Not many racing games tempt me into racing with a manual transmission, fewer still tempt me into racing on one of the highest realism settings and only use the cockpit view. The Early Access version of Assetto Corsa which is on Steam right now is the game which has done those things for me.
I don’t delve into many Early Access games, but there is another racer that I occasionally take a look at which received its own version of Early Access, that is Project CARS. While I haven’t played CARS for a few months, I did quite regularly check out the early buildings when it was first launched through its crowd-funding mechanic. I will put my neck on the line then and say that Assetto Corsa is looking in much better shape at such an early stage of development than CARS did last time I checked it out.
I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’m not entirely convinced on the driving model on some vehicles when using the chase-cam, they seem to turn in a totally alien fashion. Using the cockpit view helps dissipate this sensation. It might just be that to meet the potential of the game you need to play with a wheel, or maybe that I haven’t ensured the settings for my control pad are tuned just right. I did find myself turning down the vibration as my pad was constantly shaking wildly in my hands.
My thoughts keep coming back to my first experiences with the classic Lotus Type 49 at the terrifyingly fast 1966 version of Monza. There are no chicanes here, just wonderful swooping curves that dare you to push as hard as possible. Taking to the cockpit view of the Lotus, I was immediately struck by the rawness of the machinery used in the dangerous days of Formula One. You sit there surrounded by massive tyres, a wheel lacking in electronic gizmos with the tarmac and barriers of Monza flying past.
I had one trip around the track with the full range of assists before trying the fully professional driving option. Changing gears without figuring out how to use the clutch was an experience, one that would have ruined my engine if the mechanical damage modelling was in the game. Roaring down the main straight with the engine screaming before lifting off ever so slightly for the Curva Grande was a smooth and wonderful experience, approaching Lesmo I shifted down (engine roaring in anger at my lack of clutch) took the turn…then spun out as I dipped one of the massive rear tyres onto the grass. Lap ruined, try again and again and again until I was able to achieve a respectable time in the one minutes thirties. Not great, but good enough for a newcomer to the game.
The classic layout of Monza in Assetto Corsa doesn’t include the almighty banking which at one stage defined the track, but you can see the remains as you thunder down the main straight. On the approach to Parabolica you aren’t faced with massive grandstands like in the modern version, instead you see natural beauty of the Italian surroundings. It is a wonderful example of the history trips games can provide.
The game is still in the early stages, there is a small collection of tracks, but there are some gems which rarely appear in current racer, the Italian tracks Imola and Mugello are a very pleasant sight. The Early Access currently has 23 cars, the Lotus Type 49 is my favourite but you also have a range of classic and modern BMWs and a few Ferrari’s to choose from along with a few other select makes. More cars will be coming, my eyes are on the Ferrari F1 312T and Lotus 98T, they will be impressive to take around Spa when that lands in the game.
If you want to experience Assetto Corsa in its purest form right now, stick to the practice mode where you can take to the track on your own an experience the early stages of what is hopefully going to be a wonderful racer. There are some special events which include drift challenges and drag races, though I haven’t delved into them. There are a handful of races you can take part in against AI, the AI is perfectly acceptable here. They aren’t the drones of Gran Turismo 6 and they aren’t as wild and unpredictable as the AI was in the early stages of Project CARS. Regardless, I would stick to racing on your own and waiting for multiplayer, that is sure to be an immense experience.