It’s fair to say that The Crew didn’t set the critical world alight, its blend of story driven open world racing struggled to catch the attention of a mass audience. However, developers Ivory Tower stuck with it and by the end of the DLC release schedule had turned around a number of problems and were enticing gamers back in. We might have thought that was it, that the idea of continental racing was done, but it’s obviously not. The Crew 2 lands with a different approach to the racing as well as ditching the story elements, but can it pull in the players and keep things interesting?
With this time no one caring about Alex Taylor and his murdered brother or escaping criminals and the police, the focus shifts to pure racing. Though it’s a little bit like Ubisoft had seen that Watch_Dogs 2 worked better than the first and assumed that it was the millenial positioning that drove players in that direction. They’ve overhauled The Crew 2 so that it’s all about the YouTube/Instagram/Twitter generation where the number of followers determines how successful you are. It’s tries to be achingly cool, and probably is a fair representation of how things are actually going in the fringe vehicular sports that the game covers. See, it’s not just about track racing or point-to-point sprints, things get extreme across land, sea and air.
The Crew 2 is built around taking part in multi-disciplined race and score events in a variety of real world vehicles in a shrunken but geographically realistic USA. It’s a huge open world map. Huge. And genuinely open too, pretty much from the start. Get through the training race which showcases the ability to transition from car to boat to plane at will (through some pretty funky Inception style effects to be fair), and it’s then entirely up to you what you do from there. You’re rewarded with a mode of transport from each class and the ability to take part in any of the events that fit your rookie status. Or you can just head off towards the horizon and see what you find out there. It’s entirely possible to spend hours cruising the roads and not actually taking part in an event, so it’s a good job that there’s a quick select menu that works as fast travel.
Each successful race, time trial and stunt completion nets you followers, and building those moves you up through the ranks and enables access to more events and disciplines. It drip feeds these at quite a nice rate, usually just when you’ve exhausted the list of new races. The downside is that in most cases you need to buy a new ride to take part and these are pretty expensive. Beginner events net in the region of 15,000 credits, but you’ll be looking at a cost in excess of 200,000 for the majority of the vehicles needed for taking part in the next tier of competition – assuming you don’t go for anything exotic which will be significantly more expensive. Alongside the in-game earnings are the microtransaction funded Crew Credits which can be used to pay for things instead, and when you combine with the number of vehicles on offer and the cost of them, makes you realise they intend to milk you if you want to avoid the grind. It’s disappointing to say the least.
That said, you don’t actually have to fork out anything above and beyond the natural progression if you don’t want to. Each event completion throws you parts that can be fitted to the vehicle you won in and improve its performance. It’s a lite loot system that encourages a bit of experimentation to kit out your wheels with the occasional perk and tweak, and still stay competitive as the difficulty mounts up. There are options when an event is selected to pick either the easy or hard version with the payouts being different, but the minimum recommended level of your car will determine whether you stand a chance or not. Expect additional grind to improve performance enough to go for hard mode. Parts only come from events too, though there’s plenty in the way of distraction out in the US wilderness to keep you occupied chasing cash bonuses. From photoing landmarks and animals to ramming buoys in lakes, there’s at least a decent variety of things to do outside the racing that makes the world seem worthwhile. Plus, it’s a Ubisoft open world game, so what do you expect?
With three locomotive methods available in a game aiming for arcade over simulation, it’s a bit hit and miss on the handling – mostly with the cars. They don’t feel connected to the road, and before any mods, most of the performance cars seem to skate around rather than grip and turn. Take it off road and things improve, and the Rally Raid events are a fun jaunt across open countryside without a fixed course. Head into the rivers and ocean and the boats are surprisingly good fun when you get the hang of trimming for speed. Soaring into the air is probably the closest that things get to a sim with you having to manage pitch, throttle and rudder to pull off spectacular aerobatic feats. It’s still not Flight Simulator territory because it has to make it easy to fly inverted 3 feet from the ground and earn those precious fans, yet it feels the most complex of the vehicles to control.
Because it’s a racing game the major wheels are all supported, and it features possibly my favourite calibration method so far – overlaying the fine tuning whilst you’re driving. It really helps nail the settings for your particular style. However, the wheels don’t work with the flying (obviously), and there are first person sections too which can only be done with a controller, so half the time you’re sat in front of your wheel using a pad. The Crew 2 being a massive open world and having events spread over hundreds of virtual square kilometres means fast travel is essential, and this is where Ivory Tower have taken a leaf from Steep’s book. It’s pretty much instantaneous whether you’re selecting a point on the world map to move to, or jumping straight to events, and transitioning from ground to sea to air at the flick of a stick is genuinely an impressive trick to pull off. Of course, the graphics suffer slightly with a lower level of detail, though once you’ve grown accustomed to that it’s not something that bothers you. It all sounds alright too when racing, the voiceovers are decent enough, and everything you drive is realised beautifully… much more so than the world being driven through.
A key selling point of The Crew 2 is the shared open world. It’s always online and whenever you dive in you’re likely to find other real life people trundling around looking for some fun… but never to find it. Others in the world only ever seem to appear as ghosts (or at least as far as I encountered), and there seem to be no options for interacting with them. The only online elements that connected with anything at all was the mini challenges like setting a top speed or longest drift – and then that was only against people on my friends list with the game. It’s frankly bizarre. Apparently there are co-op challenges if you join up with someone from your friends list, though that’s useless if you’ve no friends playing it. Here we have a huge persistent world where you have to be online and will see loads of other players in your game, yet it’s main focus seems to be single player. I don’t have a problem with that as most of my gaming is me being antisocial, but I dislike a game that demands I have to remain connected even though there’s no in game need to do that. Forget using rest mode with this – it’ll dump you back to the main menu then crash on you if you even think about it.
So there’s the grind to gain followers and loot, the heavy handed guide towards microtransactions, the online requirement that doesn’t seem necessary, and some not quite great handling mechanics. On top of this there’s a severe case of rubber banding in races that means your skills are pointless in a lot of cases. I lost count of the number of times I was dropped from 1st to 4th in the final few yards of a race I’d dominated most of. Then, tackling some circuit racing, you can end up being nearly a lap ahead of the rest of the field. It’s not consistent enough for you to counteract or manage and can end up being pretty frustrating. At least not everything is a full grid race and it gets broken up with time trials and score attacks.
There are moments to be enjoyed in The Crew 2. Blasting down the Las Vegas strip or skimming under the bridges of LAs spillways can be satisfying. Setting off from one coast and switching up driving, flying and powerboating to get to the other side can be nicely relaxing. Hunting down photo targets can suck up time trying to find the landmark that needs snapping. Unfortunately it manages to do so many things the wrong way that it steadily siphons the fun out of the tank.
A PS4 review copy of The Crew 2 was provided by Ubisoft’s PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC for around £45… though it’s already popping up with significant discounts if you keep an eye out.