We already had a word to collateral content in a driving or racing game, let’s have a closer look at Assetto Corsa’s supply for Single Player entertainment. Of course you have a complete sandbox of just driving on your own or against the AI – but there are also Special Events and something with the name Career Mode.
Currently, both don’t look overwhelming. Let’s have a thought about “why”.
#1 Special Event description
Special Events deliver some kind of instant action, combined with specific goal and often also a very nice theme, for example the “Classic Run”.
Back to the past, you obviously experience the flair of the 1967 Italian Grand Prix. Unfortunately you won’t actually replay the most glorious comeback in motorsports history, but you are hunting down the 1:30 mark.
Other events let you drive a race against the AI, and you need to fight through the field and eventually win to score the medal for your chosen AI strength – including a nice Steam Achievement.
You also experience the other, less popular game modes like Drag Races and Time Attack.
#2 Career description
Some say the Career Mode is just a concatenation of Special Events where you need to unlock series for series. That is true for some, they are called “Single Events”.
Within this type of series, you have free choice which event you want to engage and you are free to repeat them until you achieve your series goal and the next one is unlocked.
As soon as you leave the entry-level Novice and Intermediate series behind, you will usually face the Championship events that work very different – well, like a Championship. You need to score enough points to achieve your unlocking goal, without freedom of choice which one to drive next or even repeat. There are usual quick races and complete race weekends including practice and qualifying.
#3 The bad
Both Special Events and Career Events are designed to be tough – and they should be. But Kunos mixed up very different event types, like Hotlap and Time Attack. Even inside Hotlap the required laptimes aren’t that consistent – but Time Attack is an extremely easy thing. You only need a) to understand what you shall do (obviously the hard part) and b) prove that you can control several improving laps without messing up. The AI races can be both – impossible hard to ridiculously easy, depending on the car and track.
On top of that, AC evolves that often and quickly Kunos can’t catch up maintaining hundreds of Special and Career events. To be fair it really looks impossible, every big udpate changes physics, AI capabilities and other details. According to the patchnotes 1.4, 1.5.7 and 1.5.8 had “some” rebalancing here, but you still have a range between boring and impossible.
Single race events will put you in the back of the field, and expect you to WIN the thing. There is no silver medal for even the 2nd place in Special Events (Silver is for winning with less AI strength). This hurts a lot. Which race driver will start in the back and actually win a good race on his pace? To score the win, you need to be so much better than your opponents that there is no chance for good racing.
This is not just unrealistic, but also gives bad incentives. Imagine somebody who never had contact with simracing, and wants to prepare with the career mode before he joins the Multiplayer crew. Such a nice guy, but what will he learn? “Dive bomb at least 7 cars in the first brake zone, otherwise you won’t have a chance to win the 3 laps of Imola”.
Career championships are better here, as they reward other finishing positions as well. Race weekends are pretty good on the other hand, as you can (and should) get a good qualifying position.
Gamers are used to careers that have some kind of persisted progress. Money, Teams, seasons, unlocking of Tracks, Cars, fancy stuff. AC offers very little here. All you can do is to unlock new career series. Well, in my opinion the simulator doesn’t really need anything of that – give us cars, tracks and a thrilling experience of close-to-reality-driving. Still, a motivational Career Mode is fun and entertaining.
#4 The good
This might sound crazy: When you pick up Assetto Corsa’s Special Events or Career Mode, the game forces you to use a specific Combo and actually learn how to handle it. Luckily, your task is pretty tough most of the time. How often did I just click a car and a track, had some laps and decided “no, that’s not my combo”?
The events will motivate you to try. Practice, learn, master. Somewhere between a silver and gold Hotlap medal you might find a great driving experience. That’s what the simracing part is about – you can always learn to understand your car better, and go faster. Desperately looking for improvements or consistency, learning about setup tweaks, finally nail the one lap. To be honest, some of those lousy Special Events have given me the best time I had with a racing simulator. First I hate the combo, then I learn, get gold, and go on. Usually below one second close to the World Record.
Of course, sometimes it is easy and you are just too fast – depends a lot on your pace. But if you find an Event you might not even get the Bronze medal on a first shot: Be happy! Go on, do it. It’s worth it, especially when you don’t like that Combo.
