Ten Years Later: Revisiting Vanilla Assetto Corsa

Revisiting vanilla Assetto Corsa 10 years later.jpg
Released in early access in November 2013, Assetto Corsa is now a decade old. Now in 2024, we decided to revisit Assetto Corsa in its vanilla form. Strip back the mods and peep inside. How does the game stack up?

Today, Assetto Corsa is consistently one of the most popular racing games on Steam. It sees a variety of passions blend in a massively moddable title. Fancy trying out a new track? You can do so in AC. Want to give Japanese Touge racing a go? This is the sim for you.

But this was not always the case. The game came out in early access form in November 2013, and reached version 1.0 at the end of 2014.That roughly puts Assetto Corsa at an impressive 10 years of age. In that time, the moddability of the title has allowed the community to entirely transform it from an empty shell to a featureful industry leader.


Thanks to nostalgia, curiosity and a bit of self-loathing, we thought it would be a fun idea to try the game out in its original state. So we stripped back the mods and set out to replicate 2014 vanilla Assetto Corsa. Here are our thoughts on the game ten years later.

Meagre Content and Features​

As an early access release, Assetto Corsa did not provide a long content list when it first launched. Over time, new updates brought new cars and tracks with the full release in December 2014 seeing a moderately healthy content list. In its base form, without DLC, Assetto Corsa comes with 67 cars ranging from historic models to current racers and road-going machines. On the tracks front, whilst Italy may be a focus, circuits from across Europe and beyond build the 17-strong list.

Between 2014 and 2017, 11 further DLC packs released for the game mixing new cars and tracks. It is fair to say that content is not lacking in Assetto Corsa without third party additions. But choice soon narrows down when considering the amount of content one might actually use consistently. Sure, the road-going Maserati Alfieri concept car is cool. But who wants to drive it?

GT3 at Spa was a common combination online.

GT3 at Spa was a common combination online. Image credit: Kunos Simulazioni

Looking back at the online racing scene from 2014 in Assetto Corsa, the memories of GT3 at Spa memes no longer seem unreasonable. In fact, that was one of the few interesting combinations available before great mods released.

Over the years, it is not just circuits and cars that mods have brought to Assetto Corsa. In fact, major patches, total weather overhauls, AI refinements and graphical tweaks are all available to download for the game. The features list from AC‘s launch has nothing on its current form. In fact, they are now two totally different games. Gone are the day-night cycle, the many game-changing apps and weather system.

Most important to this article, however, is the lack of a detailed Photo Mode. Today, sim racing photographers can play with shutter speeds, aperture, polarisation and even light placement. Back in the day however, intricate sliders to manage depth of field made things difficult to get the perfect shot.

The McLaren MP4-12C spitting flames in vanilla Assetto Corsa. This would have been an easy shot with modern AC tools, but not the original photo mode.

The McLaren MP4-12C spitting flames in vanilla Assetto Corsa. This would have been an easy shot with modern AC tools, but not the original photo mode. Image credit: Kunos Simulazioni

Speaking of features being amiss in the original version of the game, one must briefly mention its launcher. Forget widely-agreed best launcher today, Assetto Corsa originally launched with a mix of style, that ultimately felt clunky.

Vanilla Assetto Corsa UI: Pretty, Nonfunctional​

Upon opening up the standard game for the first time, one is greeted with the nostalgic intro video. In true Italian form, cinematic shots of cars on-track accompany the orchestral theme, worthy of any blockbuster.

Original launcher for Assetto Corsa.

Original launcher for Assetto Corsa. Image credit: Kunos Simulazioni

Anticipation for the game grows as the original launcher provides its first glimpses of the UI. A sleek, gorgeous opening page continues the elegance of the opening credits. But clicking towards the Main Menu instantly kills the hype. Whilst remaining stylish, the vanilla Assetto Corsa UI hides features within sub-menus. As a result, even setting up a practice session can be a bore.

But above all, the original AC launcher is slow. It seems the fancy graphics, seemingly infinite menu screens and stylish transitions prove too much for the software. Those that played the game in the early days will even remember attempting to install content mods to Assetto Corsa with the original launcher. Causing even more lag, simply booting up the game could prove too frustrating.

