It’s been a little over two weeks since Italian developer Kunos Simulazioni released their Version 1.3 update for Assetto Corsa, and there’s been one tiny little problem – I haven’t been able to try it until today. After about an hour spent awkwardly fighting with the game, there’s just no sugarcoating it – you can’t sell a product like this in 2015. The gloves are off.
Adding ten new cars, one new track, and a whole host of behind the scenes features to the popular PC racing simulator which is set to debut on next-generation consoles in 2016, the patch introduced a major issue to a selection of Assetto Corsa owners trying to run the game on 64-bit systems. In short, like many others running a 64-bit version of Windows 7, my game would instantly crash upon loading any track. Two weeks of minor updates later, and I was finally able to load up the game after work today. I outright refused to experiment with the work-around discovered in the forums to launch the game in the meantime based on sheer principle; Assetto Corsa spent a year in Steam’s Early Access program, and another year in a released state. There was no reason for me as a customer to troubleshoot a product that simply did not run out of the box. Alas, I told myself to wait.
I was not impressed with what I saw once the game finally booted up for me, and the opening screenshot is a sign of things to come.
Despite how much we here at PRC.net bash Kunos for failing to implement the most rudimentary of features into a game with the tagline Your Racing Simulator, it’s always important to give credit where credit is due. Words cannot express how much of a leap in quality the physical driving model was compared to other games on the market when we first got our hands on Assetto Corsa in December of 2013. The next generation of racing sims had truly arrived, and I spent weeks working on improving my ranking on RSRLiveTiming. I always find myself at least trying out new versions of Assetto Corsa, because even though there is virtually nothing to do within the environment Kunos has crafted, the game offers the absolute best driving experience available for your home PC. This is what a car feels like.
Dream Pack #2 did not come with a stellar lineup of content as the first one did. To me, Barcelona is just another track on the Formula One schedule; a layout which I’m comfortable with from the days of GTR 2, but isn’t anywhere near my list of favorites. As for the new selection of cars, the GT3 variants of the Audi R8 and Lamborghini Huracan immediately stuck out as cars I’d want to drive, with the classic Ford GT40 being something I’d get around to, but the rest failed to capture my attention.
I took the Audi R8 to Vallelunga for some independent shakedown laps, as I’m well aware of the game’s AI issues that both the developers and fans surrounding Assetto Corsa make a legitimate effort to downplay. Personally, I didn’t mind how it sounded out of the box, and I threw some basic setup values at the car that seemed to work as they should, but what did bother me was the restriction on downshifting. It’s absolutely insane.
Even during half-assed shakedown laps where I wasn’t pushing at all, in several braking zones the game intrusively prevented me from downshifting. I was nowhere near running on kill, driving as close to a real life out lap as I could possibly be, and it was like the game was trying to hold my hand around the track. Kunos have implemented a rudimentary downshift protection mechanic that in theory should prevent newer drivers from shattering the transmission into a million tiny pieces under braking, but the assist is so overdone that it completely ruined my rhythm, and felt extremely inconsistent. It would be easy to scream at me and say “you just downshift incorrectly”, but I was babying the car around the track. The first few times, I thought the left paddle was going on my DFGT and began mashing the button as hard and awkwardly as I could just to get it to work, that’s how intrusive it was.
And this applies to all cars in Assetto Corsa, including cars that raced when this technology simply didn’t exist, such as the Lotus 49. You can’t turn it off.
My next step was taking the new Lamborghini Huracan GT3 to the short version of Silverstone, one of Assetto Corsa’s most popular tracks for street legal cars, as it’s the absolute perfect length.
The Huracan’s tuning menu displays how monumentally fucked up the Car Setup screen in Assetto Corsa really is. Unlike rFactor or other racing sims, where you adjust values and they directly correspond to your pretend race car, the tuning screen in Assetto Corsa adds an unnecessary second step. The values you adjust with the sliders on the left side of the screen correspond to other values on the right side the screen (the values used by the physics engine), and you want to adjust the sliders on the left to display the values you want on the right. Most people don’t even know this, because it is so fucking nonsensical and absurd.
For any GT3 spec race car in any sim, I run a baseline camber setting of -3.5/-2.8, because it works. Shh, secrets! To achieve this value in Assetto Corsa, I have to set completely independent camber values on all four corners of the car. And toe is the same way; a value of -0.25 in the front, and 0.10 in the rear works universally across every racing sim on the market. In Assetto Corsa, the toe values listed on the sliders don’t even mean anything. Instead of just going straight to a number that I’m familiar with, I have to sit there and watch as the game translates the slider setting to a value within the physics engine. If you don’t know about this little tidbit, congratulations! All of your car setups are junk!
That is, if you’re lucky enough to get on the track.
I’m aware of the FPS issues that have arose from the base Version 1.3 update. I had no idea they were absolutely crippling.
