For the past two years, I have been lucky enough to spectate the Blancpain GT Endurance Series – now the GT World Challenge – at Silverstone. The ferocity of over 40 GT3 cars pounding around the haloed Northamptonshire airfield is awe-inspiring. The sheep in the pen next to Maggots corner were nonplussed, but I was beside myself.
The event isn’t particularly well attended by the public, but the race lasts for three hours, which is great for me. I slowly walked the whole lap while taking pictures and enveloping myself in the sound of racing cars being pushing to their very limits. When the inevitable electric future arrives, one thing I will miss is how an AMG sounds completely different to a Porsche, which in turn is unique from the sonorous V8 in a Ferrari or the V10 bellow of an Audi R8.
It’s this strange mix of thunderous vehicles and vacuous atmosphere that Assetto Corsa Competizione manages to capture so well. If that sounds like I’m damning the game with faint praise, that’s because I am.
This is not a direct sequel to the mixed bag that was the original Assetto Corsa. Kunos Simulazioni’s second console video game release is the official game of the GT World Challenge and that alone. Gone are circuits like Vallelunga and the eclectic mix of cars, leaving the eleven official locations (plus four additional tracks as pre-order DLC) and the GT3 class of racing machines. There is a clear single-minded focus on creating the best GT racing experience possible.
From a driving point of view, Assetto Corsa Competizione succeeds – you could probably guess that it would, right? The 2016 Assetto Corsa still has, for my money, the most realistic corning control that I have ever experienced in a game and Competizione continues this fine tradition.
Driving in this game is hard. The steering is heavy and after ten laps of Brands Hatch GP with a racing wheel, my arms were more lethargic than post-Joe Wicks lockdown workout. You need to be completely focussed, headphones on and race-face enabled. I dread to think of the expressions I was pulling as I wrestled an Aston Martin Vantage around the twists and turns of one of the best asphalt stretches the UK has to offer.
The way the cars react to trackside curbs is also unparalleled. When tyre pressures are low, you need to avoid hitting the bigger ones, and going all-guns-blazing on cold tyres will almost certainly result in your splitter eating gravel. I still have nightmares about how long tyres used to take to warm up in Project CARS, but with some relief, here half a lap suffices.
What I didn’t expect is for this handling prowess to carry across to the controller. Surprisingly, the transition has been managed with aplomb. You can be legitimately quick with a controller and still get the feeling of realism. The precise, non-sideways, nature of sticky tyres and high downforce certainly helps in this regard, but it’s still an impressive feat despite the slightly weird animation of your driver’s arms. A large number of driving assists and visible driving lines will also provide a helping hand for those without a steering wheel peripheral.
Sometimes, the attention to detail is astounding. The rolling starts require you to control your starting position side-by-side with the rest of the grid, balancing your eagerness with patience to avoid hitting the rear of the car in front. When you pull out of the pits for a practice session, you first need to turn on your engine. When you arrive for a pitstop, you need to accurately stop within your pit box, switch off you engine and then marvel at the pit crew animations, as two people run around your car, affixing new rubber on each corner.
Oh, and the sound. This is a loud game. Like, really loud. I’m surprised each copy doesn’t come with a set of earbuds, as sustained gaming periods could lead to hearing loss. Replays look great too, and dynamic weather features across all circuits.
Let me get the techy stuff out of the way. On console, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, the game runs at 30fps. I am personally not overly fussed by this target. I mean, if you are privileged enough to have a PC that can run this game on max settings and have an interest in sim racing, then chances are you’ve already got this game and there’s no real reason to buy this game on PS4. If you only have a console, then it’s slightly irksome that slicker performance is available elsewhere, but it’s not a dealbreaker.
However, at the very least, let’s aim for a stable 30fps, please. If you are racing in the middle of the pack, progress can be jittery at times, which is disappointing at first and in certain circumstances, bordering on unplayable. Combine that with other oddities and Competizione may well be consigned to reduced priced curio as opposed to day one essential purchase.
Online racing is a large part of the appeal for this game. There will be regular online Special Events which mainly consist of online time trials, and there are servers dedicated to higher-skill racers (based on ‘SA’ rating) or you can join a quick online race. Private lobbies are currently omitted, coming at a ‘later date’.
Sadly in the run up to release, we’ve seen issues where picking a car other than the Lamborghini crashes the game. Having relayed this to 505 Games and Kunos, they are investigating the crashes but assure us that other reviewers have not encountered this issue. Once you do get into an online race, the competition can be good fun, but I did notice that other racers have a tendency to ‘crab’ around corners. A strange animation which makes it hard to judge car positioning, especially when overtaking.
I have faith that these frustrations will be remedied sooner rather than later, but they shouldn’t be trivialised. We live in an esports age, where this specific game has proven to be robust enough to run officially endorsed championships on PC. The first Assetto Corsa also launched with some similarly strange online quirks – lessons have not been learnt, it seems.
When I first played the game with my wheel connected, no controls where assigned, despite it being a fairly common Logitech G29. I sat in the pit lane bemused why I couldn’t accelerate or change gear before diving into the menus to manually set up buttons. Serious player might do that anyway, but you expect to at least have presets. Another bizarre element was that the wheel force feedback inexplicably set itself to maximum strength every few events.
For all the weight in the handling, when you make slight contact with a rival, your car suddenly feels lighter than Christian Bale on an extreme diet. I’ve had fewer spins on a fairground Waltzer than trying to recover from an off-track expedition.
In theory, you will spend most of your time in the Career mode. You start out by completing a Lamborghini ‘young driver’ test at Monza using a Huracán Super Trofeo, which forms a support category for the GT World Challenge in real life. After passing the tests you are thrust into the main series with your own team, selecting your driver and team name, but despite having a blank car, you cannot edit the livery. It seems a missed opportunity, not just for offline, but for online as well.
You then progress through a regular season, in either short, medium, or long configurations. Between some races you will also take part in test sessions, but these don’t upgrade your equipment and feel largely pointless. Many other racing games, such as WRC, F1 or MotoGP, have expanded their career modes to add in elements of management, upgrades and feeder championships, all of which are missing here.
While it is the official game of a championship, which means the track selection has to match the real series, the quantity of content still feels light. If GT4 cars and British GT circuits were included as part of the career as stepping stones to the main campaign, then the game would be easier to recommend. Instead, they will be paid DLC arriving later in 2020 and even into 2021, a strategy which could fragment any online community the game able to build.
When you are simply running laps on an empty circuit, Assetto Corsa Competizione is the best virtual driving experience there is. Period. Head and shoulders above anything else. This is boosted by small challenges added to the Practice mode, which require you to string together fast, clean and consistent laps to great effect and boost your driver ratings so you can enter certain online lobbies. It’s like Kunos knows that solitary simulation is what their game is best at.