Since the inception of PRC.net earlier this year, our collective goal has been to report on the controversial stories within the wide world of driving games, stories that our competitors are too cowardly to even go near for a variety of reasons. As a result, this has simultaneously placed our site into two very different camps; half of our readers think we’re all mentally ill and have irrational vendettas towards certain game developers, and the other half are thankful this site exists because it has actually confirmed some of the tinfoil hat conspiracy theories circulating among popular driving game forums.
Our first big article that caused our daily numbers to skyrocket and get a bunch of people pissed off at us was The Community Assisted Review of Project CARS, a lengthy article detailing the history of Slightly Mad Studio’s crowdfunded racing sim, and the buggy mess resulting from years of viral marketing.
One game that indirectly benefited from the embarrassing release of Project CARS was Assetto Corsa. With the copious amounts of people disappointed by Project CARS, most were able to use Steam’s brand new refund policy to put their money towards a different game, and several users on various different online message boards suggested for devastated owners of pCars to try out Assetto Corsa – telling them it was a much more polished, refined, and rewarding racing sim that was essentially Project CARS, but better. At the time, Assetto Corsa had just welcomed their first paid DLC pack into the Steam store, featuring ten highly sought-after cars and the worlds most notorious track, the Nurburgring Nordschleife, for a bargain price $15.
The decision to migrate seemed like a no-brainer at the time:
Yet, despite the incredible graphics and near-flawless driving model, a steady stream of design choices and shortcomings began eating away at the Italian racing sim from the inside out. What was once seen as the first big leap into the next generation of racing sims turned into nothing more than a hype train fueled by fanboys equally as rabid as the people they once laughed at for giving money to Ian Bell’s marketing project.
Kunos Simulazioni’s first retail racing sim dropped in 2006. Titled netKar Pro and centering around unlicensed amateur open wheel race cars, the game was adored by the extremely small group of people who actively played it, and praised for its accuracy. However, the game’s relative obscurity and complete lack of any marketing campaign placed it firmly into a corner, overshadowed by every other title in the already niche genre of sim racing, and netKar Pro failed to achieve any sort of mainstream success.
To drill home how obscure the game was, simply finding a torrent of the most recent version of nKP in the late 2000’s was a challenge, and the lack of any tangible fanbase meant the guys at Kunos resorted to developing simulator software for a variety of different companies. SingTel Ultimate Race, Ferrari Virtual Academy, and the Brawn GP F1 Simulator are just some of the alternative projects Kunos have brought out over the years, each more obscure than the last.
By the time 2011 had rolled around and reception to the Ferrari Virtual Academy leaderboard challenge had been extremely positive, Kunos announced they would set their sights on developing a proper sequel to netKar Pro – dubbed Assetto Corsa, the game would be a hardcore consumer racing sim doubling as a huge modding platform, hoping to completely replace the now ancient ISI sim rFactor which had been in rotation since 2005.
The team failed to meet their 2012 release date, and instead delayed the game for an entire year. A tech preview arrived in the spring of 2013, with full title finally landing in the hands of sim racers everywhere on November 8th, 2013 using Steam’s frequently abused Early Access format. Those who were longing for a modern racing sim were overjoyed that they’d finally get to experience a sublime driving model, yet those who had been around gaming for far too long began bracing themselves for the inevitable downfall that comes with the Early Access mentality.
Steam’s Early Access format was a fantastic idea during the initial brainstorming sessions, but inherently flawed in execution. A detailed analysis of modern gamer behavior displays a pretty shocking trend – gamers will buy pretty much anything, even if the game is in beta form and missing a good chunk of its features. Therefore, why not just outright sell a game in beta, and add the features later with the community’s input?
In theory, selling a game at a discounted price and with the beta label is a pretty smart move financially, as it enables developers to secure additional funds and establish a core fanbase while the game is still being developed, and gives them a huge group of beta testers at their disposal that are genuinely interested in helping their game succeed.
Yet in reality, Early Access allows developers to exploit customers. There is nothing stopping a company from releasing a game at a discounted price, lacking virtually all of the advertised features, and then just not finishing the game, keeping the Early Access label indefinitely. The fanboys who bought into what the team was trying to achieve, and participated heavily in the game’s official forums then act as the marketing department, convincing other users across the different message boards unsure of whether to buy the game or not that the game is fine as-is, and the team is just taking a break (or whatever bogus excuse they can come up with).
