Since Need for Speed: Underground revolutionized racing games a decade ago, many copycats have come into the market. I’m a big fan of the genre and have dozens of racing games on my tablet, however, to my detriment, it’s very easy to develop and publish on Android, so many of the games that I find are barely playable and most seem to sing from the same hymn sheet — zero innovation.
But now that devices are getting more powerful and the OS can handle more complex graphics and processes, things are certainly getting interesting. Games that would have been impossible just a couple of years ago are easily developed and supported on Android. CSR Racing is such a game. Judging by its appearance, this drag racer has very little to offer. But looks can be deceiving; let’s check it out.
When you first start up CSR, you’re greeted by your agent – a nameless female character who helps you get started. Straight away, you’re plunged into a race in a gorgeous BMW to prove your capabilities as a driver.
You’re immediately thrown into your first race
The game itself looks stunning with graphics far surpassing what you’d expect from a free app. There is virtually no learning curve, making the first race easily passable. You’re then introduced to other aspects of the game.
This being a drag racing game, there is no steering necessary. At first I thought of this as a negative aspect; I usually prefer full-on race titles such as EA’s Real Racing series.
However, that’s not the kind of game CSR is trying to be. It isn’t trying to replicate a console experience here, it just wants to be a fun game. Only having to shift gear and inject NOS — Nitrous Oxyde, once unlocked — makes it a very playable mobile game. There’s no need to be ultra focused or willing to dedicate hours of your time to reach the good parts. And that’s a great feature, considering the fact that the mobile racing genre lacks good playable games.
The ‘crews’ are cheesy and stereotypical
The characters, however, are very cheesy. Most racing games tend to go for the ‘street gangs’ and their racing ‘cred’ but CSR takes this to a whole new level, introducing factions and cliché ‘punchlines’ after you win or lose a race. Encouragement while advancing through the different areas and rank levels is obviously a good way to track the game progression, I just wish I didn’t have to cringe every time I finish a race.
Customize your car
On the positive side, the car selection and customizations in CSR are awesome. As you progress, you unlock in-game currency to buy new cars and customize them. Most main manufacturers are represented such as BMM, Ford and Pagani with all of their best cars. You can select your colour when purchasing a new car, then upgrade the exhausts, suspension and so on.
This is a free game but to a large extent the car unlocking and customization is reliant on real-world-money purchases. But if you don’t mind driving a stock car a while longer, you can grind your way to making more in-game currency by racing more.
Ready, Set, Go!
Hit the gas and change gears at the right time
To get off to a good start, you must tap the accelerator to have the car at optimum revs when the green light shows. This is the only point you use the accelerator. It’s really hard to get it right and can often be the deciding factor in a close race. The ideal rev range changes for each car so the more you advance the harder this gets.
Gear changes too are different for each car, although can largely be determined thanks to lights on the UI indicating when to change gear. And finally, NOS gives your car an extra boost when needed and has saved me from quite a few close encouters.
Visuals and Sounds
As I mentioned above, the graphics in CSR are highly impressive. If we look at just the cars, you can see a high amount of detail, particularly on the wheels and the gloss paint reflecting the city’s lights. And since they are based on real-world cars, the game’s designers had to model them closely to achieve perfection — and that they did.
The environment is stunning too. The camera is somewhat restricted for drag racing but you can still see great texturing on the background and attention to detail in the city’s buildings. In general, menus and info panes are also very well presented. There genuinely isn’t a single visual alteration I would make to this game.
Awesome attention to detail by the designers
Unfortunately, things don’t hold up so well in the audio department. The first minor annoyance is the music. Most racing games at least buy the rights to some audio tracks – however obscure or less well-known. CSR has gone for techno junk that repeats itself over and over again. It gets annoying, fast. Sound effects are no gift from heaven either. Engine revs go through the scale of harmonics harshly so much that stepping on the gas pedal at the beginning of a race sounds like saying do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.
If you have an older Android device (anything pre-2012) then you’re out of luck, because CSR Racing simply won’t run well on it. The graphics are so good that you need to be using the latest devices for the game to play smoothly. But if you’re unsure of your device’s performance, you might as well download it to try because it’s totally free.
I found myself really enjoying CSR Racing even though I initially assumed that I wouldn’t. The developers have paid a lot of attention to detail, which is unusual for a free game. I had no force closures and found no bugs. Overall, CSR is a very entertaining game that’s a must have for racing fans. But don’t expect to settle back and play it for hours on end. Instead, you’ll enjoy a drag race or two for ten minutes and then go back to the real world — which is what casual Android gaming is all about.