After putting in a good baseline setup, and running laps in a private practice session without any performance issues in the Audi R8, simply jumping into the cockpit of the new Lamborghini GT3 car on an empty race track was enough to brick the game multiple times. I was on Teamspeak while this was all happening, and mentioned to Maple that this was the hardest my machine has ever locked up without requiring a full restart. This was completely unexpected; the Audi worked fine, and with a recent upgrade, previous versions of Assetto Corsa ran flawlessly – I really had no idea what the fuck was going on.
“I think we called it, we said they were going to dumb it down for the console release, and we were right. The tire model is just really bad. I took the Formula Renault 3.5 for a test, you know, the mod that everybody loves and says it’s the greatest thing ever, and I was sideways whenever I wanted to be. You could practically drift the thing…”
Too small to be a Reader Submission, Steve Smith wrote to us today, sharing the exact same sentiments. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Steve has written to us before, and was the former Editor-In-Chief for Car & Driver Magazine in the 1960’s, also writing a whole series of books on real world race car setup tricks. This is a guy who knows what he’s talking about:
“Somebody’s diddled the physics so that the cars’ ride heights are impacted; many pre-1.3.2 setups are now rejected as illegal because the car rides too low. I suspect that the alignment settings are also smoke & mirrors because the tire temps across the tread are now even (or almost even) no matter what the camber setting, taking away camber as a handling ‘tool.’ Kunos couldn’t get it even close to realistic, so they did the next best thing: magic! Poof! Now the camber settings are always right, no matter how totally wrong your setup us, so the car feels like it’s handling better. Closer and closer to arcade physics… The worst thing about the 1.3 et seq. releases is the super-dumb “downshift protection” (another possible PS4 intrusion) so you can’t downshift when you want to, only when the Downshift Police says it’s okay. Wildly inconsistent, even on the same car, same track (ok, different corners). Who thinks this shit up? At least it should be an option, like traction control. Sheesh…”
What I do not understand, is why this game needs such a constant stream of revisions to under-the-hood aspects while major areas of the game have been lacking since launch. In December of 2013, Assetto Corsa blew away any other racing sim to date in terms of how the car felt to drive, and how the tires performed on a technical level. The Version 0.4 update, released a few months into the Early Access program, corrected some minor heating issues, but even in the spring of 2014 you could easily argue that no more work was needed on the tire model, and attention should be placed on fleshing out the game surrounding the superb set of physics.
It’s now almost 2016, and we’ve had five major tire model revisions in the span of just under two years – which are now prominently displayed on the game’s loading screens. You still cannot select the color of your car in multiplayer races. By my count, there have been three major sound revisions, and still you cannot jump the start, or allow a pace car to lead you around for a lap. The aerodynamics model is complicated enough to support airplanes, but Career Mode is a set of completely meaningless races against an artificial intelligence that cannot complete more than a few corners without a complete emotional breakdown behind the wheel.
While Kunos Simulazioni obsess over the smallest details and make constant revisions to elements of the game that people were completely satisfied with two years ago, core gameplay elements are left in a perpetual state of disarray, and features never before left out of a racing sim are still yet to be implemented.
So let’s talk about the AI, because you knew that part of the article was coming.
I initially took the Ferrari F40 to Circuit Zandvoort, recreating what a common Forza-like race would be within the confines of Assetto Corsa. I already had a setup, already had my cockpit view set, and already knew the line around the famous Dutch speedway. I made sure to keep the grid size under fifteen cars, as I’m aware that issues can arise with too many cars, and I started at the back to prevent the AI from making any erratic movements due to my presence. Essentially, I crafted a scenario where the AI shouldn’t fail.
I couldn’t make it past the first turn. The CPU usage skyrocketed – again, something that hasn’t been a problem for me since I upgraded my PC a few months ago – and I had to retire from the race because the game was 100% unplayable. Not just stuttering or causing slight input lag, but I had to bring up the task manager and force acs.exe to stop running. This wasn’t a problem a month ago.
Even with six cars on the grid, replicating a late-night online race with a few friends, my PC, for whatever reason, was unable to handle the most basic of events in Assetto Corsa. There was no reason it shouldn’t have, and others have reported similar FPS losses, even with infinitely better equipment. This is acceptable and a common occurence a month into Early Access, not a year after the game graduated from the program and is being sold for full price.
Strangely, upon selecting a totally different car, the framerate issues were completely eradicated. I was able to run a sizeable field of 1960’s Grand Prix cars without a hit to my framerate, opting to take a field of Lotus 49 entries to Vallelunga. This is one of my favorite tracks available in the list of vanilla content, and the wide, sweeping corners really compliment the driving style required when behind the wheel of Jim Clark’s old ride
Again, I didn’t run a full grid, I gave the track a realistic level of grip, and purposely started at the back to avoid frightening the AI drivers.
