Time was that racing games were branded ‘arcade’ and ‘simulation’ and that was the end of it, but then people had to go and make it all complicated. Gran Turismo and Forza just aren’t sim enough for some people, and so there’s the more hardcore sims like rFactor and iRacing. Assetto Corsa leant toward the latter side of the equation with an oft lauded simulation model, but missed some of the career and single player bells and whistles that more mainstream games thrive upon. Even so, it managed to carve out a niche for itself in the sim-heavy racing genre of the last five years, first on PC and then on console.
While an esports oriented spin off might sound like a pretty straightforward proposition, with the official Blancpain GT Series license adding a core racing competition for Assetto Corsa Competizione, Kunos Simulazioni have thrown practically all that good work out and decided to start from scratch. So they’re back to Early Access on PC, back to the barest of bones with a single car and a single track to try out, though the choices are a little more conventional than those for the first game’s demo.
While you’ve got a good few racing team liveries to choose between, all you’ll see in this demo at the moment is the 2018 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, and while you can fiddle with weather settings, it’s just a GT layout of the Nurburging GP track. Would that I had the right DLC for Assetto Corsa, I could have made a very direct comparison between the two games, but the difference between the two really is as clear as day.
Competizione makes the jump from Kunos’ in-house game engine to Unreal Engine 4, which has really started to find a place for itself amongst racing games. The jump in quality for lighting is dramatic, and it helps give Competizione some of the polished feel and drama that we see in Forza Motorsport. In the fullness of time, it will let Kunos add night time racing to the game, which was one of the main reasons for making the change, but in the here and now, simply changing the weather makes for a dramatic change, as the pooled water in a storm reflect the surroundings.
That said, there’s plenty of nuance still to find here, and Kunos will need to add or reimplement many of the settings available in the first game to keep players happy and level the playing field. While racing in the cockpit or helmet cams rain can stream across the windscreen and force you to turn on your windscreen wipers, but there’s no raindrops or view obstruction when in bonnet cam. One thing worth savouring is that even at this early stage performance is excellent with a Core i5 3570K that comes in near the minimum specs, though this is aided by the much more modern Radeon Vega 56 in my PC to let me turn all the visuals up to max.
But how does it handle? Compared to the regular Huracan in Assetto Corsa, the Huracan GT is several seconds faster over a lap but a little flightier and a touch livelier. A great deal of that feeling in cockpit cam come from the screen shaking that running over curbs can induce – another thing that I expect sim racers are going to wish they could turn off the instant they load up the game, alongside the glare and reflections in the windshield which are much, much more prominent than in the first game. Only being in Early Access right now and with the next six months of cars, tracks and features already outlined, this is going to change and be improved in the not too distant future.
On the surface, it feels like Competizione is trading in some of its hard-nosed simulation credentials for the more open and inviting sim racing that we see in GT Sport and Forza, though it’s great to see fully fledged career and championship options greyed out on the main menu. We’ve only been able to spend a short amount of time with the game so far, but the test will obviously be to see if they retain the nuance of their car physics and handling that drew an audience to the first game, combining it with the new glitz and glamour that Unreal and the Blancpain GT Series has leant them.