We have to admit to being a bit scared before trying out Assetto Corsa on consoles for the first time the other day in Madrid, at the offices of publisher 505 Games. We love racing games, but our ride so far with PC simulators re-adapted for console has been bumpy, to say the least. Our last experience was the worst coming off the Xbox One version of Project CARS, with its untameable, hostile presentation, gameplay, and configuration systems. This reporter isn't as hardcore as say our Swedish colleague, Petter Hegevall. So in case it's useful for you as a reference for this preview, this reporter is a console-sim lover-type who can't stand playing racing games with a gamepad anymore, but who doesn't play PC flagships such as iRacing, rFactor, but tends to play games like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo with a racing wheel. Got it? Now let's step on the gas.
What we got to sample was an alpha version of Assetto Corsa running on PS4. The publisher and developers Kunos Simulazioni, with the collaboration of peripheral manufacturer Thrustmaster, had set up four demo stations, each with a PlaySeat, racing wheel, and pedals (even shift sticks in some cases). What a pity, then, that this early version is still buggy in terms of peripheral support, with clutch not being fully supported yet and both pedals or Force Feedback often ending up disconnected mid-race for some reason.
This situation detracted our enjoyment of the game, but don't get us wrong: that enjoyment was really, truly great when everything worked as intended.
As we got to drive the Ferrari FXX K for a couple of laps on Barcelona Circuit de Catalunya, we felt completely immersed. And those PC-to-console conversion fears were suddenly wiped. What a welcoming, pleasant driving experience Assetto Corsa is going to be.
The alpha version might be wet behind the ears in terms of wheel support (though the devs confirmed all Fanatec, Logitech and Thrustmaster options are in), but the beautiful driving simulation is there already, and the menu experience has really been well adapted to TV and button-based controls.
The game runs smoothly at 1080p 60fps on PS4 (900p 60 fps on Xbox One, Kunos confirmed this to GR during our session). The feeling on the wheel is absolutely natural and graceful, something we often miss with simulators. The handling and response is, of course, as precise and realistic as you might expect from these pro-driving experts, from a studio with an office located inside a real racing circuit (Vallelunga Circuit). But that doesn't mean it has to be mean or rough. In other words: it's as demanding as you'd expect, but also tameable and responsive, offering feedback to the player. It really is a nice, welcoming feeling.
We didn't feel the somewhat forced over-steering and drifting found in some Forza titles, nor the rigid, severe wheel handling found in the console version of Project CARS. And we felt "new elements" within the physics model on the very familiar track Spa-Francorchamps, with car and tires really depicting the weight balance on the changing road. Perhaps a result of the centimetre-perfect 3D scanning of the circuit employed by the studio, perhaps a result of the cutting edge physics model they've been evolving for years by teaming up with real manufactures and drivers. Believe us: we had to check back how other sims handle after this session, as it was surprisingly exciting, and we can't wait to try out many different car types on every single circuit on offer. After driving both the dreamlike Ferrari and Audi R8, we could tell why this is pitched as "Your racing simulator". It could just as easily be called "The real driving simulator" as it feels as realistic as it is accessible.
And the same can be said about the menu system and the UI. It has been completely revamped from PC, because we won't have mouse and keyboard on hand, but a bunch of buttons and D-Pad, be it on gamepad or your racing wheel of choice. The options are clear, the layout is clean, and clicks needed between races are few. Load times are surprisingly short for the genre as well, even before optimisation.
Being a humble studio, Kunos wants "to make the difference where the budget doesn't", according to Marco Massarutto, executive manager. So with this premise they've focused on their aforementioned exclusive physics engine simulation, then adding some decent content around that. There'll be around 100 cars at launch, and each one takes twelve-fourteen weeks of development by six devs from a thirty-strong studio. And the same goes for tracks, all official and 3D point cloud scanned with laser camera, with twelve circuits and twenty-one configurations available at launch.
"Monza looks very flat, but if you drive on it for real you can see [the car] trembling. We recreate it exactly like it is. Even the most advanced physics engine is useless if you don't replicate the track surface as it is. It has to be alive (not via people in the crowd, etc, but because it's real)."
Regarding graphics, and taking into account it's an early alpha version, the studio went from 15fps at the beginning to the current 60fps mark on both consoles after one year of hard work, "bringing the same content and detail from PC", something every racing fan will always appreciate above extra detail and FX. We noticed some poor ground/props texture here and there, some flat lighting and some screen-tearing, but smoothness, speed and handling already makes up for these flaws, at least at this stage.
With the really positive impression left by the driving itself, we only have doubts regarding content and its ability to hold our interest. 100 cars, 12/21 tracks is more than enough at launch, but we'll have to see how the Career-Special Events-Drift-Drag Race combined offering (plus online multiplayer) stands up over time as we've grown tired of the old formula, particularly with old-fashioned Career modes seen everywhere. At least, as promised by Kuno during our interview, there'll always be "content parity between PC and consoles", which also means the same content updates and patches for both, a nice gesture to console owners.
Assetto Corsa launches on PS4 and Xbox One on April 22, 2016. For more on the game, checkout our gameplay clips and don't miss our upcoming detailed full interview with Marco Massarutto (due out in the near future).