RaceDepartment.com is pleased to present the first of our mega mid-season reports on the good, bad and the ugly in the world of sim racing. Over the next few days we will be taking a look at all the major (and minor) sim racing games available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC as of the 1st August 2016. We objectively look at what each game has to offer players, how development is progressing and what the studios behind the scenes have in store for us in the future. We do some horizon scanning at games due to be released before the end of the year and take a quick peek over some of the community created content for each title. Part one of our big sim review will focus on Kunos Simulazioni's Italian racing simulation Assetto Corsa and Automobilista by Reiza Studios. So without further ado, let’s review.... Assetto Corsa The Assetto Corsa strapline reads "Your Driving Simulator", and boy does it deliver that on track driving experience. As build update 1.8 hits in the coming weeks, Assetto Corsa continues to be improved regularly by developers Kunos Simulazioni. The latest 'Red Pack' DLC and game update released in June has gone some way towards resolving many outstanding bugs and oversights, whilst at the same time introducing some very interesting improvements. Highlights of the recent update includes the new v10 tyre model, the ability to jump the lights at race start and brake temperature simulation on a selection of vehicles. The latest tyre model (currently available on selected 'Red Pack' cars) presents an interesting change in direction for the sim, tyre temperatures are now more sensitive to initial pressures as well as introducing improvements in the realigning forces within the tyre. Although fundamentally changing how the tyre operates within the game, allowing better validation of real world data, the new v10 tyres do not drastically alter the way in which cars behave on track. Kunos have confirmed version 10 tyres will be rolled out to all GT3 spec vehicles as part of the upcoming 1.8 update, with release to other cars within the default content to follow at a later date. Assetto Corsa presents players with well organised and stylish opening menus right from the moment you fire up the title in Steam, aided by the useful option for turning off the introductory video on game launch (a very welcome attention to option for those who load up the title on a regular basis). The menu options are presented in an artistic and modern format, with no little difficulty experienced navigating your way through the various settings before moving on to the car and track selection screens, prior to going out onto the circuit. Offline players are presented with the option to take part in a rather drab career mode, where a pre defined number of themed racing events are open to contest in various closed choice cars. Although the player can unlock different events throughout the career mode, thankfully all the cars within Assetto Corsa are unlocked and available to select right from the very off. It is a relief that Kunos have chosen to focus more on the driving and racing aspect rather than throwing together an annoying Gran Turismo style career rewards orientated experience, forcing players to grind through mindlessly boring five lap race events just to gain access to the better cars in game. This is an aspect of racing games that have always felt pointless and rather alien to me. I feel that racing games are made to race the content contained within them rather than chasing after worthless rewards as you attempt to unlock the various cars available in game. Because all cars are unlocked from the very beginning, Assetto Corsa does not award you money for race victories and no in game virtual store exists for you to "purchase" access to vehicles within the game. Thankfully. The usual quick race and practice modes apply to the offline side of the game, however a full "race weekend" structure to the single race feature is not yet available, and races are limited to only short events at the moment, making long distance endurance racing impossible offline despite the substantially GT3 offering from the developers. Driver swop is also not available in the current build 1.7 of the game and not likely to be included in future updates. Time of day, track and air temperature are all fully adjustable for single player track experiences, however night is not simulated in AC. Rather unusually in a modern racing simulation, drifting and drag racing are represented in Assetto Corsa. The drift option is especially noteworthy for its outstanding representation, with the game engine developed by Kunos particularly suited to this form of motorsport. A default drift track and several drift cars come as part of the standard content, however a number of vibrant drifting communities exist online and many drift tracks and cars have been released as mods for the PC version of the game. Content - Assetto Corsa achieves top marks for its ability to secure some of the most prestigious and interesting content licences within the sim racing genre. Unlike many of its market rivals, AC looks to accommodate fans of both road and track machines with its diverse selection of cars, all exquisitely created, and good value DLC packages from Kunos are available for those who want to add yet more cars and circuits to the game. Top tier manufactures (the likes of Porsche, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus) sit alongside more sedate offerings from such brands as Alfa Romeo and Toyota, giving an opportunity for people with most tastes to find something to tickle their fancy. Including DLC packages Assetto Corsa runs at 98 cars currently released, unfortunately this willingness to diversify the range of content within the game can also be one of the titles most glaring flaws. With only a sizable GT3 field fleshed out with several manufacturers and models, many of the car releases have felt somewhat disjointed and leaves vehicles in game with no obvious rivals in which to race against. The strategy