Why Play CSR Racing 2? It's About the Cars.

Why play a racing game with minimal racing? Because the cars come first.

CSR2 McLaren Volcano Orange
The tough-to-render volcano orange paint in CSR Racing 2. Zynga

CSR Racing 2 released worldwide on June 30th, 2016, and on the surface, it might be tough to understand why someone outside of car culture might care. To me, off the bat, I prefer a racing game like Horizon Chase – I'm all about the actual racing and driving. But then again, I'm the kind of person who doesn't mind public transit, personal transportation to me is a means to an end, and having a car isn't an important factor in my life.

CSR never really clicked with me because the gameplay was so simple at its core. But getting a demonstration of CSR2 from NaturalMotion and Zynga, along with spending some time with the game made it clearer than ever what the purpose of this and many similar games are – they're not about the racing. They're about the cars, and providing something for the enthusiasts that enjoy them.

One of the big things that NaturalMotion stressed to me in a recent demo is that they wanted to push the level of detail in their cars to an extreme level, even beyond other driving games. They started by building cars such as the Ferrari 488 Spider in the game based on the CAD 3D modeling data drectly from manufacturers, so these are some of the most impressive-looking cars ever – and they look even more impressive with the latest and greatest hardware.

There's even some rare things that the CSR2 team has managed to pull off.

For example, there was a lot of work that went into replicating some unique car paints, such as the McLaren P1's volcano orange paint. It's a very expensive paint – some people have quoted $225 for just a pint of this paint from dealers back in 2013 –  and it's very difficult for games to render because of its unique properties and the way that it looks in real life.

It takes on different colors based on the perspective it's viewed at. So, NaturalMotion did a lot of work to try and replicate this car paint as realistically as possible. And it looks rather impressive in the game when you get to see it. As well, specific car window decals have been rendered in the game, which NaturalMotion claims is surprisingly difficult to render in games. They did a lot of work to get car tuners such as Rocket Bunny involved with the game, to get their custom vehicles accessible to players. Oh, and all these cars have authentically-rendered interiors, with actual engine schematics faithfully represented. And several cars are in the garage at the same time. Even if you know nothing about cars, it still looks really impressive.

Now, the thing is that CSR2 has an advantage compared to similar racing games in that there's a matter of scope. A game like Forza has to render a detailed race course, and other cars, with artificial intelligence, and complicated physics effects. Whereas the gameplay of CSR2 is decidedly more low-sacle, with the game just being about racing against a single opponent in a short-form drag race. Of course console and desktop racing games have the advantage of more horsepower – pun intended – to power the games, versus the low-heat, low-power-drain processors that most mobile devices use, even if they're getting ever more powerful.

But it's obvious that CSR2 can do so much more visually because it's not trying to do everything these other games are doing.

But that doesn't mean that NaturalMotion has skimped on the game at all, or the production values. The course is now a giant, interconnected 3D map, albeit one that you'll race on for short moments at a time. But it's meant to be a game where you're surrounded by beauty all the time – everything has to look impressive and fascinating, because it's trying to be this important, flashy thing for its players. It's why some of the changes make sense. The adding in of having to drop the clutch in tier 2 and onward, and why the altered shift timing is so key to the game. And the ability to tune cars to find ways to optimize their performance by altering their gear shifting is there for advanced players to stay engaged, to feel like they have more of a say in their performacne.

All these subtle, small changes add a bit more depth to the game, without abandoning the simplicity and accessibility at the core of the experience. But doing well still requires perfect timing, and particularly with the exciting synchronous multiplayer races, there's something to be said about the depth of the game, or at least how compelling simple game mechanics can be. And the clan-like features where you join race crews add to the long-term facets of the game. Getting a cool garage full of rad cars feels good – but maybe there's a bit more of an extrinsic motivation necessary to keep people going. That's certainly what Zynga and NaturalMotion are hoping for, and it's sure to be part of why people would consider jumping from previous CSR games to this – or even from other supercar-collecting games like Real Racing 3, even if the action is more centered around actual racing.

And it's all totally fine if the game isn't the most complex racing simulator ever, because a huge part of the reason that people play games like CSR2 is not so much for the gameplay, it's because they enjoy cars. The cars are what compels them to play in the first place, and it's why they keep coming to car games. There's a lot of people interested in car culture, but the problem is that cars are a very expensive hobby. For many people, the closest that they'll come to regularly interacting with these supercars, much less more common enthusiast cars, is in video games. Or, they find that while they might enjoy car culture in theory, they might not even want to drive, live somewhere where driving is unnecessary or impractical, or have moral qualms against driving for environmental reasons. The virtual solution might be the far superior option for them. I like driving fast in games, but don't enjoy cars.

But for someone who loves cars, I can see the way that NaturalMotion stresses that they want this game to feel special to those enthusiasts. The way that buying a new car in the game is a big deal, and that you get to see the cars inside and out, and customize them to your heart's content. You may never own a top-tier Ferrari LaFerrari, and it may never be practical to you. But maybe working toward owning the most faithful virtual representation in a video game means something special to someone.

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