Half the field ran wide in the very first corner, eventually piling into each other and causing mass retirements. Restart after restart, I was unable to survive more than thirty seconds before being taken out by an AI driver who’d opted to forego the traditional competitive racing experience, instead tapping into his inner Yoko Ono for an artistic performance that liberally explored the environment outside of the tarmac.
But to be fair, Vallelunga was never on the 1967 Formula One schedule, so one can argue that the AI simply lack the experience to traverse a circuit these cars have never turned a lap on in real life. Thankfully, the seventh stop of the 1967 Formula One season is premium DLC for Assetto Corsa, retailing at $15 CDN. Ideally, there is no better way to test out a racing sim properly than taking the Lotus 49 to the Nurburgring Nordschleife.
Jim Clark set the fastest lap in qualifying for the 1967 German Grand Prix, with an average speed of 105.89 MPH. In Assetto Corsa, Jim Clark drove into the fucking sand less than a minute into the race.
Our polesitter for the Assetto Corsa version of the race flew off the track in Flugplatz and slammed into the wall at 140 MPH, which is generally something the polesitter of a race at the Nordschleife isn’t very likely to do given their mastery of the track. And upon capturing the moment for readers of PRC.net to see, I found another stupendous oversight – the same buttons used to zoom in and out in photo mode are also mapped to the in-game force feedback adjustment controls. While cropping the shot of the #5 Lotus 49, I was inadvertently dwindling my force feedback value.
After Flugplatz comes a dangerous, high speed section of the Nurburgring, dubbed Kottenborn. What was left of the field following accidents in Flugplatz and Hatzenbach proceeded to drive directly into the inside wall. We took the green flag less than a minute ago, and a single lap is eight minutes long.
And this wasn’t a freak occurrence because the front runners were in a massive pack, slicing and dicing with each other. Hell no. Multiple restarts warranted multiple variations of the same basic wreck – half of the grid were pulling a Harry Potter and making their best effort to visit Platform 9 & 3/4 with a vintage Formula One car. I have a slew of comical shots detailing this absurd phenomenon in my FRAPS folder, and if you asked me to make a few more, it would be as simple as booting up Assetto Corsa.
Unfortunately, when developers are confronted with these AI issues, ones which render the Single Player portion of the game absolutely useless, those who repeatedly draw attention to the AI shortcomings are labelled as mentally ill and with irrational vendettas.
Of course, that still leaves an entire other half of the game to be explored and enjoyed, right? There is a multiplayer component that isn’t half-bad, right?
After online racing hub RaceDepartment penned an open letter to Kunos describing the dismal state of Multiplayer functionality within Assetto Corsa, Kunos responded by saying that “Assetto Corsa is a driving simulator.” This may or may not have gone against the tagline of their game.And given that games such as Stock Car Extreme, rFactor 2, and RaceRoom Racing Experience exist, you can’t just release a game that doesn’t stack up to the competition – especially in an already crowded market. This isn’t the late 1990’s anymore where nobody has a clear idea of what a video game should be. Necessary features for each individual genre, whether we’re talking about hardcore racing sims, or casual shooters meant to appeal to teenagers, have already been established, and it’s a foolish move to expect that customers will settle for less when you start taking stuff away from them.
This situation only becomes more complicated when Assetto Corsa races onto the Playstation 4 and Xbox One early next year; Forza Motorsport 6 is on a completely different level compared to niche titles by Reiza and ISI. Console racers who are used to the polish and depth of the Forza series will wonder “what the fuck is this” if the issues described above in my horrible experience with Version 1.3.3 still exist. Sadly, there appears to be little hope that the Italian developers will turn things around, as public Twitter feeds reveal that basic AI logic issues prevent multi-class racing from even being possible, something Slightly Mad Studios have been able to accomplish with Project CARS. It seems as if everywhere we turn, Assetto Corsa lacks something found in a direct competitor’s game, and we are listing not what to get excited for, but instead what is missing compared to what you can already buy.
However, from the two weeks I was unable to play a full-priced retail game that’s been on the shelves for a year, to the framerate issues that spawned out of nowhere, to CPU occupancy issues that nearly bricked the application, to the wildly incompetent AI that made Single Player racing impossible, and finally the god awful multiplayer component that Kunos have essentially said won’t be receiving anymore attention… Just remember that this is all after a year in Early Access, and then another year as a fully priced retail racing game, complete with not one but two DLC expansion packs. You can’t sell a product like this in 2015.
I enjoyed hot-lapping in Early Access, and the first few optimistic days of online multiplayer in 2014 were a blast with friends, but as it stands right this minute, I cannot recommend Assetto Corsa to anyone, nor can I predict a bright future for the title on next generation consoles if the experience is anywhere near what’s been described above.