Take a guess how this plays out.
Assetto Corsa’s Early Access program launched with four tracks, eleven cars, no AI to race against, no night racing, no option to race in the rain, no multiplayer component, no online leaderboards, no damage model, limited mod support, and lacked intricate details found in other sims nearly a decade old, such as brake fade, transmission damage, flag rules, pitstops, and oil & water temperature. For your $40, there was nothing to do within the sim aside from drive laps around a track by yourself.
But we have to give credit where credit is due. As other racing sims were either showing their age or not giving us any faith in upcoming builds, I bought the title on launch day. The game played phenomenally with an Xbox 360 Controller, and when I got to try it out with a proper wheel setup a few days later, nothing can describe how much of a jump Assetto Corsa was compared to other games currently on the market. It was if I’d been transported back to 2005 and was trying Project Gotham Racing 3 for the first time in Walmart – the tangible leap in quality of the overall driving model gave many people, including myself, hope for the future. It just sucked there currently wasn’t much to do.
Modders slowly attempted to flesh the game out when it became clear the Kunos team were moving at a snails pace. Early on in the game’s lifespan, RSRLiveTiming released an online leaderboard and companion website that was free of charge, essentially turning what had become affectionately known as a Chris Harris Simulator due to the lack of features into a proper hotlap competition. I myself fully bought into the environment RSR had created for the community, and spent several months competing for a top spot on numerous different leaderboards under a bullshit name.
On the official end of things, Kunos had been hard at work crafting Assetto Corsa to completion, but the sizeable updates slowly trickling out saw the game progress at a less than ideal rate. Initial updates added a few cars and tracks at a time, forcing those who had bought into the Early Access portion of the game to severely lower their expectations to avoid getting impatient with what was currently available to them. Unlike DiRT Rally, which has seen entire new modes, tracks, and functionalities added into the game on a set schedule each month, some of the first updates for Assetto Corsa were entirely underwhelming.
After months of running laps on an isolated track and registering times on an online leaderboard, when major gameplay elements such as AI and Race Weekends were finally added in, they didn’t exactly work as intended. The AI became a CPU resource hog and were ungodly slow when compared to competent human drivers, quickly making a major addition to the sim redundant for the time being. Users also complained about the lack of an ability to jump the start, no flag rules in sight, and offline races against the AI being restricted to ten laps. Given that the 1.0 release was due out in a few short months and be subjected to public criticism, the game was lacking an insane amount of features taken for granted in racing sims from previous generations on inferior hardware.
Finally, online multiplayer was introduced over the summer of 2014, and it too severely lacked in both functionality and performance. The interface was clunky, the netcode was notoriously poor, and basic functionality for things such as the ability to select the color of your car were strangely left out. Adding third party mods to the mix developed (some of which were already experimenting with payware), the online server browser became a mess of content you didn’t have, being raced in rooms where slight contact could send you spinning wildly out of control.
Future updates near the end of the Early Access phase never rectified the numerous issues described above, only adding in more tracks and cars until the entire list of promised content had been completed. A Career mode was shoehorned in, providing a generic string of themed one-off races, time trials, and hotlaps to complete, but was clearly thrown in to appeal to those who weren’t sure where to begin with a serious PC racing sim. On some occasions, Kunos staff members admitted to obsessing over the smallest, most insignificant physics and tire model discrepancies, and that those minor improvements took priority over things currently missing from the title. Objectively, the game was nowhere near finished and not ready for a public, full-price release, but those who attempted to draw attention to how much was missing from the title were drowned out by fanboys who felt as if they had become part of the Kunos extended family and it was their job to downplay huge omissions.
Suddenly, driving at night or being able to jump the start were seen as not important. The lack of flag rules were allowed because nobody really adheres to them anyway, and the clunky, unfinished online experience was ignored because only serious leagues care about that stuff, and that’s not part of the general population.
It was shaping up to be NHL 15 on wheels, and instead of begging Kunos to re-evaluate their design choices and possibly delay the game for an extended period of time to cram as much as possible into the game before being subjected to public scrutiny, fanboys claimed those asking for features that had become standard in racing games since the 90’s were entitled and spoiled. Given how active Kunos staff members had been on the official forums, they read these comments and listened to them because it meant less of a headache on their end.
