Sim Racers around the world are gearing up for the next-generation console release of Assetto Corsa this April, and publisher 505 Games have put an interesting viral marketing campaign into motion, one which saw several mainstream gaming sites all publish lengthy preview articles of the former hardcore PC racing simulator, all on the same day. Proclaiming the newest release by Italian developer Kunos Simulazioni could be a better console offering than Gran Turismo – despite Polyphony’s upcoming Gran Turismo Sport still being a few years away – Red Bull Gaming, EuroGamer, Ars Technica, and GamesRadar have all climbed aboard the Assetto Corsa hype train to a nauseating extent.
As an experienced sim racer, these kinds of articles frustrate me. Look, I’m all for the so-called “outsiders” covering these types of games because a fresh set of eyes and hands can give valuable feedback in areas that may have been overlooked, but occasionally their lack of experience with the genre becomes painfully obvious, and the reader is left with information that is of no use to anybody. With how much marketing dribble and utter nonsense has been spouted throughout these four articles, I feel as if this isn’t any sort of journalism, but a thinly-veiled marketing campaign, one which is outright lying to potential customers.
I own Assetto Corsa. I’ve put in something like 270 hours into the title since it first went live on Steam’s Early Access platform in late 2013. Despite uninstalling the game recently, I’ve tried my very best to keep up with what’s occurring on a few different Assetto Corsa communities. Comparing the actual reception and my own experiences with Assetto Corsa, to what’s been written in the GamesRadar review – that’s right, the URL itself lists the piece as a review – it’s as if I’m playing an entirely different copy of the game than the author had been.
Right off the bat, the author of the GamesRadar article – we’ll refer to him as Justin – claims Assetto Corsa has the best handling yet. However, Justin then goes on to state he tried the game at a preview event, with a massive dedicated setup that very few PS4 or Xbox One owners will even contemplate building. It’s just too damned expensive and out of reach for a large portion of the potential userbase. So already, the perception of how the game feels is skewed because he’s trying the game under abnormal circumstances, and at no point does he state how the game feels with a standard gamepad setup. This omission is critical, as many PS4 and Xbox One owners will treat the game as another Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport offering, and attempt to play the game with the controller that shipped with the console. How the game handles with a traditional gamepad is pretty damn important. Not everybody, in fact the majority of people who buy this game, aren’t going to rush out and buy a toy steering wheel that costs quadruple the amount of Assetto Corsa.
On a personal note, I’m curious as to why Assetto Corsa feeling good on next generation consoles is such a big deal? With a pretty noticeable lack of driving games on this hardware – a selection boiling down to a few Need for Speed titles, WRC 5, and Driveclub – being the best of what’s available isn’t very difficult. On the Playstation 4, Kunos is competing against five games that all shipped in varying states of disarray. How is surpassing the abomination that was WRC 5 any sort of achievement? Better yet, how can we say Assetto Corsa is a superior choice compared to Gran Turismo, when Gran Turismo Sport isn’t even out yet?
Next, our boy Justin mentions that Ferrari of all automobile manufacturers used Assetto Corsa as an in-house vehicle dynamics simulator, so it must be good! What Justin fails to mention, is that this piece of information is over a year old. Ferrari actually dropped Kunos Simulazioni’s software for the rFactor Pro software created by rival developer Image Space Incorporated, all the way back in October of 2014.
Ironically, the switch to rFactor Pro simulation software, a version of rFactor not available to the general public, came right as Assetto Corsa’s PC version graduated from Steam’s Early Access Program and was deemed “feature complete.” It’s a bit of a stretch, but one could make the conclusion that Assetto Corsa’s technology was abandoned by Ferrari for being inferior – and this is backed up in the article above where Ferrari states they were so impressed with the rF Pro software, they immediately began using it for their Formula One program. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ferrari’s road car team use MSC Software’s ADAMS program, while Dallara use software from both SimWB and Simulink.
We now get to the portion of the article where Virtual Reality support is mentioned, though Justin writes that the developer team’s priority is to finish the console version and ship the product to customers, so Virtual Reality compatibility will not be supported at launch. This is seen as a positive talking point in the GamesRadar review, but venturing over to the Oculus Rift SubReddit, a fairly large amount of customers are actually unsatisfied with the lackluster Virtual Reality support, and some users believe they are entitled to a refund due to how Kunos jumped on the virtual reality bandwagon, only to leave compatibility in a state described by some as “misrepresented.”
In the initial post of the lengthy Reddit thread, user SputnikKaputnik notes that Kunos Simulazioni actually missed the deadline for ordering the SDK version of the first Oculus Rift consumer model, because they didn’t even know it had been made available to developers such as themselves. This is going to cause problems for those purchasing Assetto Corsa solely for the virtual reality experience, as Kunos can’t even begin to work on support for the consumer release of the Oculus Rift. Basically, Justin is trying to hype up a feature that won’t see the light of day for a long while, and current compatibility is shoddy at best. So shoddy, in fact, that the virtual reality support badge has been removed by Steam.