Playing Vanilla Assetto Corsa​

After managing to navigate the intricate menus, finding oneself on-track in Assetto Corsa does still retain a sense of normality. Graphically, there are a number of elements that the game will never lose. The way the game calculates light with its reflections and overall ambiance does appear similar regardless of the mods one uses. This obviously is not true of the colours. In fact, shader mods available to download totally overhaul how colours bounce off one another in AC.

The standard Assetto Corsa graphics come up to par with other modern titles.

The standard Assetto Corsa graphics come up to par with other modern titles. Image credit: Kunos Simulazioni

But that sense of home falls apart as soon as the car starts moving. One of the many additions 2024 Assetto Corsa has over the vanilla version is the Force Feedback Enhancements. Whilst a general sense of what the car does is not missing, stripping back the mods does lose much detail from the wheel. The most noticeable of which is the way in which FFB builds up with rotation, until the point of breaking traction. Helping to better feel understeer, this is missing in the vanilla version of AC.

Furthermore, moving through the pit lane, one will surely notice that performance takes a significant hit by removing the many mods now recommended for the game.

Assetto Corsa: Not a Racing Game?​

Through the years, Assetto Corsa has gained many features and enhancements from its vanilla state. Many of them specifically alter how the game races in a single player setting. From the day-night cycle to several AI adjustments, the game races far better in 2024.

Racing in the stock game is not worth the pain.

Racing in the stock game is not worth the pain. Image credit: Kunos Simulazioni

Having tried the game out without these tweaks, it is fair to say that AI racing is not something one would advise in standard AC. Not only does the game lack the exciting variation SOL, it also reverts back to the original AI. Perfectly following the AI line created for each circuit, rival cars will often brake mid-corner, cut you off, go wide for no reason and pit halfway through a two-lap sprint.

With that in mind, single player racing without the barrage of modern changes feels extremely clunky. Therefore, we would almost dub vanilla Assetto Corsa as a driving game rather than a racing sim. Getting out on-track, setting time trial laps, attempting to drift or tweaking setups is certainly much more fun. Those with memories of the sim before mods will already know this however.

An Impressive Community Project​

Of course, this drastic change in feel was always bound to be a main take away from playing vanilla Assetto Corsa in 2024. But the extent to which the game feels bare is nonetheless impressive.


Assetto Corsa is a game in which many sim racers have spent well over 1,000 hours. So one might have thought that remembering its previous state would not be so hard. Many of the features and implementations once thought of as standard Kunos work, are in fact third-party additions.

This goes to show just how radical of a change the modding community has been able to make to this once-empty early access release. One can only wonder how much further the game can go, especially with Assetto Corsa 2 rapidly incoming.

What do you make of vanilla Assetto Corsa in 2024? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!
About author
Angus Martin
Motorsport gets my blood pumping more than anything else. Be it physical or virtual, I'm down to bang doors.

Comments

Content Manager users, be careful if you're launching vanilla AC through Steam, I did it recently and it kind of messed up the liveries, CM previews and sound mods on some cars. Not sure if it was only me, but better be cautious !
Yes, that's a fair point. I didn't want to risk any of my mods doing this, so went for a fresh install by moving files around to prevent Steam from recognising
 
Assetto Corsa gives GPL and Falcon 4.0 vibes: games modded so deeply that they have even new features and get to live for decades. What the modders have done to AC is both a bless and a curse.

A bless because it prolonged the life of the game and that has kept it selling copies and earning easy money very long after the devs discontinued support for the game.

A curse because the modders have go so far with it that if AC2 doesn't at the very least equals the features and graphics level from modded AC it is going to be perceived as a flop.

My only grudges with original AC were the abismal AI, the UI, the timing overlays, the tire model could have been a bit better, and the lack of day to night cycle and the lack of rain, otherwise the game is flawless. To this day I'm still in awe of the freedom to allow us to create in game apps that was next level.

Now, what Ilja did with the shaders patch and the content manager, and what Boese did with SOL was next level having in mind that they didn't have the game code available to them to implement features that I thought were impossible with that game.
 
Premium
Firing up vanilla Assetto Corsa only underscores how KUNOS Simulazioni, for all their success, made a huge mistake by failing to realize the full potential of Assetto Corsa themselves. In contrast, Kaemmer & Henry's FIRST.net went about the business of shrewdly obtaining the NR2003 netcode prior to creating iRacing--a title that proved once and for all that anything is possible (i.e., there are, in fact, no "game engine limitations") when given the proper resources and a long-term commitment. As legendary as Assetto Corsa is today, imagine what the sim would be like if KUNOS had worked on improving their magnum opus for 10 solid years.
 
