When I first saw CSR2 a little over a year ago, I was under the assumption that it would be coming out just a few months later. The simple hook of short bursts of drag racing at the heart of the game was already established in the original, the graphics were already top notch and a wide variety of car licenses had allowed NaturalMotion to fill the game with exotic and desirable cars. Speaking to NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil at the time, he was already incredibly proud of how good the game looked on mobile.
So where did the last year go? Those foundations are still very much there in the finished game, which was released at the end of last week, but NaturalMotion have continued to polish it, while adding more and more options to the car customisation and adding new layers of social interactions to the game.
It still looks fantastic. My iPad Mini 2 is a few years behind the curve, and it can chug and hang when loading from one section of the game to the next, but it’s perfectly smooth during races. While it still looks great, I have missed out on some of the graphical niceties that having a more modern device would get me. A number of graphical settings have had to be toned down, with the most obvious difference the lack of water, puddles and reflections on the road whenever it rains – incidentally, that can affect your wheel spin off the line.
It’s drag racing, so the controls are about as simple as they can get, as you feather the accelerator at the starting line to get the revs in the marked sweet spot, before timing your upshifts and nitrous for maximum effect. With good timing, you can punch above your weight in certain races, getting an early lead and then clinging on for a tight, slow motion finish. However, by and large, your car needs to be in the right ballpark before you can compete, and so most races aren’t anywhere near as close on screen. With the gameplay’s simplicity, it might struggle to hold people’s attention, but it’s also perfect for idly playing while the kettle boils.
You start off with a fairly basic car – I picked and luridly customised the above Toyota GT86 – but you rapidly win races and earn money to buy new parts that improve grip, horsepower, improve the nitrous, and so on. Another pair of new additions over the original are fusion parts, which let you boost a car upgrade with an additional slot for pieces found within crates, and car tuning, which lets you tweak the nitrous boost rate, gear ratios and tyre pressures for improved performance. This can really make quite a big difference.
Something that really won’t make a difference in a race is the surprisingly extensive car customisation. Viewing your garage of cars, you can zoom in, open doors, bonnets, boots, even convertible roofs, in order to take a closer look at some of the finer details. However, while you’re restricted to manufacturer specs and paints when first buying, you can go wild once something’s yours, with fresh base colours applied, wraps that have ludicrous patterns, and so on. NaturalMotion have worked with tuning companies like Rocket Bunny to recreate their particular style in game.
Importantly, they seem to have got the microtransactions balance about right. You have ten points of fuel which recharge over time, so after 20-odd minutes you might find yourself gated from playing more, but that’s barely a problem when one of the game’s characters constantly pops up offering two more fuel pips in return for letting an advert play. Beyond that, yes there’s some grinding involved to earn new parts or save up for a car, but midway through the second tier, this hasn’t felt too onerous and there’s always a feeling of progress. It’ll be a long road to reach the heady heights of owning a Pagani Hyuara in the game, mind you, or before you get the rarest upgrade parts.
Obviously, that’s the long game, though, and the game pulls you in multiple directions at one, with different races, classes and even a cheesy little story to why you’re trying to beat certain gangs of racers at drag racing. You can also race online, going head to head with other players and their cars, but the lobby system doesn’t quite have the instantaneous appeal of racing against AI, and there’s also the distinct possibility of losing money. That’s alongside the ability to create or join crews, where your combined efforts can net you boosters and rewards.
Rounding off a demonstration of the game, NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil said, “Last year what we showed you, more than anything else, was the gameplay and the visuals, and we were already at the point there where we were very happy with it.
“That was finished, but what wasn’t in the game at that point were the social features, so if you look at the synchronous multiplayer, the crews and everything else around it, that didn’t exist. […] We also added a lot of depth, so tuning wasn’t there – it existed as a design but it wasn’t implemented yet – and for us it was really important to get that right and integrate it into the game. […]
“We obviously wanted to make sure the game runs on all types of devices, so we set up a dedicated optimisation team of four people, that just optimised the game for lower end devices. So we’re now running all the way down to the iPhone 4S and equivalent Android devices. Does that make a big difference to us in terms of revenue? Probably not, but it means that a whole range of players can now play it and we think that’s the right things to do.”
Has that extra year been well spent? I’d say it quite likely has. There was already that core gameplay, but beyond graphics, last year’s build wasn’t that big a step up over the original. CSR2’s still designed to be a bitesized game, with the simplest possible setup for racing, but from car tuning to online crews, NaturalMotion have clearly spent a lot of time presenting each bite in a slightly different way.