REVIEW: Assetto Corsa Competizione Early Access – A taster of what’s to come

by James Eagles
Assetto Corsa Competizione - Early Access

Nearly four years after the public release of popular simulator Assetto Corsa, Italian developers Kunos Simulazioni return to the mainstream market with a new title; Assetto Corsa Competizione.

An official title of the Blancpain GT Series, Assetto Corsa Competizione (colloquially known as ‘ACC’) offers the most in-depth simulation of, arguably, the world’s most reputable GT championship. All the cars, recreated in immaculate detail in their customers’ respective liveries and tuned with real world performance data, licensed drivers that all perform relative to their reputation and talent and all 10 tracks that appear on the Sprint and Endurance Cup calendars.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Whilst the new title, scheduled for full release in early-2019, may share a name with its predecessor, most of the aspects have been remodelled from the ground up to paint an entirely different picture. A move from their in-house built graphics engine to Unreal Engine 4 ensures that night racing is possible – good news for those who wish to embark on the Total 24 Hours of Spa – and variable weather is now a factor.

Assetto Corsa Competizione - Early Access

Wet weather provides a heightened sense of realism and a new challenge. Credit: Kunos Simulazioni

Yes, rain in Assetto Corsa. As if La Source or the Variante del Rettifilo in multiplayer wasn’t chaotic enough in the dry.

No longer is there a need to download a third-party mod that roughly simulates the effects of wet weather by boosting the cloud coverage, making the track incredibly dusty and emphasising the shine of the tarmac.

Additionally, improvements to the handling, driver and crew motions, tyre physics and much more give the consumer that sense of being in a GT3 car in the comfort of their own home. Even more so if you own some sort of Virtual Reality hardware.

Last week, Kunos released the early access version of the game on PC via Steam, giving those with media passes, or general public that wished to part with around £20, the chance to sample Work In Progress gameplay at the wheel of the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 at the Nürburgring. Unlike other early access passes, the content is limited but the time isn’t. More cars and tracks will be bled into the beta in the build up to full release.

All-in-all, two years’ worth of development has led to this product, so, what does The Checkered Flag think of it?

SET-UP

Getting into the game is a rudimentary task. The initial launch phase was easy and the speed will vary depending on the performance potential of your computer. A short load later, and a quick glimpse of what’s to come courtesy of an introduction that showcases the vastly-improved graphics, the main menu is reached.

Strikingly, the user interface is heavily different to the former title. The menus that were located on the left-hand side of the screen are no longer; replaced by larger menus that are clearly titled and therefore simpler to understand. The display is brighter, more welcoming and exciting as opposed to the duller grey and red number in Assetto Corsa.

For extra ease of access, the menus can be navigated with either your mouse, controller or the directional and command buttons on a steering wheel.

For this test, I used a Thrustmaster T500RS, one of multiple compatible wheels with the game. However, a word of warning; it is important that you map your wheel accordingly. My first dive into gameplay was hindered by wrong calibration settings, prompting a swift return to the menus.

I found that 540° of rotation was ideal for my setup and delivered smooth, representative steering inputs, eradicating the large deadzone and jerkiness that I experienced at 900°.

There are plenty of functions to map to a wheel and keyboard or control box. Anything from lights and wipers to brake and throttle map settings, helping the consumer to get the most out of their and the car’s potential.

GAME MODES

Currently, in the base version of the early access edition, the game modes available to the player are limited. There’s no multiplayer access yet, but Assetto Corsa is a game easily enjoyed just by single player alone. The normal practice mode, where you can pace around a track without traffic until your heart is content, is a good place to try the game and experiment with different driving techniques and setups before you start to venture into other challenges.

Just like the regular Assetto Corsa, there are some ‘Special Events’ for you to try out already. Unsurprisingly, they all revolve around the Huracan and Nürburgring – for now.

The first menu will take you to the Hotlap challenge. Perfect temperatures and a fully rubbered-in track greet you to lap without worries about tyre depletion, fuel volume or mechanical gremlins. The objective is very simple – get round the track as quickly as you can.

Assetto Corsa Competizione - Early Access

Credit: Kunos Simulazioni

Directly right of that menu lay two ‘Hotstint’ options, one in normal dry day conditions and the other under sunset – where the enhanced graphics really stand out.

The aim of this mode is to simulate a race stint between pitstops. Time varies between the two options. In the base dry setting, your stint will last eight minutes. In sunset conditions, that goes up to 35 minutes. The emphasis is placed on smoothness and consistency, two key attributes for any racing driver – especially for endurance racers. The better you drive, the higher you’ll score on the leaderboard. No traffic to worry about, but your car condition is something that you will have to keep a close eye on.

Hotstint is a new addition to the Assetto Corsa experience, and one that would be welcome in the original game at some point.

But if you like racing then fear not. Head over to the last panel and a Quick Race is available, set to a time limit like a normal Sprint Race.