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Premium
Yes iRacing is great. But there's a lot to improve still. And with the money they rake in, some recent & future improvements should've been done years ago.

Excellent point. Perhaps I should amend the last sentence to read as follows?

"As legendary as Assetto Corsa is today, imagine what the sim would be like if KUNOS had worked like Reiza on improving their magnum opus for 10 solid years."
 
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RF2 physics is broken, AC's is primitive but realistic, FFB depends on the car, in general AC FFB is better
This didn't really answer my question buddy.
I don't wanna go into my sim is best territory, I just never liked AC's FFB, it always felt unnatural to me.
Nothing seems broken to me in rF2, maybe in the modern content, which I never drive anyway.
I mainly race Group C cars, and they are sublime to drive. No other sim does it better than Mak-Corp, in my opinion.
Just wanted to know if anything has changed dramatically in Asseto's FFB department.
 
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D
Just wanted to know if anything has changed dramatically in Asseto's FFB department.
Nope, nothing worth mentioning, except attempt to fix gyro, which may or may not improve driving experience depending on the wheel.
ACC made huge strides in that department, AC alone always felt nice, switching back from ACC and it's cringe experience.
 
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With the benefit of hindsight, his author/article makes an unfair assessment of AC.

Let's wind the clock back for real and evaluate AC for the base content ca. 2014. Does anyone here remember how breathtakingly beautiful the graphics were compared to what had come before? AC is THE sim which made me aspire to moving from console and a single TV to a PC and triples.

Yes, Kunos missed out on not developing their platform, but we have been blessed that they allowed it to be modded. If we didn't have a base game, we would not have all the mods--wonderful to mediocre to bad--we have now.

ALL initial launches are limited. This article could have contrasted vanilla car and track count, graphic and sound quality, physics, FFB, UI, etc., with other sims and properly evaluated AC.
 
Club Staff
Premium
A curse because the modders have go so far with it that if AC2 doesn't at the very least equals the features and graphics level from modded AC it is going to be perceived as a flop.

rFactor 2 says hello.

It's going to fragment the community when AC2 releases. It will split between the ones that doesn't have a PC to run it, and those who has. Those who are so familiar with every AC offers than they don't like AC2, and those who wants the new stuff (whatever that ends up being).

However, the hardest part is. How to make AC2 a more complicated and more correct simulator, without making it too hard for modders. This is where rF2 have struggled, and to a certain degree, still are struggling. Even though I was at the Vallelunga Press Launch of AC on behalf of RD, bought it on release, joined the very first club races RD did when the online bit was released - I have only played AC 12.8hrs. I didn't like it. Yet, I hope AC2 manages to be the same success. It's important for simracing to have competition, to have different games to play.
 
This didn't really answer my question buddy.
I don't wanna go into my sim is best territory, I just never liked AC's FFB, it always felt unnatural to me.
Nothing seems broken to me in rF2, maybe in the modern content, which I never drive anyway.
I mainly race Group C cars, and they are sublime to drive. No other sim does it better than Mak-Corp, in my opinion.
Just wanted to know if anything has changed dramatically in Asseto's FFB department.
I'm afraid very few can opine on whether, e.g. Mak-Corp is realistic, as very few have driven a Gr. C car IRL _and_ in a simulator (rF2 in this case). For other cars, one can ask real drivers what they think, for instance, about RSS/URD GT3 mods. If anyone has some relevant references, please share.

Kunos' development stopped a long time ago.

CSP added some tweaks, nothing fundamental to my knowledge.
 
Premium
FFB in AC definitely feels lacking and sparse which results in a less engaging experience (to me at least) compared to more modern titles even with extra capabilities incorporated into content manager, yet there is no shortage of people claiming its better then everything else

Personally I only notice when switching between games, after a few laps I have adjusted and it doesn't really register.
 
Premium
Personally I consider that CSP and Pure provide great effects but they cant really hide low-res textures and basic trackside models. The Vanilla building blocks of AC are still there in the background in many cases and can be quite jarring when switching between AC and more modern games that have the same locations.
 

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