Shortly before the game was released, in October of 2014 Kunos Simulazioni posted a lengthy blog post on their official site showing off a massive launch party they’d held for the gaming press at their office above the Vallelunga race track. Mere months after an unhealthy relationship between game developers and gaming journalists had been exposed, one which saw widespread reports of writers essentially being bribed to give favorable reviews to underwhelming video games, Kunos invited a bunch of gaming journalists, ones that would be reviewing their game for various publications, to a SuperCar Launch party that included tearing around a real race track in McLaren’s and Ferrari’s, as well as getting to try a future build of Assetto Corsa in extremely expensive, high-end simulator setups.
After a massive automotive party thrown by a developer to celebrate the release of their upcoming hardcore racing simulator, do you think they’d call out all of the game’s shortcomings in their professional review of their title?
Of course not. An early access version of Assetto Corsa, a game which lacked the ability to race at night or in the rain, a game where the AI was ridiculously off-pace and online netcode was atrocious, a game where you couldn’t even pick the color of your car online, scored higher than Forza Motorsport 6. You know, the game with over 450 cars and is generally regarded to have overtaken Gran Turismo as the biggest, most prestigious racing sim in the world.
The positive reviews kept coming in, although as a diehard sim racer who now runs his own publication, I’m desperate to understand what people were seeing in this title. Look, I’m the first to admit the game drives phenomenally – better than anything on the market before it – but the game flat-out wasn’t done and was missing shit seen in games as far back as the original Playstation days.
And other people felt the same way.
Assetto Corsa was considered officially released on December 19th, 2014. Shipping with just over ten European road courses, and around forty different cars, the celebration that should have occurred was instead fairly diluted. The full Version 1.0 release was only marginally different than the final few Early Access builds, and most who had been along for the bumpy Early Access ride were not able to to determine what had actually changed to warrant a 1.0 label aside from the few remaining cars being added to the roster.
The game drove phenomenally as it always had since going on sale a year prior, and graphics optimizations made the game run a hell of a lot better, but as a full priced $60 title, you’d be hard pressed to choose Assetto Corsa over rival racing sims like Stock Car Extreme or RaceRoom Racing Experience.
Single Player races were underwhelming, as the game’s Artificial Intelligence was totally incompetent. Career mode had no purpose, and was still a linear progression of one-off events. Creating custom liveries was notoriously complicated, as the templates provided were designed with 3D painting in mind and did Photoshop wizards no favors with how the body panels of each car were laid out onto a flat surface. Multiplayer functionality also threw users a curveball, with netcode issues highlighting an overall package that was incomplete and unnecessarily clunky. Basic issues, such a the qualifying session ending before all cars had completed their final lap, and people being able to join a room while the race was in progress, created an environment that all except the most casual of online leagues wanted to stay well away from.
And you still couldn’t pick the color of your own car without resorting to an extremely complicated process that required the cooperation of everybody on the server– which would never happen in a public lobby.
In March of 2015, four months after the release of Assetto Corsa, RaceDepartment published a lengthy open letter to Kunos, explaining how the raw driving physics were in a class of their own, but the abysmal multiplayer needed to be rectified immediately to ensure the game’s longevity. RaceDepartment is well-known within the sim racing community for organizing several scheduled online races each day for a multitude of different racing sims – some of which are a decade old – and know a thing or two about how online racing can extend the lifespan of a racing game.
Kunos responded in private, the details of which have never been revealed to the public, and later admitted on the official Assetto Corsa forums that the online component had been an afterthought due to “70% of Assetto Corsa owners have never clicked on the Online button in the main menu.” In short, offline racing wasn’t rewarding, and online racing had been an afterthought.
This lack of multiplayer functionality has affected more than just RaceDepartment, dismissing the claims that they have some sort of irrational vendetta against Kunos and Assetto Corsa. Fellow sim racing community SimHQ have also openly discussed the sharp decline in attendance for community events since the game’s release, unsure of whether it would be worth continuing to host races in Assetto Corsa altogether.
Instead of addressing the complaints from the diehards – you know – the people who would help extend the lifespan of the game long into the future, Kunos promptly announced Assetto Corsa would be coming to next generation consoles in 2016.
