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

It's complicated.

Known for its more hardcore approach to its racing simulation and customisation options, Assetto Corsa Competizione is a world apart from the breezy arcade fun of Forza Horizon and the slightly gentler 'simcade' experience delivered by Gran Turismo. It's also more of a PC-centric product, but console ports followed in 2020 - albeit in somewhat compromised form with somewhat dodgy performance. Now we have brand new upgrades for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles, promising a boost to 60fps alongside larger races and other improvements - and the question is this: do we get a smoother, more polished racing experience or have we swapped out one set of technical problems for another?

Visually, Assetto Corsa has always concentrated on an attractive but functional rendition of the racing experience. The GT3 cars are really the stars of the show: exteriors and interiors are well-handled, with strong materials work and accurate-looking reflections. Vehicle bodywork is suitably high-poly and feels like a close match for the real thing. There are some nice flourishes as well - car mirrors are actually functional, for instance, reflecting back a rasterised low-detail version of the environment. The trackside environments aren't quite as impressive, although they look mostly fine in motion. Track surfaces and grass look quite flat, background buildings and structures are on the low-detail side and spectators are mostly represented by crude 2D billboards. These are typical compromises in last-gen racers but they do tend to stick out somewhat here, particularly at higher resolutions.

This applies to all versions of the game, so what's new with PS5 and Xbox Series consoles? According to publisher 505 Games, current-gen Competizione comes with support for 30-driver races, 60fps gameplay, 4K resolution, and faster load times. That's a slightly scant list for a next-gen upgrade but there are some surprises here - such as a new bokeh depth of field blur that kicks in before racing, up against a more basic gaussian blur on Xbox One X. Bushes and trees are differently placed on the new consoles, and are more numerous than on last-gen, 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.Watch on YouTube

Xbox Series S gets most of the available upgrades, with some exceptions. Grass density takes a hit, as does texture filtering quality, most noticeable on road surfaces and the detailing on car roofs - though this reduction may simply reflect the overall lower rendering resolution. Interestingly, shadow quality is a match for Xbox Series X, effectively slotting into a mid-point between Xbox One X and PS5. On the whole, from a visual perspective at least, the graphical features are very similar overall, but perhaps the biggest issue for me is that many of the last-gen version's issues remain problematic here: rear-view mirror lighting isn't a match for standard game lighting, while car models still leave behind streaky screen-space reflection artefacts on we tracks. Camera angle transitions in event replays often load in with scene geometry missing for a frame or two, or momentarily flash to the wrong shot entirely. These aren't huge issues, but they do distract at times and convey an unfortunate lack of polish.

In terms of image quality, Series X targets a full 4K and reaches that figure most of the time. The full dynamic resolution range here seems to be 1440p to 2160p, although Assetto Corsa is almost always at 4K output or very close to it. Even in relatively intense scenes, we see 2160p or 2016p as the typical counts. Meanwhile, PS5 has a somewhat looser grip on 4K. The target is still 2160p, but there's somewhat more variance and the new lower bounds in my testing is 1152p. Many shots still resolve at a full 4K but busy shots with lots of cars and weather effects tend to bring resolution down to the 1800p range, and one particularly demanding shot came in at 1152p, though this was an extreme outlier. Ultimately, both games look good on a 4K display. Series S? On paper you can call it a dynamic 1440p, but the resolution mostly sticks to 1080p or very close to it - the outlier being the car viewer screen, which operates at full 4K, with the performance hit to match.

Performance-wise, 505 Games is promising 60fps gameplay - seemingly a big upgrade from the unstable, unlocked last-gen experience. However, 60fps isn't really what we're getting here. PlayStation 5 takes point, with most races delivering a virtually locked 60fps, just with the occasional one-frame drop. In stress tests with 26 or more AI vehicles and heavy rain, while intentionally driving to maximise the number of onscreen cars, I was able to drop the fram-erate to the high 50s for extended periods, with a low of 55fps. This is an atypical situation though and in races with slightly fewer AI drivers or lighter weather effects, Assetto Corsa Competizione offers a very solid 60fps update on PS5, feeling appropriately responsive and smooth.

Flash back to 2020 and our first look at the game - in fairness, there were improvements to performance and running under back-compat delivered higher performance at the expense of low resolution.Watch on YouTube

Series X mostly holds 60fps with lower car count races in clear conditions, with some occasional dips. Amp up the complexity a little by adding some heavy weather, however, and frame-rates hover in the mid to low 50s with occasional drops to the 40s, with replays that can hit performance levels as low as the mid 30s. Dialling up complexity by maxing out every option in a stress test scenario sees frame-rates drop down further still. Series S offers broadly similar performance to the Series X, but it is a bit shakier. Smaller races in clear conditions tend to straddle 60fps, with frequent runs into the high 50s. More intense races and stress tests hold pretty close to Series X, but with a small performance deficit in similar footage. Replays run especially poorly, outputting in the 30fps range for long stretches. Neither Series X nor S offers a particularly solid presentation and the junior Xbox is noticeably worse.

Ultimately, all of the current-gen console releases have improved performance compared to the last-gen game - as judged by the game's showing on Xbox One X - but whether it's down to a more aggressive dynamic resolution scaling or some other factor, only PlayStation 5 really feels solid.

There are some controller differences worth noting here too. Assetto Corsa controls nicely with a wheel, which is my preference, although it works well enough on a gamepad, especially playing with more of the assist features enabled. The Xbox Series pad is serviceable here but the DualSense really stands out, with precise tactile feedback that makes every gear shift, curb, and chicane feel distinct. The resistance triggers are used sparingly, which feels like the right call, though the left trigger does bite and kick back when you brake at speed. It's a thoughtful implementation that makes you feel more in tune with the vehicle.

Finally, a word on load times. Loading on the last-gen Xbox One X is a slightly painful experience - an AI race on the Zandvoort circuit here takes 31 seconds before you see the track. Every time you want to start a new race, you'll have to wait roughly this long, which gets a little tedious. Current-gen consoles power through this load much more quickly: both Series consoles take around 8 seconds, with the PS5 curiously a few seconds behind. It's a big improvement and makes for a more fluid experience.

In summary, Assetto Corsa Competizione is an attractive last-gen racer with a few key enhancements on current-gen machines: the most significant of those enhancements - a new 60fps frame-rate target - greatly improves the gameplay experience on the PS5. Both Xbox Series consoles can't quite keep up, though, resulting in near-constant judder in many scenarios. All consoles benefit from the suite of visual enhancements, with the settings tweaks plus resolution boosts improving the visuals mostly noticeably on PS5 and Series X. Performance drops on Xbox are problematic, however, and we'd hope to see this addressed in a future update.

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