Mobile games don’t generally become vaporware like their console cousins, but CSR Racing 2 was almost starting to have that feel. It was announced, in the works for a while and then in soft launch for quite some time as well.

It turns out that the first game that NaturalMotion has produced since becoming part of Zynga was worth the wait. While it’s still drag racing, and thus might not interest people interested in seeing cars do things other than go in a straight line, CSR Racing 2 is visually stunning and offers enough gameplay improvements that it should easily hook everyone who enjoyed its predecessor and a bunch of new fans to boot.

CSR Racing 2 gameplay

The general framework in CSR2 is more or less the same. A story gives you a reason to be drag racing through some very gorgeous scenery, making your way up the ranks through five increasingly more difficult groups of opposing racers. Beat four henchmen and you can take on the boss, who needs to be defeated three times. Topple the boss a fourth time in a special race and you win his or her ride to use in the next tier of races.

In-between races, there’s a constant cycle of self-improvement of the automotive variety. Seven different parts of each car can be upgraded to five stages (six with special parts), meaning there’s almost always a way to make your car faster. A new level of strategy comes into play with a tuning system that allows tinkering with nitrous, gear ratio and tire pressure, allowing you to sacrifice acceleration for more raw speed — important for the half-mile races the game occasionally throws at you — or vice versa.

CSR Racing 2 garage

A wide range of cosmetic enhancements is also available, including paint, rims, custom liveries and more. A freshness bonus rewards you for switching up the look of your vehicles each week, providing even more reason to get creative.

It’s fair to say the cars look pretty impressive even before you do anything to them, as NaturalMotion delivers on its promise to up the ante on the game’s visuals. The lighting and reflections are especially eye-catching, and provided your phone or tablet has enough oomph under the hood, you can even open the doors, hood and trunk. Purchased cars roll off the truck into your garage, making this as close as you can get to owning an insanely expensive fleet of high-performance vehicles without a ten-digit net worth.

The primary game mechanics of timing the launch just right and shifting at the proper times have also been adjusted to make them more accessible while still challenging. Gone are the system of lights from CSR Racing, replaced by a zone on the tachometer at which you have to keep the needle in the green. It’s similar to the approach taken by other games in the genre released since the previous title, and it works well.

CSR Racing 2 crew stats

At some point, the need to grind out races to afford upgrades or a new car does set in, but it’s mitigated somewhat by new social features — mostly crews, this game’s answer to alliances or clans — and game modes. The “Live Race” mode could be the killer feature, as it is true, real time multiplayer that worked splendidly during soft launch, but it’s too early to tell if the same will be true now that the game is live everywhere.

If players take to it, CSR Racing 2 could end up as the rare sequel that improves upon the original in every way. This ride may have taken its sweet old time being delivered, but now that it’s here, don’t be surprised if you have a hard time letting go of the wheel.