Open-world racing games are hit-or-miss efforts, no matter how expansive the asphalt playground. Developer Ivory Tower has been working hard since the original game burned up the road. They’re taking another swing at the genre with the sequel: The Crew 2. With nearly a four-year absence between the two games you’d expect a suite of improvements and enhancements, which are present, though the experience remains largely the same.
Now, consistency doesn’t have to be detrimental in the pursuit of innovation, but it does require a fair bit of craft for everything to come together. The Crew 2 has no shortage of stuff to keep fans occupied with the usual sports cars, with speedboats, motorcycles, and stunt planes eagerly tossed in to prop up the experience. Again, it’s about earning reputation, cash, and climbing up the discipline ladder in order to topple dominating rivals.
There is no plot to actually speak of and does little to compliment the setting that The Crew 2 attempts to portray. The motivation for doing events is to promote yourself for a nondescript social media network. Followers are the only metric that matters and they’re earned by winning races, performing stunts, driving dangerously, along with dozens of other activities that will guarantee your counter keeps ticking upwards.
I’m not certain that this change in narrative is to address the similarities the previous game had to Need for Speed, or a focus group-derived attempt to market to millennials, but its vapid and just plain banal in scope. I could go on a tirade but Forza Horizon 3 basically did the same thing, except better executed.
The United States returns in condensed form. It’s a good approximation as you can travel from New York City to Los Angeles in roughly 45 minutes time, which is unchanged from the last game. Fortunately, the environment size still feels relatively vast and is probably the best thing about The Crew 2. Imagine aimlessly driving around in a Maserati Gran Turismo S checking out some famous landmarks and changing scenery, it’s oddly satisfying.
Another joy is how seamless the transition can be on the fly between land, sea, and air. This is theoretically fantastic as swapping supercars for a helicopter can happen on your whim, what isn’t so immensely great is how disjointed the added modes of transportation don’t translate to fun.
The car dynamics are forgiving and arcade-like as it’s supposed to be, but navigating a badass speedboat over choppy water feels like a belabored chore that falls short of thrilling. Motorcycles — especially motocross bikes — lack anything relating to fluid movement and comes off as unnaturally stiff to control, while aircrafts feel leisurely but precise for pulling off tricks.
Most of these rides aren’t necessarily terrible but the lack of activity in cities, inconsistently drab visuals, and sense of speed doesn’t promise outright excitement. There are moments such as piloting a plane through the Grand Canyon or barreling down a rally mountain course in a Mercedes-Benz X-Class pickup. These pleasures aren’t uncommon but are too fleeting to fully appreciate in presentation.
Going alone means challenging AI opponent who have an annoying habit of rubberband mechanics when it’s suitable, this will infuriate many players because it’s really obscene at higher difficulties and can’t be helped if you’re a devout completionist — or seen as an unintentional homage to old-school racing games.
The multiplayer component is surprisingly sparse considering how the point of The Crew 2 is centered on community, at the moment you can build up a crew and race against or participate in various event in a group, but it doesn’t go any farther than leaderboards right now. There are other users cruising the streets but they can’t be challenged to a race, unless you go to the trouble of inviting them to your crew first or a lobby system to organize your acquired friends or even PvP. Long story short: the online matchmaking is definitely a work-in-progress.
The Crew 2 echoes the social media and focus groups that Ubisoft is marketing towards. This is a sequel that enthusiastically wants to do more and be more, held together by an miniature recreation of the United States and smorgasbord of different vehicles to play with. But this game repeats its predecessor’s mistakes by being unprepared for launch, largely with the mediocre online experience that will eventually improve with post-launch updates. In the meantime there’s always Forza Horizon 3.