After a recent period spent playing the fantastic Forza Horizon 4, with its almost comically arcade handling, outrageous drifts and leaps from mountain tops with no damage except to your hairstyle, my racing skills were not really where they should have been. Luckily, with the release of the new Assetto Corsa Competizione, those skills were about to enter the virtual equivalent of an extreme boot camp. The first Assetto Corsa was a tricky little so and so, even when you were attempting to just pootle about in the lower powered cars, so with the new release from 505 Games being the official game of the GT3 World Championship, have things got any easier?
The first thing to notice is there is a lot of content to go at with Competizione, all crammed onto the menu screen. You can choose to enter a Championship, where you select a car and a team, and are then catapulted into a series of races, with the ultimate goal of coming out on top. There are three lengths of championship to choose from, and even the shortest of these doesn’t feel particularly short when you take into account the amount of sessions it’s possible to involve yourself with. With two practices, two qualifying sessions and two races, there’s a good amount of driving to do in each race, never mind a full championship.
The second single player mode is Career, where you start as a new recruit attending the Lamborghini driving school, and have to then perform a series of tests, such as driving at night or in the rain, before you are given the chance to drive for a proper racing team. And further, the strangely named “Single Player” mode lets you practice with any car on any circuit, and is an ideal place to learn the layout of the racetracks and the peculiar foibles of your chosen steed; as you would expect with an Assetto Corsa game, the cars all handle noticeably differently in Competizione. I’ve found a Ferrari to be the most stable, for instance, while a Honda feels underpowered and the Lamborghini is a bit like a pantomime horse, with wild oversteer if you so much as look at the accelerator.
Last of the single player modes is that of Special Events, which tasks you with completing Hot Laps or Hot Stints in a car in a set of different circumstances, again in the wet or in the dark. There are multiplayer options available too, but sadly your performance will need to be at the top of its game in order to play with the ranked modes. Aside from that though, the regular multiplayer works very well indeed, with not a sign of slowdown or stuttering.
So, how does Assetto Corsa Competizione look, you may ask? Very good indeed, is the answer. The car models all look amazing, with various different liveries to apply, and it seems that the closer you get in a race the more details you can see. As an example, there’s a little sticker on the back of the Audi that says “Pro” and I hadn’t noticed until I ran into the back of it when I was suddenly brake checked. I still prefer a front bumper view when racing, so the work that has gone into the cockpit view is wasted on me, but as part of my thorough test of the game I did check out all of the views. The one complaint I have is that in the cockpit view, the steering wheel appears to be hyperactive, as even the smallest steering input has the driver sawing away at the wheel like I’d asked him to do a handbrake turn. It’s a bit off-putting, frankly.
The tracks are all beautifully realised, and when driving in the wet the reflections from the circuit can be almost mesmerising. Having driven variations of these real-world tracks in various games over the years, I had a rough idea of where they went, but the versions on display here seem like they are the most realistic yet.
The sound is great as well, with the engine tone playing out differently in each car, the whine from the gearboxes sounding just like you would expect, and the screech of tyres and usually the crunch of gravel all there. A special mention has to go to the vibration that plays though the regular Xbox controller, as with practice you can pretty much tell what’s happening with the tyres and the amount of available grip present, just by the feel. The way that the controller rumbles as you push harder into a bend really draws you into the action.
So, Assetto Corsa Competizione looks and sounds great, and has a lot of content to go at. How does it play? Brutally is the short answer, while the slightly longer answer is that this is a game that rewards practice, and the better you get at controlling your car, the better your results will be.
You really do need to learn the tracks: where is the braking point for that corner? What gear should I be in to accelerate out at the best rate? How will the car react if I suddenly jam on the brakes halfway round the bend? These and many other questions need answering before you will be found putting in frequently fast laps. Consistency seems to be something that this game prizes very highly, as you are rated on many criteria, and consistency is a big one. The others include things like safety, which is where I am failing at the moment, and many more.
And whilst you’d think that this is a race in which speed would be king, in reality that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. Each track has levels of mastery, and getting round a lap at more than the minimum speed is one aspect, but others include clean laps, where you stay inside the track margins at all times (much easier said than done, especially in the longer races), and the nebulous “staying in control”. Now, in most games that I’ve played – and that has been a lot of racing games – drifting is usually celebrated, with bonus points and accolades. Not so here; if the rear of the car steps out, Assetto Corsa will deem you to have lost control, and so you’ll need to curb your natural exuberance. You’ll also have to be very careful out on the track, as the cars are fragile beasts – much like real life. If you brush a wall, it’s not too bad, but keep hitting the same area of the car and it will start to add up, until you get to the point where the car is no longer drivable, pulling off to one side constantly, for instance. It’s then that a trip to the pits is needed, and for heaven’s sake do not exceed the speed limit in the pit lane. If you do, you are straight up disqualified. No ifs, no buts. So, as I said earlier, the difficulty is brutal, even on beginner level.
However, should you keep at it, your experience with Competizione will start to flow, and the way that the races have to be approached will start to click. You can keep track of your progress in the Driver section of the main menu, and there is a graph drawn there that shows you how you are improving; seeing that on an upward curve is a nice validation of what you are doing. The game doesn’t get any less ferocious mind: take one liberty and it will still punish you, but learning to drive within the limits of the car is very satisfying. There is an achievement for driving 10 straight laps with no mistakes, which I don’t think I’ll be getting any time soon, but it’s nice to feel that those skills are starting to come back!
For the most part, Assetto Corsa Competizione is more than decent. But any complaints? Well, there’s only one, really, and it’s to do with the AI drivers. You see, they will stick to the racing line no matter what, and while this may be realistic they are quite dim-witted about it. If you are leading the pack (it doesn’t happen often, but bear with me) and make a mistake, like slowing down too much or, heaven forbid, spinning out, the rest of the field will take great pleasure in ploughing into you. This quite often breaks the car, and this then leads to a trip to the pits and the loss of all the hard-won race places you had. I’m fairly sure that if this happens in the real world, the other drivers’ reactions would be to brake or avoid a collision, but not here. One good crash means that most likely you’ll need to restart the whole race, which is pretty galling when you’re on the last lap. Other than that though, Competizione does exactly what it says on the tin: drive like it’s real and you’ll be okay. Take liberties, and you won’t be.
To conclude and, well, Assetto Corsa Competizione on Xbox One is a hard game, make no mistake. Learn to play by its rules, learn the tracks, learn just how much you can lean on a car, and it will suddenly click. This is not a game for casual players though and if you want to make the most of the content here, you need to commit the time and get good. The rewards are there – it’s just down to you to unlock them.