You knew this one was coming. Justin of GamesRadar.com praises the AI behavior in-game, claiming he was in an intense battle for fourth place at Spa before his own lack of skill got the best of him. As someone with 270+ hours invested into Assetto Corsa, I can safely say that this dude probably hasn’t even played the game, but is instead regurgitating a pre-written script. The artificial intelligence is all kinds of bad, and can be so easily broken by adjusting a single menu option, we’ve written an entire guide on how to do so. Woefully incompetent and exhibiting the racing tactics of a kindergartener, the poor AI in Assetto Corsa completely ruins the Single Player racing experience. The current crop of AI issues are so perplexing, even diehard Assetto Corsa fanboys are suggesting for users to intentionally not race the AI, and instead treat them like special needs children by imposing superficial challenges on yourself. Otherwise, as one user writes, “they’ll drive off the track or come to a stop.”
To be fair, maybe there have been improvements made to the overall AI logic for the upcoming console release, but why are these improvements locked away behind preview code specifically for the gaming press to evaluate, instead of being implemented as soon as possible into the retail PC release – a title already on store shelves for $60 featuring several premium and free DLC packs. Why can’t paying customers have that version of Assetto Corsa, but Red Bull and GamesRadar can at some super special preview event?
While I will say that the lighting engine can create some absolutely beautiful close-up screenshots just by firing up FRAPS and messing around with the in-game free roam camera, Justin believes that the visual feel is “like a new-generation version of Ferrari 355 Challenge” – a Sega Dreamcast game that not only played good, it looked fucking awesome. I don’t know man, maybe I need to get my eyes checked, but I just don’t see it here:
The physical track mesh, the portion of the track your car drives across and interacts with, has something like 100,000 polygons on the Nordschleife alone to ensure you feel every single bump and dip that real race car drivers feel throughout each lap. However, the environments themselves look like an rFactor mod circa 2008. With Forza Motorsport 6, Project CARS, and even Gran Turismo 6 still fresh in people’s minds, what you see above is hardly something that “feels like it could really exist.” Let’s be real, that comparison above would be right at home if you changed the photo filter and added an rFactor logo on it. Now, there are gonna be some guys who bring up the argument of diminishing returns, but when games like Forza exist and tons of people have played them, gamers are going to notice an obvious downgrade. Again, I ask what game Justin was playing, because it certainly wasn’t Assetto Corsa.
Lastly, we get to the simulation aspect of the review, where Justin claims Assetto Corsa is “unashamedly a simulation of cars.” I get that this guy isn’t a hardcore sim racer like many readers of PretendRaceCars.net, and may not fully understand what the simulation tag entails, but we certainly do. Countless articles here on PRC.net have discussed the shortcuts Kunos Simulazioni have taken when preparing Assetto Corsa for the console release – from copying physics values across different vehicles to camber settings straight up not working – and in the end, these shortcuts to cut down on development time make the game much less of a simulation than the label implies. A flight simulator wouldn’t be much of a flight simulator if a Jumbo Jet flew like a World War II era Spitfire, so why not hold racing simulators to the same standard?
Unfortunately, when attempts are made to uphold this standard of simulation quality, Kunos instead cracks down on these individuals.
Above is a tidbit of information from an unnamed former member of Assetto Corsa modding team Virtua Simulazioni, a team responsible for not only a handful of very well received third party Assetto Corsa mods, but also a team who’d worked on content for Kunos Simulazioni which saw a public release as official premium DLC. The former Virtua Simulazioni member claimed that the team members in charge of physics modelling were finding flaws within Assetto Corsa’s physics engine on an almost daily basis, and they were reporting these flaws to Kunos on the official forums like they had asked. The constant barrage of bug reports instead frustrated Kunos, and Kunos requested Virtua Simulazioni to stop reporting bugs that would help Kunos improve the game, threatening to cease their professional partnership altogether.
To see a developer of a racing simulation actively bully their partners into purposely not reporting bugs that are affecting the entire simulation element… As a customer you question how much of a simulation this title really is. And with the label laughed at behind the scenes, but tossed around by mainstream sites such as RedBull, Ars Technica, and GamesRadar as if you’re somehow more hardcore for diving into Assetto Corsa instead of Gran Turismo, at this point it’s nothing more than marketing fluff. These journalists can’t possibly have played the same Assetto Corsa that I’ve owned and invested time into – some of their talking points are demonstrably the complete opposite of what actually occurrs. With four articles published on the same day aggressively pushing this overall concept, I’d say it was a killer preview party.
Sim Racers should be disappointed by this arrogant display of viral marketing by 505 Games, as after the Project CARS fiasco of 2015, our genre desperately needs a “good guy” to cheer for – a game to rally behind and dive head first into as we journey into what 2016 has to offer our genre. Instead, we are being fed another round of pointless marketing dribble by an equally hostile developer, and in the end sim racers will be left with another title that was more exciting to wait for than it was to actually play.