The day has finally arrived; a brand once restricted to the chaotic world of Need for Speed has returned home, and my, what an an absurd trip it has most certainly been. After an exclusivity deal was attained between Porsche and Electronic Arts somewhere between six and eight years ago, sim racers stopped seeing the legendary German car manufacturer appear in PC-oriented simulators, instead confined to the high speed police chases and car collecting meta-games of casual-oriented console offerings. By some act of God, as if He himself descended from the heavens and threw the hardcore virtual racers a much-needed bone, Kunos Simulazioni shocked the landscape by announcing they would be the lone developer responsible for bringing Porsche back to the consumer simulator market for their flagship racing simulator, Assetto Corsa. Sure, the pessimists among us may bring up that the exclusivity deal is set to end at the conclusion of the 2016 calendar year, but the fact that a developer not named Microsoft actually managed to jump through every last loophole in an effort to please customers around the world is no small feat.
Unfortunately, the product this landmark accomplishment has resulted in – a bundle of virtual Porsche automobiles for Assetto Corsa, with two more packs to follow in the future – does not live up to the magnitude of what Kunos have achieved on the negotiating table. As a massive fan of Assetto Corsa’s Japanese Pack – an analysis that rightfully shocked regular readers of PRC.net – I was expecting an equally captivating experience to match the ridiculous anticipation we’ve been dealing with over the previous few months since the license acquisition was first announced. Instead, what I received for my purchase felt like a set of cars that had been artificially manipulated to appease the casual audience who have only recently discovered Assetto Corsa. Whereas the Japanese Pack felt almost spot-on given my own real-world experiences with certain vehicles included, the new set of Porsche automobiles exhibited blatantly unrealistic levels of understeer, lacked several essential garage menu tuning options to reduce unwanted handling characteristics, and felt as if they had been designed with some kind of ulterior motive in mind.
I get that some street cars come pre-loaded with understeer-heavy setups to prevent your average Joe from hurting themselves in a high-performance vehicle, but it appears as if the depictions of popular Porsche models in Assetto Corsa were fine-tuned for controller users and other talent-less monkeys who can barely keep the car pointed in the proper direction. If you see people praising this package anywhere, it’s because they can’t drive, plain and simple. Any sim racer with any sort of ability to push the car will immediately spot bizarre vehicle behavior that shouldn’t be there, and some are already voicing their complaints on mainstream outlets such as RaceDepartment. I can confirm that these guys aren’t wrong; something is seriously amiss with the Porsche pack.
The first time I entered a high-speed kink at the classic Silverstone layout with the speedometer reading upwards of 100 km/h, my car pushed straight off the race track. Even ripping the wheel 90 degrees into the corner and lifting off the throttle to intentionally upset the car did virtually nothing but send me into a lazy slide that was easily recoverable by mashing the throttle – this from vehicles with heavy rear weight bias. For a developer to get the balance of each car found in the Japanese Pack so right, I’m really left wondering how they got it so wrong only a few months later.
Despite the new tire model update – version ten to be exact – the usual annoyances found in Assetto Corsa still remain, such as the way tire pressures work in relation to heat and the stupid excessive drag on running low tire pressures, along with the need to redo the alignment on almost every car in the game because the default setups are laughably out of whack. No, clicking “default” does not give you the precise manufacturer-spec setup when the car leaves the showroom floor – in some cases it’s just the value in the center of what Kunos has defined as the minimum and maximum values for each adjustable option, and traditionally, they aren’t very good. Are there at least some reasons why you’d want to spend the $8 on this pack, or possibly on the Porsche Pass bundle? Most certainly, yes. The GT4-spec Porsche Cayman is phenomenal, and the Moby Dick Group 5 car was decent, but I expected much more out of what many called the absolute craziest race car to drive in the history of auto racing.
I’ll start things off by discussing the car I enjoyed the most, the aforementioned Porsche Cayman GT4. Out of the box, you can point it into a corner and balance the amount of oversteer it exhibits with your right foot. The brakes provide just the right amount of stopping power to slow the car down while requiring you to wheel it just a tad, and off the throttle the thing corners pretty well. Maybe it’s due to the weight distribution being a lot more balanced than the rest of the cars, but it actually felt like a proper race car and provided the most fun in terms of raw driving experience, which is what many Assetto Corsa fans are after. After tinkering with the limited setup options, I just basically ended up making the car as soft in the front and as stiff in the rear as the simulator allowed me to, then it was right where I wanted it.
The Cayman GT4 is more or less an advanced-level Spec Miata for those who want to go a bit faster and look a bit cooler, but still want something they can tame rather than struggle with. This is the lone the car that will validate your decision to buy the pack.
The vehicle in the pack that I’d like to discuss is the 911 Carrera S. I found it interesting that as soon as I hit a kink at over 100 km/h, the car decided it didn’t feel like turning, and went straight off the track. Completely dumbfounded, I actually went through the process of remapping my controls, only to discover it was actually how Kunos Simulazioni believed this car should drive. This is easily the worst car in the pack; you can slam all your inputs together at once like a confused toddler placed in daddy’s sim rig, and it still won’t matter – it’s as if Kunos just wanted a car you could flick with a control stick and not die, and as a wheel user what happens is that the car feels like a lazy mess – which takes no talent to drive.
The 918 Spyder, serving to complete the trifecta of modern hypercars in Assetto Corsa, didn’t fare much better, mirroring the handling deficiencies found in the Carrera S mentioned above, albeit with more power and the ability to break the rear tires loose to rotate the rear end around on corner exit. It’s not the absolute monster Chris Harris made it out to be, which is disappointing as there aren’t many games you can drive these cars in to begin with.
