016 will not win any awards for its physics engine, nor will Codemasters begin each update changelog by proudly announcing yet another tire model revision, but the fidelity of the complete experience is extremely hard ignore, and only the most arrogant of sim elitists would be dumb enough to pass up on this title.

“I Don’t Know What to Make of This.”

Review copies of Assetto Corsa for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have landed in the hands of gaming journalists around the world – but not everyone is satisfied with the product they’ve been given to critique – in fact, some actually require assistance. After numerous delays on the part of Kunos Simulazioni to ensure the game was ready for the notoriously demanding console audience, Reddit user KSDemon – who claims to be an anonymous journalist with an advanced copy of Assetto Corsa for the PlayStation 4 – states the game is nowhere near what the sim community makes it out to be, and is so confused at his experience with the game’s overall quality compared to the common consensus, he believes it’s his fault.

Yet Demon himself is clearly not the cause of Assetto Corsa’s numerous glaring issues – he goes on to describes a “cheaply made” product riddled with monstrous technical problems which constantly interrupt core gameplay. Criticisms of the highly respected PC racing simulator are not aimed at the lack of content or absence of a compelling campaign mode; Demon instead paints a picture of a title that features a phenomenal driving physics engine bundled inside a shovelware-like package – quite common for software published by 505 Games.

It’s not hard to understand his frustration and confusion. Thanks to a devilish combination of pushover editors, obsessive fanboys, private press events at Vallelunga, and hostile developers, criticism of Assetto Corsa simply hasn’t been allowed to circulate outside of the containment zone known as PRC.net. Editors spent years downplaying obvious flaws to remain on amicable terms with Kunos Simulazioni, journalists were flown out to the Vallelunga circuit for private parties and given track time in expensive supercars in exchange for positive coverage, and both developers and fanboys alike conspired to label all valid critical comments as fictional hate campaigns led by deranged sim racers.

And this was the result: Kunos Simulazioni spent so much time fighting people they deemed to be “trolls”, the final product suffered.

Users show up en masse to both downvote and debate the findings of KSDemon, but even facing a barrage of viral marketers he continues to describe his experience with the simulator in great detail. In an especially pathetic display, some users encourage him to sign up on the official forums and report bugs to Kunos, completely omitting the fact that this guy is not a dweeby basement dweller willing to spend months on the forums sucking off developers and becoming enthralled in the cult of personality surrounding Kunos Simulazioni. Vehicles launch into the air at random, the framerate drops during simple tasks like revving the engine, and the visuals are said to be extremely dated.

And this was after a pre-release patch.

All reviewers look for different elements that matter to them when analyzing a video game for their audience, and I’m no different. When our review of NASCAR Heat 2016 drops later this year, I’ll probably rip the game to shreds for getting Danica Patrick’s livery wrong, while other editors may not see this as an issue to begin with. That’s okay, it’s the beauty of having multiple review outlets to begin with.

However, with what KSDemon has written about the PlayStation 4 version of Assetto Corsa, I encourage all of you to take any positive review of this game with a grain of salt – there is a chance they are being dishonest about the quality of the game due to external influences. Save yourself some money and wait for the bugs to be ironed out before you bust out the credit card.

Reader Submission #115 – The Tripl3 Pack

tripl3 pack 1It’s not all doom and gloom for PC owners of Assetto Corsa. While sim racing aficionados on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are gearing up for one of the most popular modern racing simulators to appear on next-generation consoles after numerous delays, The Tripl3 Pack is set to appear on Steam’s DLC marketplace. Featuring the Praga R1 Prototype, Ferrari 488, and Ferrari FXX-K, these three elusive cars will serve as a drastic departure from previous iterations of DLC packages for Assetto Corsa, and some aren’t okay with that. Today’s Reader Submission here at PRC.net comes in from longtime visitor and previous contributor Dane R., drawing attention to the fact that customers aren’t exactly getting much bang for their buck.


488Good evening, PRC.

All the console players who pre-ordered Assetto Corsa are waiting for Friday when the game gets released. But also for us PC users, this date is quite important. Next to an update, we’re going to get a new DLC release, the Tripl3 Pack. I want to use this submission to show you what is wrong with this package.

First the most important data: The pack includes three cars, the Ferrari FXX-K, the Ferrari 488 GTB, and the Praga R1. For three cars, it all costs 2.99€ in Europe (I don’t know prices for other currencies). At first glance, one Euro per car looks like a quite fair deal but I’ll show you that this DLC is the new low in Assetto Corsa’s additional content history.

Let’s take a closer look at the cars. The Praga R1 is the stranger in this package. Have you heard of Praga before? No? I haven’t either. Some time ago, Marco told that the small car manufacturer from the Czech Republic and Kunos met at a car convention last year. Praga wanted Kunos to bring their car into game to raise awareness of the company. This doesn’t sound like Kunos had to pay a lot of money for the R1. So why do we have to pay for it?

Talking about the Ferrari’s. this price is more reasonable. We all know how exclusive this brand is, so here it seems that paying for the cars is justified. But do PC players really want to spend money for the FXX-K that is the cover car of the console version? Just think what would happen if Microsoft would do the same with the Forza Horizon 3 PC community, and made them pay for the Lamborghini Centenario on the box of the game.

