I 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 exclamation 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.
During 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.
These 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.
I 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.
We 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.
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.
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 to… 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.
Technically, 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 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.
Contrary 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.
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 engine lived 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.
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.
As 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.
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.