Perfecting the art of sim racing – Going sideways (Part 2)

BMW Z4 (Assetto Corsa)

Drifting is much harder than television might have you think. You need to find precisely the right balance of steering and throttle, then sustain it for as long as necessary. The ability to find that balance, however, is very useful if things go south during a race. As such, my fellow sim racers encouraged me to spend some time getting the hang of it in Assetto Corsa.

The game has a few tools to help with the task – a special track for drifting, and a drifting configuration for certain vehicles, such as the BMW Z4 I’ve been using. The drift configuration should technically make it easier to break the rear tires loose, but that wasn’t exactly my problem. The real problem was keeping them loose, yet in control, as I powerslid around each corner. Needless to say, that didn’t always end as well as I wanted it to.

BMW Z4 (Assetto Corsa)

Everything comes with practice, however, and the more time I put into this, the better I got. There’s still much work to be done, with the end goal being to sustain a 360-degree slide around a small circle marked out on the track – in other words, a donut.

As much as I may make this sound like a chore, if you’re a gearhead, chances are you’ll find sim racing quite enjoyable. Difficult, but immensely rewarding. The frustration of getting it wrong is quickly erased by the feeling of holding that slide, clipping that apex, or demolishing your previous lap times. You could always enable driver assists (automatic gearbox, traction control, braking assist, and the like) to help you out, but to me, that begins to defeat the purpose of a simulation (What kind of real car brakes on a racetrack for you?), not to mention that it removes from the challenge of it all. Having said that, I have heard some experienced folks recommend that you keep some assists on until you’re comfortable without them. I haven’t gone this route (I have all assists turned off), but that’s certainly a path you can try.

BMW Z4 (Assetto Corsa)

While I’m talking about sim racing in general, allow me to share my thoughts so far on Assetto Corsa. This simulator is currently in Early Access on Steam – so the game is not technically finished. As such, there’s still more content, features, bugfixes, and improvements in the pipeline. On the bright side, the game is selling for 22% below retail price until the final build is ready. Despite the unfinished state of the game, I think this is a very solid simulator. Save for some bugs I’ve run into, it’s been really enjoyable. It’s definitely one of the prettiest simulators out there, second only to Project CARS. The variety of cars covers a number of really nice brands that should keep most folks happy, such as BMW, Ferrari, McLaren, and Pagani. The tracks, though not plentiful, are all laser-scanned (except for a few fictional tracks) and very well-modeled, resulting in a spectacular amount of detail. If you ever feel like you need more tracks or cars, the game supports modifications, though these may not always be as high-quality as the vanilla content.

As far as the physics go, I don’t have too many points of reference really – Live for Speed and GTR2 are the only other racing sims I’ve put a reasonable amount of time into, but these were quite a while ago. My experience in real motorsports also doesn’t go any further than karting. But I will say that the physics certainly feel right, especially in the case of the road cars. There is something that makes it seem as if this is more or less how each car would behave in the real world under these conditions.

Another notable feature is the force feedback. I’ve heard some people complain that it’s a little too harsh by default and needs to be turned down in the settings, but personally I think it’s some of the best force feedback I’ve ever come across. You can feel whenever the car is being unsettled by a curb or a dip in the track. The weight and force of it all feels just right.

As I continue to learn the ins and outs of this game, I’ll make sure to comment on anything else I note. There’s also a chance another update will be released midway through this series, so I’ll make sure to take note of that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some powersliding to take care of. Until next time!

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