to licence individual vehicles and move away from official racing championships and full grid representation is still considered by many a disappointment to drivers who wish to share the track with a grid of vehicles and liveries that raced together in period. Each car within the game does however have its own unique feel and characteristic and the studio have done a superb job transferring each cars personality into the detailed force feedback effects produced by the title. Using real world data from the manufacturers and validated on track by the physics gurus at the studio, the driving experience within Assetto Corsa is one most enjoyable in sim racing at present. Whilst the driving "experience" is greatly enjoyable, the sim still has work to do to bring more simulation elements into the driving model, as complaints within the community regarding the amount of grip on offer in certain situations still remain as does the need to better simulate tyre heat and degradation amongst other items already discussed across numerous message boards and social media within the sim racing world. Not wishing to be out done by the impressive car list, Assetto Corsa also has a wide range of laserscanned tracks to enjoy (30 in all) including an epic reproduction of the Nordschleife in Endurance, Tourist and Grand Prix layouts. Laserscanning race tracks is one of the key features for Assetto Corsa as the title looks at ways to stand out from its rivals in the sim racing realism stakes. Much like with the prolific car licencing strategy, Kunos have secured laserscanning rights for a number of top grade racetracks worldwide, such as the aforementioned Nordschleife, Spa Francorchamps, Imola, Silverstone and the home of the Italian Grand Prix, Monza. All the base content tracks look and feel superbly authentic as they provide a suitable playground on which to try out the many great cars within the game. Features - Whilst rich in content and producing a very positive driving, Assetto Corsa does lack several of the key features one would expect from a racing simulation in 2016. Of the more glaring omissions in the current build of AC are day to night transition, driver swops, rain and long distance racing in offline mode. The inability to cater towards the endurance side of racing is rather surprising in AC considering the vast number of GT3 spec endurance race cars in game, by far the biggest single class of cars available as Kunos created content. In our interview with Kunos back in March they studio confirmed no plans are in place to include endurance style events , multiclass AI and driver swop functionally within the game. This is a disappointment for a sim that has many of the desirable elements to recreate endurance style racing events. Support for triple screen setups and Virtual Reality headsets are well implemented in the title, with support for the consumer version of Oculus Rift already in place and official support for the HTC Vive confirmed to release at a later date. Telemetry plays an important role in AC, as players have the ability to record and review detailed telemetry readouts produced by the game engine and without the need to install third party apps and modifications. Custom offline championships and improved flag functionality are due to be released for the game in coming updates. Physics - Body roll and weight transfer through the FFB are superb in AC, putting the feel of the car right at your fingertips brings a level of immersion many other driving and racing sims have so obviously failed to achieve in my years of sim racing experience. The difference between the feel and driving characteristics of each car within game are noticeable almost immediately as you exit the pitlane for the first time. The way a heavy and softly sprung road car and transfers the weight under braking or as the high centre of gravity rolls the body over on the cars suspension and tyres are a thing of beauty, really helping you understand how the car is reacting to your inputs through the detailed FFB and allowing you to engross yourself in the experience of putting tyre to the tarmac and getting the most from your car out on circuit. You can feel understeer and overseer very easily in game and very quickly begin to experience many of the core set of experiences that one would feel from a real life on track driving session, allowing a player to engage with their driving experience in a very organic manner and inspiring the confidence to play around with the car and understand the various nuances involved in delivering the best performance from the vehicle within your skill set. Much like performance driving in real life, the closer to the limit you take a car the more finely attuned you become to the experience and the more enjoyment you get from the feedback the car is delivering to you through your wheel. The tyre model within AC has undergone several revisions since the title entered Early Access and continues to be worked on with the latest version 10 edition due to roll out across the GT3 field in build 1.8. That said, the physical data transmitted through the tyres leaves a little room for improvement at the current time. Arguably not as complex as some of its rivals, the experience in never the less still more than enough to satisfy all but the most knowledgeable sim racing drivers. Tyre behaviour over a long stint does not require quite the same level of management and understanding as some other games currently on the market, and therefore maybe opens up the title to a wider range of drivers who enjoy racing simulations but lack the experience to engage fully with the many different aspects of driving performance cars in a competitive environment on track. Modding support and the tools available to the community in Assetto Corsa are very well thought out, helping AC pick up where the original rFactor title left off as the sim of choice for community created mods. A wide variety of cars, tracks, skins and apps are available for download presently, some of which are at a high enough standard to