CSR2 isn’t quite like other racing games. Rather that sending you around circuits, battling with other drivers into corners and trying to nail your apexes as you do so, this is about the simplest and purest form of racing, the drag race. A battle of sheer acceleration and timing gear changes to perfection, as you speed towards the finish line off in the distance.
Of course, a part of this comes down to necessity of design. This isn’t a game for PC or console, where you can rely on analogue sticks, racing wheels and a myriad of buttons, but rather for mobile – it’s heading to both iOS and Android, just as with the original. Where other racers demand your undivided attention for the length of a race, using either tilt controls or on screen buttons for your inputs, the drag racing at the heart of CSR2 can be played with just a single thumb.
“We wanted to have a racing experience that is different to other people’s racing experience,” explained NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil as he looked back on the first CSR. “Pretty much all the other games [on mobile] were all about going around the track and setting good lap times or beating other people on track, but you have to sit down for five to ten minutes to play and you have to really concentrate.
“That didn’t meet what we call the Starbucks line test, which means you need to be able to start and finish a game session while you’re waiting for your espresso to arrive. We think that’s how most people play mobile games, and if you look at the top grossing charts, pretty much all the games comply with that Starbucks line test.”
Racing is incredibly simple to get the hang of then, providing just a few moments of action. You start by tapping an accelerator button to try and get the revs in the ideal spot for a fast getaway, and then simply try to time you gear shifts to be as efficient as possible, while the side on camera angle shifts to keep both cars in view as the city-based backgrounds whizz past. Rather than having to figure this all out for yourself, just from watching the rev counter, there is a handy little set of red lights leading up to a green one, so you can know for certain when you’re in the RPM sweet spot.
Naturally, how challenging the game is will depend a lot on the car that you’re going up against. Obviously, a Ferrari LaFerrari is going to trash a Mercedes AMG GT, but that same Mercedes will be a much closer match for a Dodge Challenger. Some cars might be a little slower off the line than others, but then be able to make it up by reaching higher speeds later on as the sheer brute power of their engine is fully brought to bear.
Just as in the vast majority of racing games, you’ll be racing to earn cash and buy new cars, and CSR2 now features a 3D city map to hold all of the game’s events, but the real goal is to push the limits of how these cars are represented in game. Though most of us can never hope to own a Bugatti or a Ferrari, there’s something to be said for unlocking and earning these cars in game, and from the cinematic way in which they are delivered to your garage to the console level models and graphical effects in play, these are really not that far off being some of the best looking cars in a video game. And they’re on phones and tablets.
Torsten said, “CSR was a big visual leap and CSR2 needed to be the same visual leap. We didn’t want this to be just the best looking racing game on mobile, we wanted it to be the best looking racing game full stop. On any platform.”
To realise that ambition, and with the original CSR team still working on the first game as well as a different project, Torsten revealed, “we’ve built a new team [for CSR2]. We hired a guy called Julian Widdows from Codemasters, who was running their racing studios there, and he’s built up a team of handpicked people who’ve joined us from games like Forza, Burnout, Need for Speed, Dirt, etc.”
It’s a team full of experience within the car genre, and this, combined with the ever-increasing power of mobile devices allows them to go into meticulous fine details on these cars. An attract mode pulls right in on headlights, grills, and wheels, to show off the slightly fetishistic detail, and you can interact with them to open doors, pull out adjustable aerodynamic parts, open boots and bonnets to look at the engines or the luggage/handbag space.
It’s an attention to detail and authenticity that extends to the way that you buy these cars in game as well. Torsten said, “We wanted to see if we could get the feeling of what it is like to spec, to buy and then have delivered a supercar. […] To do that, we’ve built what we believe is the best car configurator in the industry; not just the games industry, but also the cars industry.”
To that end, you can go and view a digital car before buying, and change everything from the paint colour for the bodywork or the brake callipers, right down to the colour of the stitching on the seats. The way that Torsten talked about all of this brought to mind the way that Driveclub was initially introduced on stage alongside the PlayStation 4.
“We are very pedantic, but Pagani are even more pedantic,” Torsten said. “So we submitted this car for approval, and our guys didn’t have the Italian flag on the wing mirror, and so they rejected the car. Our guys got a kick out of that, because that’s how pedantic they are as well.”
While NaturalMotion are in the position now to have established relationships with manufacturers, and the ability to create new ones thanks to the original game’s astonishing 130 million installs, the first game’s pitch to car makers was rather unusual.
Torsten recalled, “For the first game, it actually was not that easy because we hadn’t made a racing game before. We made a game called My Horse before that, and the reason why we made a horse game was because everyone was sniggering at the genre, and I thought, “Why don’t we take it super seriously and make the most realistic horse you’ve ever seen?” and that game was more successful than all out previous games taken together.
“So I had this horse game, and I went to the car manufacturers – I won’t say which ones – and I showed them the horse game and said “Imagine that as a car.” We sold two of the big manufacturers just on that, in fact, both of them at Gamescom in Germany. From there it was easier to sign the next ones.
“This game was way, way easier, because we have almost all of the contracts in place already, and now it’s all about what we can do that goes beyond just licensing. As we’ve done previously, we’ve debuted cars in CSR like the AMG GT, we have exclusive cars like the P1 GTR in CSR, and because we’re able to reach so many people, we’re able to really advertise those cars. Now with this game, we’re really able to celebrate them.”
As the game heads into a process of soft launching in smaller markets to test the waters, there’s still quite a few unknowns. From the social aspects on the world map to how there are two options on the menu to tune and upgrade your car, which strongly suggests to me that you’ll be able to both increase performance as in the first game as well as modify cars with aftermarket parts, there were a lot of things that Torsten could not talk about.
On a personal level, I don’t think that CSR2 is for me, but it is a game that I find quite fascinating on a number of levels. Alongside a bitesized drag racing experience, the minute details on show in the garage view and the process of collecting these cars really shows just how far phones and tablets have come in relation to consoles and computers.