Slowly but surely, the dream of Assetto Corsa being the first truly next-generation racing sim began to fade, and it was about to get a whole lot uglier in a hurry…
Throughout Assetto Corsa’s lifespan, two individuals have become notorious for their anti-AC campaign across nearly every driving game message board on the internet. Calling themselves Hexagramme and Associat0r, the pair frequently pop up whenever Assetto Corsa is discussed in a positive light, regardless of the topic at hand, and spam a ridiculous amount of links that point to other users on different web sites discussing the flaws of Assetto Corsa. The pair operate under numerous alternate profiles to avoid detection by moderators, but their posts follow a very strict format and can easily be pointed out by a regular visitor of any driving game community:
These guys have essentially become the online sim racing equivalent of your local neighborhood tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist, going on and on about the shortcomings in Assetto Corsa’s physics engine the same way a 9/11 truther goes on and on about how jet fuel can’t melt steel beams. The sheer dedication they have to monitoring multiple message boards just to spam links talking about how bad Assetto Corsa is have lead some to speculate that the two may suffer from at least one spectrum disorder; something that is not entirely uncommon among online video game communities. As a result, most people immediately dismiss their posts, no matter how accurate they may be, and treat them as if they’re suffering from mental illness.
However, after the Version 1.2 update for Assetto Corsa was released, the pair were the first to discover game-breaking AI issues on par with Project CARS, and Hexagramme quickly compiled a few lengthy videos to document what he’d seen during the course of normal gameplay. In short, it was a mess.
Just like nobody was prepared for that tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist down the street to be absolutely correct when he screamed that the government was spying on him, Assetto Corsa players were not prepared for the two most hated members of the sim racing community to expose how terribly broken the game’s artificial intelligence was. And this was a pretty big deal, considering Kunos had taken a public stance that Multiplayer would not receive much attention in the future, and their focus had shifted to offline gameplay.
So if online was lackluster, and offline racing was a mess, what was there to do in Assetto Corsa?
Accuse those who brought the issues to light of hacking the game.
As I’ve known how fundamentally flawed the offline portion of Assetto Corsa is for quite some time, I figured that if these two kids were able to run into such an abundance of issues, I should be able to fire up the game and experience the same thing. If the AI bugged the fuck out, well, I could make a video backing the guy up and hopefully the developers would get right on fixing it. If the AI was fine, I could run an article discrediting him and proving that he must have hacked the game somehow. Either way, I was going to have an article to post that night that set the record straight, because while Hex and Ass have an agenda, I sure as hell don’t.
In my twenty minutes spent in Assetto Corsa that night with FRAPS running in the background, the AI was either incredibly slow, stopped on the middle of the track for no apparent reason, caused extremely huge pileups mere seconds into the race, and in one case momentarily tried to run the clubman version of a much longer circuit. This kind of stuff shouldn’t be appearing in a $60 game that already has a $15 DLC pack available. This is some pre-alpha shit, most certainly not warranting a 9.5 score from IGN Italy.
This was the exact day I realized Assetto Corsa might not live up to it’s potential. After an underwhelming Early Access period, critic reviews that were more or less bought and paid for in the form of a huge party at Vallelunga, a complete lack of multiplayer functionality that was causing problems at several different sites dedicated to hosting online races, and the last remaining playable portion being filled with game-breaking issues, fanboys were now simply attacking people who didn’t bow down to Assetto Corsa as the supreme leader of sim racing.
With widespread reports of glitches and bugs becoming more and more frequent, the online activity steadily declining among serious sim racers, and the average Assetto Corsa owner growing tired with the lack of progress and necessary features implemented into the racing sim, the community surrounding the game embarked on an outright witch hunt to discredit all who dared to speak negatively about Assetto Corsa.
This lead to some absolutely incredible quotes from the official forum, and an example I’ve used a few times before comes to mind, where user MsportDan claimed there was nothing to worry about in terms of AI issues in a lengthy bug discussion thread, only to post a week later saying he quit playing the game out of frustration due to the AI issues that he himself tried to downplay.
And as shown at the beginning of this topic, a Steam user who simply was upset with some of the issues in Assetto Corsa was promptly accused of being Hexagramme and/or Associat0r under a different name; other users eventually coming to his support to say that they too couldn’t dare to even compare Assetto Corsa to another game without being accused of working for a rival company.