be considered on a par with default Kunos content. Sounds - The audio in Assetto Corsa is gradually improving with each new release following the introduction of FMOD middleware. Unfortunately the audio experience still remains hit and miss for many vehicles, so much so that several impressive community mods exist to boost the vanilla engine sounds and add another level of immersion to the game. On-board engine and road effects have received the most attention from the studio of late, however much work is still required in this department to match the top achieving games in sim racing. RD Score: 8.5 out of 10. The things Assetto Corsa do well they do very well indeed, however despite the many positives that surround this game it still remains very hard to look past the obvious flaws with the title that make it difficult to consider AC a true racing simulation. The driving experience is exemplary, the content is constantly getting bigger and better and the game looks great on track and in the menus, but with such basic features like driver swop, timed races, dynamic track and weather, night racing and a robust netcode still missing means it’s difficult to justify giving AC a bigger score than it achieves today. If many of these seemingly simple outstanding issues can be overcome before attention switches to the Assetto Corsa's sequel, then we could easily be looking at one of sim racings most complete title's every produced. Automobilista Automobilista should reach a full version one release this month following the conclusion of its lengthy Steam Early Access and Beta programme that began in February. Reiza have done a commendable job distancing Automobilista from its predecessor Game StockCar Extreme, following a highly successful crowdfunding campaign aimed at allowing the studio to focus development resources towards substantially updating the already strong title. When the volume of additional features and content proposed for GSCE was fully realised, Reiza Studios made the wise decision to release an altogether new title based on the previous GSCE release and encompassing the vast scope of features and new content that will be developed as part of the injection of crowdfunded backed resources. Game StockCar Extreme was essentially a homage to the Brazilian racing scene, however the studio have gradually diversified the content within AMS to encapsulate a wide range of racing disciplines from entry level karts and circuits to GT spec Boxer Cup cars right the way through to both modern and historic Grand Prix machines. Off road racing is also supported for the first time within AMS, as the popular Rallycross discipline makes its debut within the sim. Although pleasing in itself, the new content injection into AMS is not the only benefit players are realising following its Early Access debut. Reiza have been hard at work refining the FFB characteristics of the sim, bringing a new level of realism and feeling to the cars that have left many fans delighted with the results. The game has received several core updates including many popular features such as dynamic track conditions, advancements to the transmission and tyre modelling, substantial upgrades to physics, new shaders and graphical improvements as well as many advancements with the online functionality within the title. The overall impression on first loading up AMS is pleasing to the eye as the game has moved away from its previous clunky and disjointed appearance. The menus have been reworked in high definition and given a stylish red and black design with options and screens now in a sensible and more ergonomic layout, producing a far more satisfactory navigation experience. The new car selection menu is now contained within central screens rather than the often frustrating need to scroll through slow loading pages, and the event setup functions are captured within a more condensed and organised layout than the previous GSCE release. Content - Plenty of new content has been added to AMS in recent weeks, and many new items are due to be added to the simulation as part of an extensive premium DLC release package post version one update. The choice of new content within AMS presents an interesting take on the racing scene, featuring beautifully recreated versions of the epic stadium Supertruck complete with tracks containing purpose built ramps sitting side by side with several decades of Formula One style cars and period locations throughout the world. Upcoming DLC packages containing the iconic British manufacturer Caterham as well popular racing venues Brands Hatch and Cadwell Park have already been confirmed as part of the an a premium DLC programme, as well as the Ultima GTR and MCR Sports 2000. Exciting news regarding the "Legendary Race Tracks" DLC brings a selection of period tracks from yesteryear, with Imola already confirmed to be the first instalment within the new line of releases. Imola will feature four unique versions of the track: from early 70s, late 80s and early 00s, along with current modern layout of the circuit. Features - Reiza are working hard to improve the strong base already established with GSCE after the recent acquisition of a full licence to develop the possibilities that exist within the gMotor game engine, an engine used extensively within the sim racing industry. While Reiza originally had to inject new code into the game by way of plugins, the full development licence allows the Brazilian studio to directly adjust the gMotor code to suit the direction in which the developers wish to take AMS. Reiza have already introduced simulated sequential gearshift mechanisms, downshift protection, anti-stall; gearbox damage, dynamic track evolution, turbo modelling, boost / push-to-pass and energy recovery systems, enhanced FFB effects, improved graphics and more detailed artificial intelligence to name but a few on a list of improvements that continues to grow. Alongside new content and game features, work has also been progressing nicely to improve the initially limited online functionary that first