Racing sim fans are spoiled for choice at the moment. From iRacing to rFactor and Project Cars to Gran Turismo Sport, you're pretty much free to pick and choose your level of realism, graphical fidelity and car and track selections.
Where does Assetto Corsa fit into all this? Quite neatly, it has to be said - Italian developer Kunos Simulazione has produced a game that's both accurate enough to please dedicated sim racers and accessible enough to please those who simply want to drive some spectacular cars around striking courses.
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Now in version 1.6 with a new Japanese Pack freshly introduced, we decided it was time to revisit the increasingly popular sim to see whether recent revisions have rendered it even more of a must-have.
PS4 and XBox One
Initiially available as a PC sim alone, Assetto Corsa is now available on both PlayStation 4 and XBox One. While the console games are broadly the same as the PC version, the launch does coincide with several gameplay tweaks and a handful of extra cars.
Depending on the version, there's now up to 102 vehicles available, as well as 26 different circuit layouts. Console versions also ship with the 'Tripl3 Car Pack', which includes two Ferraris - the FXX K and the 488 GTB - as well as the crazy Praga R1 track car.
Constant improvements to all versions of the game have made it much better to play over the last year or so, and release of the console versions coincide with several bugfixes, including fixes for crashing issues (of the game, that is - your own crashing issues are probably driver error...), improved wheel and controller support, and subtle tweaks to the gameplay, including backfiring noises in certain cars.
A lot has happened since we last played Assetto Corsa, when version 1.0 first arrived. Among small tweaks to graphics and bugfixes, the developers have constantly refined the game's handling model - factor on which a sim lives or dies. Specific changes include new settings for all-wheel drive vehicles, heating performance changes for cars with slick tyres, and even engine performance differences depending on temperature and air density.
We couldn't find much to fault Assetto Corsa's handling last time, though an exploratory test before the latest update revealed some of the developers' tweaks had made the cars significantly more understeery and somewhat less enjoyable.
No such worries in 1.6 - if anything, those new to the game will find it quite tricky to get used to, unless the game's driving aids are employed. In particular, vehicles fitted with slick tyres can be pretty (if realistically) edgy until the tyres are brought up to temperature - and in some cars, that can take several laps.
But all the characteristics we loved before still remain: There's a real sense of weight and momentum to vehicles, tyres bite into and scrub across tarmac in a manner familiar to anyone who has driven a real vehicle on track, and the circuits themselves are fiendishly realistic, with the same inconvenient bumps, tricky cambers and severe kerbs you'd find on their real-life counterparts.
Combined with a track full of other cars sporting decent AI (or a track full of real players in the game's online modes) it gives you almost as much to think about as you would in a real race.
The variety is improving with each update too - since last time we tried the game, several new courses have appeared, including a tricky fictitious American public road course. And as always, if there's still not enough variety for you, Assetto Corsa has an ever-growing base of third-party created content - we recently downloaded a nicely-made rendition of the Goodwood race circuit, perfect for the game's older cars.
Several download packs have been introduced since we last covered the game, but most intriguing is the Japanese Pack. This includes some of the world's most iconic Japanese vehicles of the kind gamers will have grown up with through the Gran Turismo series - think Nissan Skyline R34 GT-Rs, Mk4 Supras and FD-generation Mazda RX-7s.
Several of these also have tuned and drift versions available but for us the most intriguing additions are that of the Mazda MX-5 Global Cup car, and the classic Toyota AE86.
Having recently driven the real Global Cup racer it was interesting to get behind the wheel of its virtual counterpart and experience the similarities - from the rowdy exhaust note to incredible turn-in on its slick tyres. Rather more oversteer than we remember, but as the tyres warm the Mazda really bites into the digital asphalt.
If oversteer is your bag, then the AE86 will oblige. Those who've mastered drifting in the game - that isn't us, just yet - will enjoy it immensely, while everyone else will spend a lot of time listening to the immersive roar of its individual throttle body injection as they spin wildly at every turn.
Assetto Corsa remains a title you absolutely must add to your collection if you're dedicated to racing simulations.
While its graphics still don't quite match up to the very best in the genre, they arguably have more personality than some and they're more than accurate enough to prove immersive.
Racing is entertaining, hot-lapping is fun and there's an ever-growing collection of cars, tracks and challenges on offer to keep players occupied. With a growing online fan base (another factor on which modern sims live or die) you'll always be able to find challenging opposition too, with the potential to replicate real race series like the MX-5 Global Cup or GT3-level competition.
We're looking forward to seeing what the developers have in store next.