I mentioned the console version and that paying for one specific car on PC doesn’t mean that it costs on consoles as well. And sadly this applies to the all new cars – in different ways. The already mentioned FXX-K and the Praga are vanilla content for all console users, yet part of the Tripl3 Pack on PC. The 488 GTB is also a DLC car, but part of an entirely different pack. The Audi A1 S1 Quattro that is also part of the pre-order bonus pack on consoles is coming for free with the next update on PC. That mess makes absolutely no sense. And yet here you have Marco genuinely confused as to why people think that the PC and the console version are two different games. Hello! The DLC isn’t even the same!

Independently from what I think about the Tripl3 Pack, I see a movement regarding Kunos Simulazioni’s DLC policy. Eighteen months ago they started with a (huge) track and ten cars. The next two packs included each one track and seven cars, which would be the Japanese Pack and the Red Pack. It seems like Kunos step-by-step reduces the size of their DLC. Maybe for some people this isn’t important as long as they don’t have to pay more money per car, but I’m not happy with this decision. One year ago, we got five cars and Zandvoort for free.


28293157544_7b73b1dd66_hI agree that this is a strange bundle of DLC. To be honest, the Praga R1 looks kind of cool and is akin to the Assetto Corsa version of that god-awful pseudo-prototype found in Automobilista (the name escapes me at the moment) – albeit with much improved aesthetics. But you’re absolutely correct in your assessment of the FXX-K, and to a lesser extent the 488 GTB. How do you make the car on the cover of the game, DLC? I mean, everyone who’s been around since the Xbox 360 generation of games knows that DLC can be shady, but it’s pretty hilarious that a PC version owner can walk up to a row of games in Wal-Mart or Best Buy, look at the car on the cover of Assetto Corsa for the PlayStation 4, and think to themselves “we don’t even have that in our game unless you pay extra.” That whole scenario is really dumb, and as you mentioned, it reinforces the argument that the separate versions aren’t the same game – contrary to the long rant Marco posted a few days ago.

The 488 GTB… I mean, you could make the argument that they’re both DLC cars regardless of your preferred platform, but now it’s just confusing to keep track of. PC owners can get the car just by firing up Steam on Friday and parting with a couple of dollars, but console owners were required to jump through a few extra hoops to acquire it.

It’s weird, and better yet, there wasn’t actually a need for any of this. Everyone unanimously hates pre-order bonuses, and as a company making their maiden voyage into the unknown and unforgiving land of console gaming, why not do everything in your power to keep your customers happy? You already know there will be backlash from the reduced graphical fidelity and lack of private lobbies, why in the world would you give people any extra reasons to knock the game? Why was there a need to split both the car roster and DLC lineup rather than keep a uniform experience. Sure, you could make the argument that 505 Games had their hand in the marketing of this game, and maybe it was a requirement that Kunos had some kind of pre-order DLC, but that concept alone is a slippery slope. If 505 Games were able to make these kinds of absurd and pointless changes, what else got changed that we don’t know about? Because making people pay for cars that the owners of another version of Assetto Corsa already received for free is really fucking random and does absolutely nothing for the game – I think your analogy of the Forza Horizon 3 cover car is spot on.

Maybe there’s another surprise waiting for us inside the console game, like 505 Games asking Kunos to disable roll-over physics or something similar at the eleventh hour; a throwback the older Gran Turismo games thanks to the crazy requests of certain manufacturers. Wouldn’t it be funny if that was actually the case?

Was This for Me?

I’m not the biggest fan of Twitter. It’s a platform that censors conservative journalists merely for shitposting, while allowing members of the world’s most dangerous terrorist group to freely congregate, but some of you like the platform they provide, as it provides up-to-the minute information on your favorite racing sims – straight from the developers themselves. Around this time yesterday, the official Assetto Corsa Twitter account broke the news that private lobby functionality would not be available in the console versions of the game; a decision which promptly ignited sim racing message boards far and wide.

Today, the official Project CARS Twitter account sent out a photoshopped rendition of Slightly Mad Studios leader Ian Bell in his undies, confusing the shit out of basically anyone who ran across it. With the accompanying caption also not making much sense, it’s difficult to understand what this modern masterpiece is trying to convey. Art in itself is highly subjective, but this is no Emma Sulkowicz adult film; Ian Bell posing on a sofa has no artistic value. Therefore, could this image instead be a metaphor for the Project CARS franchise as a whole? An ultimately revolting product given the boudoir treatment in the form of intense marketing campaigns portraying the game as something it wasn’t, this description of Project CARS perfectly aligns with the sensual display of Ian Bell resting on a sofa pictured above.

I could spend paragraphs upon paragraphs diving into the deeper meaning of this portrait, but unfortunately for our readers, there’s an incredibly basic explanation: Ian wanted me to see him in his undies. We did not hear about this tweet from one of our several hundred thousand readers – the man sent it to me himself almost immediately after it was uploaded.

For my efforts in drawing attention to both major and minor issues within the world of sim racing, I have entered a special kind of hell – one in which CEO’s of major companies email me links to scantily clad photoshopped pictures of themselves as a good morning gift. And he still wants my number.