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Are Mobile Racers Catching Up To Console And PC?

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The statement might sound ludicrious, and so might the source that brought up the question: CSR2, the upcoming free-to-play racing game from Zynga. That developer has borne the brand name of the devil for several years in the eyes of hardcore gamers. Why would they ever make a game anyone besides your mom would care about?

Funny thing about Zynga’s relationship with your mom….it’s on the rocks. Late last decade they were the king of the world at the height of the Facebook game craze with various “Ville” titles (that evidently gave King the notion that every game of theirs had to end in “saga”). But then the same thing happened that’s befallen every publisher that chased casual bucks: the naturally fickle audience moved on to the next cheap amusement, mobile games, and forgot about them. As a result, Zynga has had to go through some massive restructuring in recent years to stay alive.

They’re now trying to appeal to a wider audience than casuals by investing in top of the line graphics. The result is CSR2 and Polygon’s reporter was invited to a demo of the title recently. Zynga has hired AAA developer NaturalMotion to make the sequel to their freemium car game, and the results blew the reporter away, at least graphically:

Again, the attention to detail was shocking — and in some ways, arguably unnecessary. Did NaturalMotion need to model the McLaren P1’s trunk opening? No. Or to work with Ferrari to model the La Ferrari’s interior cloth with hyper accurate colors? Certainly not. But that it did speaks to a love of cars and an appreciation of the licensed vehicles they’re recreating in the digital realm.

“So is this Metal?” I ask, referring to Apple’s technology designed to give game developers more direct, fine-tuned access to the graphics hardware. In fact, it is. Much of what they’re able to do is thanks to that API, he says.

Reil stops to point something out. I lean in. The garage’s fluorescent lights leave streaky illuminated reflections on the car’s hood. He points out that, if you follow those reflections across the car, you can see that they change the hood’s underlying color slightly. This is Metal at work, he says, rendering the reflections through several layers of paint on a car that is not real but, at this point I think, might as well be.

He goes on to point out the game runs at a higher resolution than its console brethren, since he demoed the game on Apple’s iPad Air 2 which has a higher-than-HD pixel count. It’s nice that the game looks so good, but how does it play? He seemed impressed with the simple controls, yet a bit skeptical it could hold his attention for long.

At the end of the day, CSR2 is still a freemium game and its main goal is to get you to buy imaginary cars with real money, as frequently as possible. Until phone and tablet games can support a higher-quality style of gameplay, all the fancy graphics in the world can’t elevate Zynga to AAA status.

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About Peter Paltridge

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