Taking the season off from iRacing has given me some time to survey the Sim Racing landscape. Probably, no strike that, definitely the most anticipated title in a long time is Kunos's Assetto Corsa. Kunos, of NetKarPro fame has been working on this sim racing title for a while now, and the Tech Preview has been out for months.
Assetto Corsa, as evident in the tech preview, has the desputedly (just) the best physics engine of all games currently available in any form (be it beta, alpha, full release, whatever) and on Friday night it hit Steam in the form of an Early Access edition for US$39.95.
Early Access is a fancy way of saying "beta", and make no mistake, it is very much a beta version. There are 11 cars to drive on 5 circuits. The menus, while amazingly well laid out, flicker (at least for me) when changing from screen to screen. I also had to first load the game in normal desktop mode then exit and load again with Eyefinity enabled to be able to get the menus to work. After that initial start it was good every time.
As far as gameplay goes Assetto Corsa comes with Practice, a mode where you're just doing practice laps by yourself, and Challenges of three varieties: Special Events, Hotlap, and Time Attack.
Special Events are basically hotlaps in certain cars at certain tracks that AC has chosen. Hotlaps are exactly that, basically practice but you can practice against a ghost car, with any car and track combination. Then there's Time Attack, which is probably the only proper game type in the game so far. In Time Attack you race aginst the clock and every time you pass through a checkpoint you are award points based on how much time you have left. The idea is to collect as many points as possible. Best I've manged is just over 4700.
The menu hints at features to come: Race and Online. Assetto Corsa has promised to release new content every two weeks, be it a new track, or car, or AI, or multiplayer, or upgrades to existing as the game moves closer to V1.0.
Driving, you can pick from a number of car views, bumper cam, rear view, some other one I don't know how to name, and cockpit view. Of course cockpit view is the one to select - and for godsake play the game with all assists off. This is a glorious sim and is definitely best played as if it's a simulator, not a console racer. Once you're in the game use one of the many apps, located by mousing to the far right of your screen, to setup your view and HUD the way you'd like. The most useful tool for me was the triple monitor tool. I also added the lap times and initially the FPS readout, to make sure I was getting at least 60FPS, something I achieved easily (85 FPS).
I'm not sure if the best thing about Assetto Corsa is the physics, or the fantastic sound. The cars sure do sound great. My first taste of the game was with the BMW M3 at Imola. It's been ages since I played Imola on Microproses GPx series and I wanted another taste of the circuit where my hero, Ayrton Senna, lost his life.
The car sounds great as it throatily gets up to speed. Over 200km/hr the wind starts to roar and you know you're going fast. I didn't stay long in the BMW and instead switching to something in which my virtual hair (in the virtual world I have hair!) can blow in the breeze, the open cockpit KTM X-Bow.
What a car! Being so light and with 300HP it accelerates like an open-wheel race car. Revs hard, brakes fast and late. Best thing? It back-fires when you get off the gas (just like the Lotus 49 and Formula Abarth).
Speaking of the Formula Abarth, for the iRacers out there, it's roughtly equivalent to the Star Mazda. There's about 40HP difference, and they weigh about the same (the Formula Mazda is faster). The Abarth revs a little lower and that takes a bit of getting used to. The feel is a whole lot better in the Abarth. As I cornered I was rewarded with the same tyre noises as I'd hear zipping around the local go-kart track in real life: the sound of the tyres skipping and jumping over the surface. You don't get that in iRacing, and it's hugely informative. The car feels a whole lot more rigid, just like a giant go-kart. And the downshifting: that backfire. Awesome. The Formula Abarth is basically AC on easy mode, just like the Star Mazda in iRacing. There's so much mechanical grip on offer from the full racing slicks, coupled with low horse power and big wings for aero-grip, that it's hard to get into too much trouble with with all the assists off. Of course, once you go searching for the last second it's still very easy to turn it around.
I didn't mention all the cars in the game, like the fantastic Lotus 49 (easier to drive than the iRacing version in my opinion) and I didn't review the tracks. They're all fun and rewarding to drive so far. Remember that new content is going to put out very often.
The big question is is it worth US$40 for a beta. If you're a console racer, then I'd say probably not. If you're a die hard sim racer wanting a peek into the next evolution of physics (i.e. if you're just like me), then dive right in, you won't be disappointed. The AC forums are already going nuts and the devs have already put out an update.