Assetto Corsa (“racing setup” in Italian) is not for the weak-minded. As soon as you toss that plucky little Fiat Abarth 500 EsseEsse around the first corner, you’ll immediately realize this game exists to test your inflated ego of what racing talent really is.
Hence, this aspect could be the most endearing draw or crippling detriment to the uninitiated, or just downright merciless. While mainstays like Gran Turismo and Forza are popular introductions in the driving sim arena, Assetto Corsa does away with all the pampering for an experience so niche — nay, so methodical — that it almost hurts.
You’re dropped right into the game and expected to do a time attack, which is as humble as it gets. But it’s actually an allusion of what’s to come as Assetto trims away all the fat, with choice keywords being uncompromising and rigid.
A harsh reality looms the moment you take part an actual race, as every opponent ahead of you is simply better than you think you are. This will dissuade the scores of console racing fanatics that never touched or even heard of comparable titles like Project CARS, F1 2013, or iRacing. No, Assetto doesn’t bother to hold back or placate any notion of self-esteem, beginning players will sit in last place for hours as they watch the pack gets smaller in the distance as repeatedly lose — again, and again.
It’s disheartening as you learn the hard way, but there’s gratification in actually learning the basics which other known titles emotionally shielded you from. Getting into the habit of properly accelerating, braking, and steering is an exercise of rigorous challenge and obsessive process; culminating into a feeling of accomplishment, that only you will get.
But the excitement is justifiable when you eventually place third place in your first race, and only multiplies when you’re willing to repeat the approximately delicate method in each event. It’s grueling, but many will appreciate the intricacies throughout the campaign, as personal motivation evolves to reduce or completely disable the factory assets (handicap) to prove your mettle.
Each vehicle no matter what it is has its own tactile feel and realistic emulation of how it would, and should feel, moreso than current Forza or Gran Turismo iterations. And though normal folks won’t invest in one, I wholly recommend in getting either a Logitech (G29/G920) or Thrustmaster (TX/TMX/T300RS) driving wheel for this game.
The technical immersion is fulfilling as much as it is frustrating, with graphical presentation being a distinct second. That’s not to say that the visuals in Assetto are horrible, but they definitely take a backseat when the details extend beyond the cars themselves. Modeling and cockpit views are truly superb but everything around them, especially if you were hoping for realistic-looking damage, is devoid of anything relating liveliness. As an attempt of saving grace, the sounds of engine noises are thankfully akin to mechanical gospel, and serves as a light distraction to the non-interacting aesthetics.
But little of this will matter if you’re already not in love with Assetto on the gameplay front, because you certainly won’t be clamoring for the amount of presented content. What you see is what you get, since there’s no dream car collecting, or bevy of offbeat trials to enjoy. Instead, the single player scenarios are heavily streamlined to a career mode that’s about as exciting as watching cogs spin in tandem. Special events focus on the usual selection of exotics that have been endlessly lauded on internet vehicle forums in ho-hum fanfare; I’ll just tell you to expect the same BMW M3 (E30/E92), KTM X-Bow, McLaren MP4-12C GT3, Ferraris, and a healthy assortment of Lotus racecars from past to present. But if you want some needed variety, there’s always online multiplayer for some non-derivative competition.
Mastering Assetto Corsa requires dedication that many console racers may not appreciate, and easily turning off many from the get-go. There’s no way to sugarcoat the unforgiving nature of this game, unless you find pleasure in adhering to strict parameters and engineering theories of vehicular dynamics.
However, a newcomers’ loss is a calculating racers’ gain that strictly replicates the essentials of track driving. Granted, the number of courses and content is relatively meager, but the ol’ fashioned adage of ‘quality versus quantity’ fits well here. At the very least, this rises favorably against the recognized pedigree of other ‘hardcore’ racing titles.