The Crew was always a good idea poorly executed. One of the biggest issues with that first game was the storyline. Part GTA, part Need for Speed, all dire. The good parts of the game were quickly swallowed up by the bits that made you want to stick pins your eyes.
To some, it might seem surprising that The Crew 2 even exists. But it does, and Ubisoft is taking another stab at the open-world racer. This time around things are very different. The Crew 2 is brimming with ambition and a few crazy ideas that could make or break it.
So, is it second time lucky for Ubisoft? Almost. Here's why.
The Crew 2: Welcome to the Motornation
As in the first outing, The Crew 2 is set entirely in the United States and the game world encompasses the whole thing. Obviously, a much-reduced footprint, but all the major cities are in play, landmarks like Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and the Golden Gate Bridge all stand tall and stand proud.
But in The Crew 2, you're not involved in any gritty tales of revenge or underworld activities. In The Crew 2, you're trying to gain as many followers as possible and work your way up the ladder to take on the best racers in the land.
For the better, Ubisoft took The Crew 2 more towards Forza Horizon than it did Need for Speed. The central premise is pure silliness, the voice acting tremendously cheesy. But it's a game that doesn't take itself too seriously, and that's fine. Sometimes a bit of light-hearted fun is all you need. It's not like Forza Horizon is winning awards for it's plot writing, either.
As you level up the map becomes more and more congested, with new vehicle and event types. It becomes hard to immediately identify new things over things you already did, though, because everything stays on the map in the same color, even after the event is complete. But you're never short of something to do.
Motornation isn't just about four-wheeled shenanigans, though. Boats, bikes, planes are all present, alongside some of the most impressive vehicles in the game. The Crew 2 allows you to drive a Red Bull F1 car across the country. It lets you drive around downtown Miami in a monster truck. Or hit 300mph down the Las Vegas Strip.
Ubisoft has put much into making the game world feel as busy as possible, and it succeeds to some extent. Despite being online and open world, you rarely come across other players, and you can't enter into any PvP action against them either. You can crew up with your friends, the clue is in the game's name, but so far that's all you can do. PvP is slated to arrive in a free update in late 2018, but it feels like a glaring omission.
It's also important to remember that this is 100 percent an arcade racer, for better or worse. You can use a racing wheel, though it's hard to say you'll benefit. In The Crew 2 your best chance at winning is being able to drift around corners at high speed and take shortcuts.
But if you're expecting any form of lifelike physics you'll be disappointed. That's not really a knock on the game, it never pretends to be a serious sim, but at times the arcade styling falls flat on its face. Bikes are really bad to play with, and it's too easy to make a tiny mistake that leads to a catastrophic fall down the order. You don't know how much you miss Forza's rewind system until you don't have it.
Progress is at least fairly simple to understand, likewise upgrading your vehicles. If you complete challenges, you earn loot. Loot upgrades your cars, and it's the performance level which dictates whether your car is good enough for each race. It'll be too simplistic for some, but it's very accessible to more casual players, and the fact you can race a Mini against a Lamborghini without getting smoked is fun.
The Crew 2: Breathtaking scenery
Each different area of the game's massive map fairly accurately recreates the real-life areas of the United States. If you look closely, especially at the cities, you'll find things to critique, but equally, they're all just one small part of one large game.
The backdrop in any racing game is usually passed at speed, and Las Vegas is a great example. If you stop and look closely, you might chuckle, but as you're hooning down the strip you'll pass lifelike representations of the famous hotels. The "Win Palace" is clearly the Wynn/Encore hotel pairing, the Eiffel Tower replica at Paris stands tall, and you can drag race down Fremont Street.
It's perhaps in the open spaces where The Crew 2 impresses the most. On the Xbox One X the game hits 1800p and looks very pleasing to the eye. The scenery and open water is superb, the cars both external and internal are well rendered, and the rolling day/night cycle adds atmosphere. It's pretty satisfying just smashing most things out of your way, too, though larger objects bring a most abrupt stop.
The Crew 2 also features changeable weather, but it's a little abrupt in how it comes about and hopefully something Ubisoft will patch. The weather effects turn on and off like a tap. One second it's nice and sunny, the next a torrential downpour. There's a race in the touring car class that takes place in the snow, but as soon as the race ends the snow magically vanishes. It's hilarious.
The open world racing has its pros and cons, too. On the one hand, there's mostly no confines, as long as you hit the checkpoints you can take any route you like. This is best shown off in the Rally Raid challenges which are truly epic treks through the wilderness. But if you don't keep checking your sat nav, it's easy to get lost or just misjudge a turn completely and slam into a wall.
The Crew 2: There's too much going on
While The Crew 2 is fun to play, for the most part, it's not all sunshine and roses. There's way too much going on in this game and it suffers as a result. Anything involving cars, off-road racing or the monster trucks is a hoot, but the rest is woolly and could easily have been cut without making the game worse.
On one hand, credit for showing some ambition and tossing in something new. We don't usually see powerboats or aerobatic planes, so at first glance, it's exciting and new. But, eventually it becomes tiring and tedious, and anything involving a motorcycle is just bad.
This is where some more channelled focus would have made it a better experience for everyone. The novelty of motocross races dies away the minute you try and turn a corner and either crash or have to violently turn the other way to even it out. The lack of proper physics hurts the bike sections the most, and most of the time your character is flopping around
It's not all bad, though. The variety is nice to see, for one. Powerboat racing is probably the best of the bunch, though a slightly awkward control system of holding the left stick pointing down to go faster adds to the challenge. But after a while, the flying feels too samey, and the smaller boats are a nightmare.
Ultimately you can't knock Ubisoft for trying something new, but doing less at a higher standard would always get my vote.
The Crew 2: Bottom line
There's a saying that's probably going to be thrown around a fair bit at The Crew 2: Jack of all trades, master of none. Ubisoft should be rewarded for its ambition, but ultimately ambition has translated into an overly busy experience that's got a little too much going on.
The core elements, that is, the bits that take place on four wheels, are very good. Entirely arcade-y, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately beautiful to look at and fun to play.
- Looks great on Xbox One X.
- Fun to play arcade racer with a smorgasbord of real-life vehicles.
- Epic map size and open game world.
- Straightforward progression model that's accessible and free of a tired storyline.
- Addition of bikes, planes, and boats takes the focus away from the core elements.
- Bikes are rubbish.
- No PvP elements until late 2018.
But when you move away from this, things are a bit messier. The flying sections are OK and generally, the powerboat racing isn't too bad. But the motorcycle parts are pretty rubbish and the jet sprint boats add nothing but frustration. Ubisoft could have cut all this from the game, concentrated on the four-wheeled racing aspects and come out with a very good game.
As it stands the busyness is what drags it back. Racing coast to coast in a hypercar is epic, but having to jump onto a motocross bike or into a boat feels tedious. It's rare to criticise a game for having too much to do, but here we are.
Nevertheless, this is a notable improvement on the first game and most of the time a lot of fun to play. Ubisoft has also been exceptional at supporting its games long term, so who knows where The Crew 2 might be a year or two from now.
This review was conducted on the Xbox One X with a copy provided by the publisher.
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