I won’t even discuss the Panamera.
By the time I started experimenting with the platter of historic cars found in the pack, I was already a bit ticked off. I’d given Kunos Simulazioni money for content that in no way matched the overall quality of the Japanese DLC release, and to add insult to injury, there are already two more on the way whether you like it or not – with Kunos channeling their inner Electronic Arts by way of implementing a Season Pass of sorts just for the Porsche vehicles.
It’s hard for me to sit here and not directly address the rumors that Assetto Corsa is being crafted to accommodate the influx of casual users discovering the game for the first time, as a portion of the cars are so neutered you feel as if you could wheel them with your Xbox pad, and the season pass stuff really starting to get out of hand. Is there raw evidence we can point to of Assetto Corsa’s overall direction changing behind the scenes? Well, no, but there’s definitely been a tangible shift between the vehicle dynamics of the Japanese Pack, and what I’m experiencing with the Porsche pack. Will many Assetto Corsa fans notice the difference? No, but given how I’ve grown accustomed to spotting minor physics variations thanks to my time spent building setups for PEAK Series teams on iRacing, what Kunos have done with the Porsche content is drastic.
My first stop with the historic content was the most wild of the bunch, the Porsche 917/30. This race car was built during the height of Can-Am’s popularity, a late 60’s/early 70’s North American prototype series where there was virtually no rule book, and teams were encouraged to design literal deathtraps in the pursuit of glory. The car suffers from preposterous levels of understeer effects that are simply absurd for a car from this era, and it’s almost as if Kunos threw everything they’ve learned from creating previous pieces of content out the window in favor of a Forza-like experience.
The one bright spot with the 917/30 is that you can’t stop on the throttle like a moron; you have to wait for the turbo spool, which is admittedly the best part of Assetto’s physics engine and why I wish more sims would adopt the way they model turbochargers. Once you spool up the turbo, you’re tasked with holding on and managing wheelspin as best as you can, which was a really enjoyable challenge for a talented driver like myself, but setup-wise I still couldn’t manage to free the car up in the corners even with an intentionally hectic setup thrown into the garage screen.
The Porsche 911 RSR .3.0 is definitely one of the better vehicles in the pack, requiring some talent to driving and biting you for mistakes, but I expect nothing less from what’s basically a detuned RUF CTR Yellowbird, as that’s pretty much what it is – a lot softer and less jumpy. A good overall car for those that prefer historic stuff in Assetto Corsa as opposed to modern race cars like the Cayman GT4, so I expect people to flock to this bad boy and for it to become established as one of the clear favorites of the pack.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the Porsche 935 Moby Dick, a car notorious for being absolutely insane to drive and part of the turbocharged Group 5 era of touring cars that have been featured in every racing sim under the sun, from the popular DRM mod released for the original rFactor, all the way to the Group 5 pack for Race Room Racing Experience – where the alternate brand Fabcar is used to avoid licensing complications. In real life, this car was fucking nuts, but the Assetto Corsa version is just a little too easy to plant the throttle to the floor and make minor adjustments to the steering wheel on corner exit when using the default setup. With your own set of custom numbers it becomes a bit more lively, but not to the extent that’s been portrayed in other simulators, so for me it was a slight let-down. I’m sure some will report back to the forums claiming they couldn’t keep it in a straight line, but at that point you have to question the nut behind the wheel, because this thing certainly doesn’t reflect the authentic Group 5 experience that other simulators do.
In conclusion, compared to the near-perfect Japanese pack which was released earlier this year for Assetto Corsa, the first of the three planned Porsche bundles is a giant leap in the opposite direction, and certainly makes me question what’s going on behind the scenes at Kunos Simulazioni. I know James has told us over Teamspeak that certain car manufacturers make special requests when dealing with Kunos, and a few informants have supposedly semi-confirmed there’s indeed been a shift in direction towards the console audience, but it’s hard to measure this in a tangible manner where we can present raw data and say with the utmost of certainty that concessions have been made for the casual crowd. However, after driving the Porsche pack, I’m beginning to understand why this is even a rumor to begin with; some of these cars honestly aren’t very good, and do not reflect the quality of other Kunos releases when it comes to the raw driving dynamics. About half of the vehicles found in the Porsche pack are so un-Porsche-like that it accidentally gives credibility to some of the rumors which Kunos angrily race to dismiss.
Is it nice to see Porsche back on our side of the fence? Absolutely, no questions asked on that part. But I feel as if the content itself simply hasn’t lived up to the hype surrounding it, and in many instances proves that some of the cynics going around with stories of Kunos altering cars to cater to other crowds may be onto something. Many sim racers may not be able to push each respective car to its limits and discover the simplicity compared to other Kunos efforts, but as a talented sim racer, I can confirm that most of the cars, with the exception of the Cayman GT4 and 911 RSR 3.0, are lazy, unresponsive, and uncharacteristically difficult to steer or spin compared to what we know about their real world counterparts. Given how much of an emphasis Kunos Simulazioni place on recreating the feel of driving a car – any car – to the absolute limit, many cars in this pack go completely against what they hope to accomplish with Assetto Corsa as a piece of consumer software.
The DLC is too easy to drive, very limited in regards to garage menu options, and straight up lazy in every sense of the word. I’m not happy with it, and hope they re-examine the Japanese Pack to understand why many people – including myself – believed it to be the pinnacle of what Assetto Corsa can be as a performance driving simulator.