Attached to the first point, the Events and the Career will let you drive Combinations you never thought of – and pretty often you will end up with a new friend. Personally I would have missed quite some cars and combos without this SP entertainment value. Sometimes you need more than one lap to comprehend a car, and what fun it can deliver.
Completely contrary to the “unrealistic races”, Kunos offers some valuable setup tips in the later Career Championships:
This is great, both educationally and realistically. I’m neither sure if those hints are still up-to-date, nor how good a default setup with those tweaks is, but this is how you carefully transform newcomers to setup artists.
Funnily we mentioned unrealistic AI race conditions – but there is also the aspect that you probably can’t, but also don’t need to win every race in the Career Mode. Sometimes there is just a faster car model involved, sometimes one of seven events happens to be insanely hard. You won’t always win, and it is very much appreciated that AC teaches us. Sometimes.
Of course we shouldn’t ignore the details and trivia. You have nice video cut scenes inside the Career, the Events are themed pretty well and overall you can see a lot of effort. I’m sad this even has to be mentioned (this is for you, Ubisoft), but you can reset or backup your career progress: Find your Assetto Corsa folder in your documents and delete/copy the launcherdata\filestore\career.ini .
#5 The dreams
Are there little things that can improved the Singleplayer experience, without suggesting a huge project? Maybe.
The current Time Attack mode is a great one. You just have to accept what you are asked for, and not try to bring your own version. In its current state Time Attack is about control in entry level dimensions. You can use it to learn new tracks, or just to demonstrate that you can control your driving. But people hate it, and to be honest there is no place for this kind of entry level stuff between hardcore hotlapping or AI challenges.
The obvious quick-win would be a higher barrier for the reference times. Currently you can wait forever on your first lap, giving way too much room for the next laps. Raising the initial requirement would give a more exciting Event that still requires control, but a lot more of it. The problem is the reference time. You either end up with even more maintenance nightmares and incompatibility to modded content – despite you are a wizard that can tell the software how this car will perform even before it has seen it on the track the first time.
The Career part already does it – maybe the Special Event races can be more fair, realistic and satisfying, if the success requirement can be tuned. Start in the mid of the field, but you only need a place in the Top 10? Difficulty could be adjusted in a way you get a race, not a slaughter. On the flipside it is currently too easy to pass AI drivers early in the race, so maybe the superior solution is just to configure front row starting positions and end up with a similar and better situation. Fight for the lead – but in a racing style, not some GTA one.
The balance problem seems serious. With every content update, more and more Career and Event content is added, with every physics or AI update all of them are more or less invalidated. This is not only bad for the balance and fun, I could imagine this is even deterring and frustrating to work on.
Some types are more dangerous than others – Time Attack is absolutely forgiving, while challenging Hotlap requirements are extremely critical. AI is getting faster every update, events can become impossible pretty easy – especially if you face a superior car type (like the 2-eleven in the Lotus Cup).
As the evolving AI is part of the problem, you can’t even use the AI to validate the Hotlap goals or AI races. To test it manually, you’d need very fast but comparable test drivers that can verify 150 events, maybe 200 to the end of the year.
The only “solution” I could think of -for hotlapping – is to publish the events more or less unchanged, and then (later) compare alien times at leaderboards like RSR Live Timing. Maybe even a mass community effort that includes AI races, Kunos could just ask.
“Are there little things that can improved the Singleplayer experience, without suggesting a huge project?”
Maybe. Maybe not. It isn’t as easy as it looks from a certain distance.
The Single-Driver elements in AC look pretty bad, but actually most of the events feel pretty good. I can only recommend: do it. Just do it, and you will have a better time than you would expect. Balance is bad, something is easy and something is hard? Well, that’s life. Yes, I don’t like the AI Special Events, but well – the next good Hotlap challenge will come.
But I’m a hardcore driver. I (usually) can learn to drive within tenths of alien times, and have countless hours in Assetto Corsa. If I had one wish, I would ask for more education. More setup tips. Help with line, with rules. Car control. Short trials with pylons, or one specific corner or section. Trials would even be tenacious against physics changes, reducing nightmares.
But now I’m really dreaming.