Let’s say you are a racing gamer concentrated on the PC platform and you have a PC to run racing titles. Your PC components are relatively new, but not exactly the best in the market. You have a budget gaming video card such as a GTX 1650 or RX 570 and want to race on a relatively high end racing title such as Assetto Corsa Competizione. The first question you would think of is: Can it run the game?
Quick answer: Yes, it can run the game. Going deeper into the details though, running the game on the highest graphics settings on an entry level gaming video card is playable, but not ideal. Why? Because depending on the game engine, a game that runs with lower performance numbers can affect your input responses and this can be detrimental to the driving experience especially if you are stepping up to compete against other drivers online. You won’t be needing high graphics settings to make the most of your racing game either, this is where optimizing graphics and performance come into play.
“Frames win Games”
There is a saying from a popular graphics processor manufacturer, “Frames win games”. Nowadays 60FPS is the minimum standard for an acceptable gaming performance for casual play. For competitive gameplay though it is much higher depending on the game engine. Games like Counter-Strike for example are best played at 120FPS and above as anything lower than this value can impact a players’ aiming ability. The same could be said for racing games at a competitive level, but again this depends on the game engine used as not all racing games benefit from very high frame rates when racing online.
(Input lag on a gaming wheel)
Racing titles such as Project CARS series and the original Assetto Corsa have little to no impact when the frame rate is limited at 60 FPS even when using Vsync. However, titles such as Raceroom, the rFactor series, and Assetto Corsa Competizione suffer from some input lag when hovering around the 60 FPS target. Therefore if you plan to race competitively on these titles, higher frame rates are recommended.
It is more noticeable when racing with a wheel. To check if you are suffering from a high amount of input lag, leave your in-game wheel visible on screen and then turn the wheel back and fourth from left to right while the car is stationary. If you can see the in-game wheel not changing direction at the same time as you turn your gaming wheel, you have input lag. If this is the case, the first thing you’ll want to do is to disable Vsync as this is the most common cause of input lag on many games.
(Screen tearing on the right side of the monitor)
The only downside with Vsync disabled is that you may see some screen tearing when going from one direction to another unless you have a monitor high refresh rate and/or a low response time. If you want to limit your frame rates to avoid screen tearing, to keep your PC components cool, or to keep the game running smoothly, you can try the in-game’s frame limiter or use your graphics driver’s frame rate options if available.
Optimization Some racing games are perfectly fine when limited to 60 FPS. However, if more FPS is needed, optimizing your graphics settings is another key step to give a fluid and responsive experience. Ideally, you’ll want to have any game run with the highest FPS as possible without any frame limitations. High or ultra graphics settings in general are usually best when taking high quality photos or videos for exhibition purposes.
(Low settings on Project CARS 3, but is it really that “low” at racing speed?)
When driving at racing speeds however you would not be able to see the little details. Settings such as shadows, grass/foliage, car detail, environment and car reflections, and track details need not to be at high or ultra settings when racing. Many racing games have common graphics settings which can be adjusted depending on the user’s target performance. We will be using Assetto Corsa Competizione as an example for this matter.
Below is a reference of my settings for Assetto Corsa Competizione on PC running a GTX 1650 video card and a Ryzen 5 2600 processor.
The most common graphic setting you’ll find on most racing games is “shadows”. This is among the most resource heavy settings in any game and is usually best set to medium at best, or low if not off at minimum. Ideally you’ll want to see basic shadows under the cars near you and never mind too much the shadows on track objects.
Antialiasing has a low impact on modern games, but if you have to balance performance and quality, it is recommended to experiment with different antialiasing options on a per game basis and see which one suits your needs the best. Some games still provide good quality even without any antialiasing enabled, while other titles have antialiasing options that have a negative impact on performance Hence it’s a matter of trial and error. In the case of Assetto Corsa Competizione, High TAA/KTAA provides a decent image quality with little to no impact on performance.
You can leave special effects and post processing at the minimum for regular racing situations. Only max these settings if you are into photo or video production. The same applies with textures settings. You can also notice that I turned down the foliage settings to the minimum (off in other games) as well as other related settings for foliage or grass.
Assetto Corsa Competizione also has graphics details for the mirrors and mirror view distance. You’ll want to this somewhere between 50-100 meters so that you can at least see the car behind to defend your position.
Another thing to consider is opponents' visibility. Assetto Corsa Competizione, rFactor and iRacing are examples of titles with this setting. While driving, you won’t need to see more than 10-12 cars ahead and behind, so you can have this setting between 20-24 cars.
Finally there are some advanced settings you can fiddle around. Some of these settings are just extra effects which you can turn off while racing while others may aid in graphics performance. One setting in particular which can impact performance is “Car Level of Detail (LOD) Quality”. The higher this setting is, the higher the quality of the cars will be at a far distance. This means that nearby cars will still look good even at the lowest setting which is 25% for ACC and you won’t exactly be able to see a high details of a car which is 150m ahead of you when driving. The high details of cars at a distance can only be noticed when zooming in from a far distance, again usually reserved for photo or video exhibitions.
The graphics settings you can adjust varies from game to game, hence some settings may have a different impact on frame rate performance. If you have multiple titles, you will have to play around with the graphics settings until you achieve your FPS performance target while maintaining decent visuals at the same time.
In a nutshell, you will not need high or ultra settings to play the game. Leave those settings for photo or video creation. Many games today are developed in a way that even low settings are pleasing to the eye. More importantly, achieving a high frame rate will not only provide a butter smooth gaming experience, but will also be an advantage when competing online.
Lastly, if you have a high end video card capable of producing 3 digit FPS easily, a well optimized graphics setting paired with a frame rate target cap can also help prolong the video card’s lifespan and keep your PC cooler as the video card is not stressed out eking out high details all the time.