This kind of environment doesn’t benefit anybody. Developers have zero fucking idea whether the guys supporting their game are genuine fans of the game or obsessive fanboys intentionally downplaying genuine issues, and therefore have no clue where to begin when it comes to fixing or improving their game.
On the other end of the spectrum, your average gamer is now terrified of visiting a simple gaming forum, as every single post is being obsessively watched by your fellow community members in order to determine if you’re a viral marketer, a known troll under an alternate account, a fanboy, or a deranged lunatic with a hidden agenda. 99% of the time, the answer is none of the above, but to Assetto Corsa fanboys, it really doesn’t matter, as long as they have someone to blame for the game’s numerous issues and shortcomings which couldn’t be ignored for much longer.
And Kunos themselves have not done themselves any favors when it comes to keeping the overall mentality of the community in check. Instead of working diligently to improve their game to at least bring it on-par with the competition, they’ve accidentally created a personality cult among a few of the more popular staff members by hosting Coding Livestreams.
Running nearly the length of a heavy metal concert, the late-night coding livestreams put on by Stefano Casillo are watched by a surprisingly large amount of Assetto Corsa fanboys. While Stefano deserves praise for his attempts to break down the barrier between developer and consumer, the sheer number of people who look forward to these weekly videos speaks volumes about the current state of Assetto Corsa; more people would rather watch one of the developers sit at his computer working on an upcoming patch than actually play the game, as seen by the relatively small amount of games available on the in-game server browser.
The toxic environment that sees raging fanboys pick fights with anyone who points out a flaw in Assetto Corsa is an unintentional consequence of the Early Access format. The moment you make a consumer feel as if they’re contributing to something and part of a team is the moment you’ve begun breeding a legion of fanboys. I myself don’t give a shit that Stefano is livestreaming himself sitting at his desk, nor do I care on a personal level that Kunos staff members actively monitor the game’s official forums, conversing with the average user.
If I leave a “like” on Stefano’s YouTube video, the AI in my game does not magically stop crashing into each other, nor does Marco quoting my post suddenly enable advanced multiplayer functionality.
I had extremely high hopes for Assetto Corsa when the game was first released to the public in late 2013. I bought into the Early Access program and had no problem running laps by myself for hours on end, installing third party leaderboard mods to give my driving some purpose. I had no problem lowering my expectations to accommodate the extremely slow development pace and implementation of basic features all the way up to the game’s 1.0 release in December of 2014. And I had no problem pre-ordering the Dream Pack DLC so I could try my hand at a laser scanned version of the world’s most dangerous track.
But I also haven’t forgotten where we’ve come from.
I like the challenge of driving at night, and I’ve been able to do so since the early NASCAR Racing titles by Papyrus. As a Canadian who deals with inclement weather for ten months out of the year, I like racing in the rain, and Race 07 gives me that option. I like trying to nail the holeshot off the line and being punished for jumping too early, and black flags are seen in every modern racing sim. I like running a pace lap behind a pace car of my choice, and being a NASCAR guy, I prefer rolling starts – which Stock Car Extreme happily allows me to.
Not only do I like driving on pavement, I love driving on dirt and snow as well, and rFactor’s third party mixed surfaces rally stages really compliment the abundance of rally mods available for the aging sim. I love racing online, but NR2003 and GPL showed me that a good AI can be just as ruthless and intelligent. I enjoy having to deal with managing my brakes, I’ve grown accustomed to the slick UI’s that allow me to select my pit stop settings on the longest straight with a few simple buttons on my wheel, and I like being able to drive the car I want to drive online – again, all staples of racing sims since the early 2000’s when sim racing cemented itself as a proper genre. And given that I’m a huge online league guy, I prefer for the admins to have a whole host of tools to monitor the race in a fair and justified manner – something that ISI sims really excel in.
Kunos has yet to implement all of this stuff into Assetto Corsa, and rely on their fanboys and poor excuses to downplay the fact that the game is missing several features that the greater sim racing community has become accustomed to for over a decade.
And the physics? The one redeeming quality that’s supposed to warrant a purchase of this title? Already, modders are claiming it’s really no better than Forza…
I definitely got my $60 worth of playtime out of the title, but given how the previous two years have played out for Assetto Corsa, I can’t see this game doing very well when it heads to the Xbox One and Playstation 4 next year, especially as it will have to compete with heavy hitter Forza Motorsport 6 and the inevitable Gran Turismo release.