Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Review copy provided free of charge by the publisher.
Although it never exactly wowed critics, Ubisoft are not ones to give up on a potential franchise that could earn them extra cash, so here we are with a sequel to The Crew. The design motto seems to have been, “more, more, more!” resulting in a game that packs in about as much as it can. But does more mean better? According to Ubisoft, yes. Yes, it does.
For me, the game was at its very best when it embraced its massive map of America. Once you finally buy a hypercar you unlock a few races, but these races have you driving across the digitally recreated country in events that take up to 30-minutes. These are where The Crew 2 excels when it ditches the boring laps, gives you an awesome car and lets you enjoy the ride. It’s just a shame it never abandons the checkpoints completely in favor of giving you a finish line and telling you to get there using whatever route you want. The rest of the time you’re going to be partaking in races that take just a few minutes or more to complete. They’re bite-sized portions, the intention being that you’ll go from one type of event to another in quick succession, but nothing manages to top those epic races in a hypercar.
What I’m getting at is The Crew 2 has potential in spades, but at every turn gets beaten out by the Forza Horizon series or even by Test Drive Unlimited 2. Though I never did play the first Crew, the consensus seems to be that it started out poorly but eventually became something greater. The sequel feels much the same. I can’t predict the future, however, I can only review the present, so let’s delve into a game that wants to be everything but struggles to be something.
So here’s the plot, because commendably The Crew 2 attempts to bring some narrative elements into the racing with very mixed results. You enter the world as an upcoming racer looking to get his or her name out there and find yourself with an opportunity on an extreme sports TV program. From there you’ll work through the four different “families” that focus on various disciplines like street racing, drag, drift, touring cars, motocross, rally raid and more.
Each of these families has their own lead character and a rival driver who is king of the hill, and it’s these idiots you have to put up with. A couple of them have a decent personality and voice actors, but for the most part, none of these people are likable, they’re poorly acted and the writing is just awful. But the worst part is the “XXXXXTREME!” attitude that involves a lot of talking about social media and the kind of lingo that screams of a 40-year-old person trying to be cool. Combined with the iffy voice acting it’s a cringe-fest. Thank goodness you can skip almost every single cutscene, though that does not stop the various characters interjecting themselves mid-race to offer up pointless comments.
Still, to the game’s credit sometimes the extra context can be nice, like how one race has a hypercar as the prize that you want to win for your mentor. Then again, another race has you raising money for a fellow racer who lost everything in a fire, yet you keep the winnings like normal. Weird. There’s a sense that the developers wanted to include more little stories but that they never fully committed to the concept.
The four “families” all represent a bunch of different racing disciplines. The street racers prefer blasting around cities, drag racing and drift events, for example, while the freestyle crew favor aerial acrobatics and monster trucks. All in all, you get a substantial 16 different styles to choose from, and while it might mean having to replay some events over and over you can actually avoid the ones you don’t enjoy entirely. Can’t be bothered with the planes? Never fly ’em. Like, ever.
The handling leans quite heavily toward arcade but with a splash of realism for good measure. A lack of weight to the cars and connection to the road are disappointing but once you get the hang of it slinging cars through city streets is a lot of fun. With good use of the brakes and throttle you can get some nice slides going without needing to use the handbrake, which is good news as the handbrake can sometimes throw you sideways like you’ve just been hit by a rampaging bull. There are also a few driving aids you can adjust in order to give you more control over the cars, which I’d recommend doing. With all those turned on fully it can feel as though your barely doing the driving, but with them turned off the cars become much livelier.
Street races also involve a lot of jumps as the designers get to set up ramps that fire you up onto the rooftops. A bit like the hypercar races that span the map it’s during races like this where the Crew 2 manages to find some personality and embrace its own ideas fully. It’s an arcade racer, so why not have some manic races amongst the more serious ones?
Touring cars also make an appearance and are used on the only true racetracks in the game. They feel nice and grippy with a good chunk of power making them pretty fun to drive.
Drag racing was surprisingly well executed because it’s kept simple. You burn out your tires to lay down some rubber on the road for extra launch grip to start by balancing the throttle. Then, when it’s go time, you hit the throttle, power up through the gears by shifting on the green “perfect” line and finally unleash the boost for some extra oomph. Basically, it all amounts to watching meters and hitting the buttons at the right time, but man does it feel good to smash your records.
Rallycross is also represented reasonably well. Sure, it doesn’t come close to something like DiRT 4 but once again the handling feels pretty nice. The looseness and lack of connection work better here since you’re mostly sliding around on gravel anyway. There’s a great sense of acceleration to the cars, and you can really throw them into the bends.
A bit less enjoyable were the Rally Raids. The idea is sound on paper, at least; you, an off-road bike or car and a load of bumpy terrain between you and the finish. But these off-roading machines aren’t very fast and that lack of connection to the ground once again comes back, resulting in off-road racing that feels tame. Only the occasional big hill and patch of trees really makes you feel like you’re on the edge. It’s more fun if you set out on your own to navigate the mountains and find some of rougher terrain that’s just waiting to be conquered.
Holding back some of the racing, however, is the game’s awful communication as to what can and cannot be driven through. Hitting anything feels like you’re playing the lottery. Will this fence get smashed to bits, or will it just stop you in your tracks? No idea. It’s intensely annoying to have your race brought to a screeching halt because of a small object that looks entirely destroyable but is in fact as solid as the Rock’s muscles. This effects the street races the worst since you’re frequently barreling through stuff.
I’ve not even touched upon the motocross events which are actually pretty good fun, or indeed the monster truck events where you get to drive around a giant skate-park collecting tokens worth points. Of all the events in the game that last one feels like the most tacked on.