In the beta, “a mistake in yesterday’s qualifying session” leaves you starting from last and fighting for points in a 20-car field, made up of various other models that will be in the full game. This also takes place at sunset and gives the player a chance to see different cars up against each other and therefore provides a new challenge.

HANDLING AND…FIDDLING

As mentioned earlier, the switch to Unreal Engine 4 has had a notable impact on the handling from AC to ACC. Kunos say that the focus on just one series has allowed them to improve the “physical model of the suspensions, tyres and aerodynamics”, to name a few crucial areas.

With “direct support” from Blancpain GT drivers and teams, ACC provides the closest, most realistic simulation of a modern GT3 car. In my opinion, the changes are overwhelmingly positive. The game’s handling feels more refined and more satisfying to learn in comparison to the normal title. Even if it is marketed as a simulator, you still have the chance to turn on various assists to aid your learning curve – like stability control, the ideal driving line or an automatic clutch and transmission. But throwing yourself into the game with just the factory traction control setting to help is a rewarding experience.

Through the high-speed Schumacher-S sequence in the middle sector, finding the limit is tricky. Blending off the throttle, feathering the brake, coaxing the car in and then running as wide as you dare requires a dab hand. Get it wrong and you may find yourself with a (virtually) expensive repair bill.

An important note is that the NGK Shikane, or the final chicane, is set to the shallow, quicker GT layout and not the version that was used for Formula 1. Turn into the more familiar entry point and cones and polystyrene will fly.

The new tyre model takes some learning. Feeling the limit of grip under braking is easier with an improved and more communicative Force Feedback system; important for the lifespan of your Pirellis in Quick Race and Hotstint mode. Abuse the limits and you’ll feel pain later in your stint.

You can combat excessive wear though, and not just through driving technique. The new set-up menu in the garage is more detailed. If fine-tuning a car to your liking is something that doesn’t appeal to you, then Kunos provide three blanket setups for different conditions. The “safe”, “aggressive” and “wet” presets are all self-explanatory and require different techniques to work optimally.

But, if you know what you want from your racing car, then you can alter the setup accordingly. Anything from tyre pressures and wheel camber to bump stops and anti-roll bars, on all four corners of the car. Much like Assetto Corsa, all corners can be modified independent to each other – a little time-consuming if you want general changes though – and a sample explanation of the effect it will have on the car’s handling and performance is provided too, much like regular AC.

Touched on earlier in the general game set-up, there are several real-time changes that you can make in car. The brake bias can be toggled between front and rear in 0.5% increments, the engine mapping can be boosted or toned down, traction control and anti-lock brake power can also be increased and decreased. Everything you could need to squeeze out all the lap time your talent (or patience) will allow.

Additionally, you can map out functions to look to your left, right and behind you.

THE ART OF ARTIFICIAL RACECRAFT

Like many things in this game, I expect and hope that the AI performance will change come the time of full release. At the moment, there are problems. Most pertinently, the AI cars seem to stop in the middle of the track on or by the pit straight for no apparent reason. Checking the Steam forums affirms that its not just an issue on my end and could be a glitch with the flag and penalty system.

Alarming for Kunos, but the title is still very much in its infancy.

Assetto Corsa Competizione - Early Access

Credit: Kunos Simulazioni

Because of this, I can’t review the racing experience to any real detail. But, the opponents do seem more intelligent than their Assetto Corsa predecessors. They’re better to race against, as they will give you room if you really commit to a sensible move. But, try anything stupid and you’ll see your path rightfully blocked. You can accurately alter their difficulty and aggression too, with a toggle that works in percentages, so play around and find your perfect settings.

I will warn you, at 100% aggression it feels like you’re dodging 19 Pastor Maldonados.

CONCLUSION

All things considered including the build version and the time until full release – believed to be some time in the first quarter of 2019, on the eve of the 2019 season starting – Assetto Corsa Competizione is a step forward for Kunos and the Assetto Corsa franchise.

There are things to tweak in the coming months and I eagerly await new content in the beta form, but I have every reason to think that it will be worth the £40. Especially if the Blancpain GT Series is your cup of tea.

Sometimes, widespread changes can evoke doubt and backfire – especially when the changes come to a title that still pleases the consumer as much as it did four years ago – but it’s safe to say that the extensive development has had a positive effect. The graphics are sharper, the trackside marshals no longer look like a human recreated hastily and unnervingly in Play-Doh, the sounds inside the cockpit are more immersive and the feel of the car is superb. There are other little touches to boost the experience, like the camera shaking on upshifts and your own race engineer that gently encourages and praises you as you clock in the laps.

Even if you don’t own a wheel, Kunos have made an effort to refine the feel on a controller. I wouldn’t recommend this game on a keyboard though.

Kunos have remained coy on whether any DLC packs will be released, like the well received and crafted Ferrari bundles that have graced AC over the last couple of years, but the original game will certainly feature cars and tracks from the 2018 and 2019 championships.

Preliminary rating: 7.5/10

 

 

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