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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!