shipped with AMS. The Virtual Xperience (VX) portal allows players to review multiplayer lobbies and join sessions, register and find leagues and compete in various hotlapping leaderboard challenges. Once fully complete players will have the ability to share setups and reply files as the VX portal becomes the main way to access online competition, doing away with the awkward navigation through Steam servers originally required with earlier builds of the game. A Custom Championship tool is in development and should be added at a later stage, however possibly one of the main missing elements from AMS is the lack of simulated rain effects during a race weekend. Sadly rain has not been implemented within AMS and the game feels much the worse for its lack of availability. Although community created mods are available to bring a level of static wet conditions to the tracks, no rain functionality by Reiza in the vanilla install of AMS still feels like the studio are missing out on an aspect of sim racing that many in the community remain vocally in favour of inclusion. With a strong leaning towards Brazilian content, the ability to simulate the often fierce downpours experienced in Brazil would liven up much of the on track action and bring another immersive dimension to the driving experience. Physics - In the form of the ISI gMotor engine Automobilista already has a very robust baseline that has proven its credentials as one of the all time great sim racing engines in the last 10 years. The team at Reiza have built upon the original code and added several new simulated elements of driving to bring the overall level beyond anything seen before for a Reiza product. Curtesy of the official licence agreements with a number of series and manufacturers, the team in Brazil have been able to create a race simulation that very closely aligns with real world motorsport. Telemetry traces shared by the studio provide ample visual clues as to how close to real life the simulation has managed to achieve, whilst delivering an engaging and realistic driving experience through the detailed force feedback sent to the players racing wheel. Each car and class within the game feels significantly different to drive and setups make a noticeable difference to how the car behaves under load on the track. The tyre model within Automobilista has received significant attention from the studio and the results are instantly transferred to the gaming experience. Tyre heat up and wear are reasonably well replicated and a noticeable difference in car behaviour as fuel burns off during a race adds a further immersive element to the driving experience. Flat spotting of tyres makes a first appearance within a Reiza product in AMS, and the studio have done a solid job of representing how locking wheels effect the life and feeling of the tyres in game. Added to the new flat sport simulation are dynamic track conditions and marble build up off line. Drivers who stray too far away from the ideal racing line are likely to pick up marble debris from the outside line and suffer from a reduced amount of grip for several corners while the tyres clear themselves back to their previous condition. Work has been undertaken to include visual wear and dirt pickup in AMS, all adding further to the driving experience and levels of concentration required to race consistent and competitive laptimes when on track. Sounds - One only has to hear the Formula V12 car howling through its six forward gears out on track to understand the improvements that have gone into the virtual engine effects for Automobilista. Although not quite on a par with some of the really high achieving titles on the market today, Automobilista nevertheless manages to produce excellent audio experiences across many of the cars shipped as part of the default offering. The flat 6 scream of the Boxer Cup presents a thrilling experience on track and compares favourably to its real life counterparts. Reiza have acquired audio samples first hand for many of the cars featured in AMS, and faithfully reproduced the effects of others where audio sampling isn't a feasible possibility, such as with the recently introduced Formula Vintage 1960's era Grand Prix cars. More work is required to capture the overall road noise and debris rattling about in the cars undercarriage in order to push this side of the game further up the rankings list, but already Riza have made a strong start to ensuring AMS maintains an immersive audio experience. RD Score: 8 out of 10 "You've come a long way baby". AMS is almost unrecognisable from its predecessor GSCE and development has been at a high pace in recent months. Many new content items and feature updates have brought AMS truly into the realm of top flight simulations. The force feedback and way the cars transfer their own characteristics through the wheel can be regarded as one of the finest in any simulation. Dynamic track introduction and off line marbles have brought AMS into another league from its original routes, with the promise of further improvement and refinements to come in later builds. Sadly AMS still lacks proficient driver swop functionality, holding back the obvious promise for long distance endurance competition, and still the title has several rather distracting bugs appearing rather too often for some players to enjoy the many outstanding elements of the game. Granted the game is still Early Access, and the developer reaction time has been impressive, but work must be done in order to ensure a smoother experience once version one is reached later this month. While rain effects area sadly absent from the game, day to night transition is visually impressive and implemented to a high standard. An excellent effort from Reiza and only serving to whet the appetite yet further as we wait for news of "Reiza 2017", Reiza Studios next big project. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Big Mid Season Review! In the next instalment we see how American Truck Simulator and DiRT Rally stack up against their rivals. Watch this space!