Can Assetto Corsa Competizione’s ‘next-gen’ patch deliver the 4K60 dream? •

Can Assetto Corsa Competizione's 'next-gen' patch deliver the 4K60 dream? •

Known for its more hardcore approach to its racing simulation and customization options, Assetto Corsa Competizione is a world apart from the breezy arcade fun of Forza Horizon and the slightly smoother “simcade” experience offered by Gran Turismo. It’s also more of a PC-centric product, but console ports have followed in 2020 – albeit in somewhat compromised form with somewhat questionable performance. We now have brand new upgrades for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles, promising a 60fps boost alongside bigger racing and other improvements – and the question is, are we getting a racing experience smoother and more refined or have we traded one set of technical issues for another?

Visually, Assetto Corsa has always focused on an attractive yet functional interpretation of the racing experience. The GT3 cars are truly the stars of the show: exteriors and interiors are well-processed, with solid material work and crisp highlights. The vehicle’s body is suitably high-poly and looks like a close match to the real thing. There are some nice flourishes, too – the car mirrors are actually functional, for example, reflecting a low-detail dithered version of the environment. The trackside environments aren’t as impressive, although they generally look good in motion. Track surfaces and grass appear quite flat, background buildings and structures are low in detail, and spectators are mostly represented by crude 2D billboards. These are typical compromises in last-gen runners, but they tend to stand out somewhat here, especially at higher resolutions.

This applies to all versions of the game, so what’s up with the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles? According to publisher 505 Games, the current generation of Competizione supports 30-driver racing, 60fps gameplay, 4K resolution, and faster load times. That’s a bit of a short list for a next-gen upgrade, but there are a few surprises here – like a new bokeh depth-of-field blur that kicks in pre-run, versus a more basic Gaussian blur on Xbox One. X. Bushes and trees are placed differently on the newer consoles, and are more numerous than on the last generation, while shadows are improved on PS5 and Series X, with the Sony console curiously receiving a slightly higher grade effect.

Assetto Corsa Competizione – everything you need to know about the new upgrade for PS5 and Xbox Series consoles.

The Xbox Series S gets most of the available upgrades, with a few exceptions. Grass density takes a hit, as does the quality of texture filtering, more noticeable on road surfaces and detail on car roofs – although this reduction may simply reflect the lower overall rendering resolution. Interestingly, the shadow quality matches the Xbox Series X, effectively being halfway between the Xbox One X and the PS5. Overall, at least from a visual standpoint, the graphics characteristics are very similar overall, but perhaps the biggest issue for me is that many of the issues from the last-gen version remain problematic here. : Mirror lighting is mismatched for standard gaming lighting, while car models still leave streaky reflection artifacts in screen space on our tracks. Camera angle transitions in Event Replays often load with missing scene geometry for a frame or two, or flash momentarily on the wrong shot. These aren’t huge issues, but they are distracting at times and reflect an unfortunate lack of polish.

In terms of image quality, the Series X aims for full 4K and hits that figure most of the time. The full dynamic resolution range here appears to be 1440p to 2160p, although Assetto Corsa is almost always at or very close to 4K output. Even in relatively intense scenes we see 2160p or 2016p as the typical count. Meanwhile, the PS5 has a slightly looser grip on 4K. The target is still 2160p, but there’s a bit more variance and the new lower limit for my tests is 1152p. Many shots still resolve to full 4K, but busy shots with lots of cars and weather effects tend to drop the resolution down to the 1800p range, and one particularly demanding shot came in at 1152p, although it’s is an extreme outlier. Ultimately, both games look great on a 4K screen. S-series? On paper you might call it a vibrant 1440p, but the resolution mostly sticks to 1080p or very close – the outlier being the car viewer screen, which runs at full 4K, with the performance hit for corresponding.

In terms of performance, 505 Games promises 60fps gameplay – seemingly a big upgrade over the choppy, unlocked last-gen experience. However, 60fps isn’t really what we’re getting here. The PlayStation 5 takes over, with most runs delivering a virtually locked-in 60fps, just with the occasional frame drop. In stress tests with 26 or more AI vehicles and heavy rain, while driving intentionally to maximize the number of cars on screen, I was able to drop the frame rate to 50s for long periods of time, with a minimum of 55 fps. This is an atypical situation though and in races with slightly fewer AI drivers or milder weather effects, Assetto Corsa Competizione delivers a very solid 60fps update on PS5, feeling appropriately responsive and fluid.

Looking back at 2020 and our first look at the game – in all fairness there were performance improvements and running under back-compat delivered higher performance at the cost of low resolution.

The Series X is mostly 60fps with low car count racing in clear conditions, with occasional dips. Turn up the complexity a bit by adding heavy beats, though, and frame rates hover in the mid to low 50s with occasional dips into the 40s, with replays that can hit performance levels too lower than the mid-30s. Increasing complexity by maximizing every option in a stress test scenario brings frame rates down even further. The Series S offers broadly similar performance to the Series X, but it’s a little more fragile. Short runs in bright conditions tend to overlap 60fps, with frequent runs into the high 50s. More intense runs and stress tests are fairly close to the Series X, but with a small performance deficit in similar sequences. Replays perform particularly poorly, churning out in the 30fps range for long stretches. Neither the Series X nor the S offer a particularly solid presentation and the Xbox junior is significantly worse.

Ultimately, all current-gen console versions have improved performance over the last-gen game – judging by the game’s streaming on Xbox One X – but let that be a bet at more aggressive dynamic resolution scaling or some other factor, only PlayStation 5 feels truly solid.

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There are a few controller differences worth noting here as well. Assetto Corsa controls well with a scroll wheel, which is my preference, although it works quite well on a gamepad, especially when playing with more assist features enabled. The Xbox Series pad is usable here, but the DualSense really stands out, with precise tactile feedback that makes every shift, curb and chicane distinct. The resistance triggers are used sparingly, which sounds like the right call, although the left trigger bites and kicks back when you brake at high speeds. It’s a thoughtful implementation that makes you feel more in tune with the vehicle.

Finally, a word about loading times. Loading onto the latest-gen Xbox One X is a slightly painful experience – an AI race on Zandvoort circuit here takes 31 seconds to see the track. Every time you want to start a new race, you’ll have to wait about that long, which gets a little tedious. Current-gen consoles power that load much faster: both consoles in the series take around 8 seconds, with the PS5 curiously a few seconds behind. It’s a big improvement and allows for a smoother experience.

In summary, Assetto Corsa Competizione is an attractive last-gen racer with a few key improvements over current-gen machines: the most significant of these improvements – a new frame rate target of 60 fps – significantly improves the experience of game on the PS5. However, the two Xbox Series consoles can’t quite keep up, resulting in near-constant shaking in many scenarios. All consoles benefit from the suite of visual improvements, with the settings tweaks and resolution boosts improving visuals primarily on PS5 and Series X. The performance drops on Xbox are problematic though, and we hope to see this addressed in a future update.

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