Outside of the cars, however, things are much less impressive. Powerboat racing, for example, is utterly boring stuff there’s really no skill needed to navigate the courses; you can just hold down the throttle the whole way. In an attempt to spice things up you can “trim” by pulling back on the stick to gain some extra speed or push it forward to get a little more turning, but I quickly discovered you can just trim almost all the time. Sadly very few of the races take place on anything other than calm waters – if you want some waves you need to head out on the ocean yourself. The only redeeming concept I found was that getting caught in the wake of another boat really slows you down and makes turning bloody tough, so there’s some fun to be had from dodging wakes and forcing opponents into your own wake.
By comparison, sprint-jet boats are so much more enjoyable as the tracks are narrow and twisty, playing into vehicle’s ability to turn on a dime. It’s like racing a go-kart on the water, the bayous and dug-out courses give you plenty of turns to navigate, plus chunks of land that you can power over to potentially gain an advantage.
You can take to the skies now in both acrobatic events and straight-up races in a small selection of planes. Cruising over the truncated recreation of America is a nice way to relax, but the events proper are a lot less interesting. Air races never challenge you, and the acrobatic events are just a case of doing a list of stunts interspersed with brief freestyle sections. The game is a bit naff at realizing when you’ve done a trick, though.
The issue is that The Crew 2 is like the embodiment of so many of Ubisoft’s current problems. It’s bigger and attempts to be everything to everyone, tossing planes and bikes and boats and monster trucks into the typical Ubisoft open-world template. It wants to be everything and winds up being just okay at most of it. The only thing it’s good at is the streetcar handling, but it never excels at anything.
Speaking of the world, it’s vast, a version of America that has been squashed and remolded to fit into a video game which is why there are some places located where they simply shouldn’t be. There are times when this expansive landscape can be beautiful to behold, especially in places like Vegas where the neon lights reflect off the wet roads. And then there are times when it looks kind of crap, the lesser towns and locations having been cobbled together out of assets that look a generation older than everything else. Still, if you don’t look too hard the details, and ignore the awful character models, this can be a brilliant tourism game. It’s nice just to drive around, though you have the option to fast-travel to any event right from the very start. I imagine a lot of people will wind up doing that because there’s nothing to discover out in the world, and there’s a lot of distance between events with only the occasional mini-even between like a slalom to keep you amused.
But that doesn’t stop that huge, kind of empty world being home to some cool moments. You can switch on the fly between your favorite car, boat and plane, and thus you can drive along the edge of the Grand Canyon before racing straight off the side, transforming into a boat and sailing on down the river. Or maybe you’d prefer flying to the top of a mountain before changing into a bike mid-air and riding down the snow-covered peaks. It’s baffling that only a handful of events use this ability to swap vehicles on the go.
To my amazement, Ubisoft somehow managed to wedge a random loot system into the game with every event giving you a selection of color-coded parts. Apparently, this was also in the original Crew. This could have worked if there was a focus on visual components and performance parts that really impacted the vehicles but instead they’re implemented in the laziest way possible with loads and loads of brakes, exhausts and other nonsense that improve your rides by fractions, adding a horsepower here or apparently upgrading the handling, though you’ll never feel it. Sure, the cumulative effect over time will turn your relatively slow machine into something capable of taking on harder events, but you never truly feel or appreciate the new parts. You don’t notice that 1mph extra or the fact that you can now brake ever so slightly better. There’s an attempt to spice things up with higher rarity items, like the purple epics, granting special bonuses such as a meagre 2% increase in Followers gained, but again these bonuses are barely noticeable in the grand scheme of things and so picking new parts is simply a case of selecting the furthest things on the right because they have the best stats.
If you like having a big garage full of cars then you might be a bit annoyed. The game doles out credits at a rate of about 15,000 per race, with new rides typically costing hundreds of thousands, and you’ll need to pick up new ones to access new disciplines. In short, buying a nice car can mean a lot of grinding events, and the cynic in mean can’t help but feel like this was done very deliberately to drive you toward the premium currency that can be bought with real-world money.
Surely with a name like The Crew 2 multiplayer should be a huge selling point. You can group together with a few friends and cruise around but that’s actually about it at the moment. For some reason proper player vs player action isn’t going to be introduced until just before Christmas, and yet you can still see other players driving around – you just can’t do anything other than invite them to a tiny group and do some races together In other words, right now The Crew 2 is a giant single-player game that you cannot play without an internet connection.
Okay, so I’ve come across as pretty negative about The Crew 2 so far, and it does indeed have a lot of serious flaws, but it’s also surprisingly good fun. Sure, the various different disciplines that it attempts to juggle means that it never does any one thing well, yet that’s also what works about it. It’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet; you don’t go for great food, you just go for lots of food and variety. Maybe the boats aren’t the best or the monster trucks need work, but that doesn’t matter so much when you’re going from one to the other without stopping long enough to notice the problems.
Getting down to my final thoughts on the game, then, I have to say that The Crew 2 is a game you should pick up, but only once you can get a chunky discount on it. Launching without full multiplayer implementation feels like a colossal mistake, the loot system feels pointless and there are definitely some design choices made to push people toward coughing up more cash. There’s some messy fun to be had with it, though. Like Forza Horizon 3 there’s a lot of relaxation to be had from just cruising around the roads on an awesome bike or in a beautiful car, and I spent a number of hours blasting over the mountains or changing from a plane to a boat in mid-air. If only it’s multiplayer functions had been fully implemented this could have been so much better.