Big, confident, and stuffed with arcade racing action, but it’s an uneven and unfinished package.
In a lot of ways, The Crew 2 feels more like a reboot of the first game than it does a simple sequel. The dramatic shift in tone is perhaps the key reason for this, though the fact that it’s taken a second swing at recreating the entire continental USA for the setting is another. I welcome the lighter approach to the campaign mode and the fun mix of new vehicle types and racing disciplines here, but it’s still a little rough around the edges and missing some surprising features.
A large amount of content has been added to this open-world race ’em up; most notably, aircraft and boats, plus whole suites of events for each. A lot has been made of The Crew 2’s ‘Fast Fav’ system, which allows us to magically change between vehicles on the fly. It admittedly works really well and I can’t imagine playing without it. The novelty of flying miles above the Earth, turning into a boat and spearing into the ocean does wear off, but there’s no denying it’s tremendously conducive to moving around the world, exploring, and creating ridiculous emergent gameplay moments.
I enjoy the aircraft handling, which is responsive, nimble, and straightforward. There doesn’t seem to be any of the kind of buffeting you get in the likes of say, GTA V, but the well-thought out control scheme is nuanced enough to factor in all the correct control surfaces and flight axes. There’s a button modifier to make the planes extra responsive, so it’s possible to snap into rapid 90-degree banks for cool hesitation turns and knife flights, and quickly roll out of an Immelmann or Split S. It’s not at all sluggish and I enjoy the aerobatic stuff a lot. Certainly more than the air racing events, which are quite boring (they’re just races against the clock; not the kind of wing-to-wing action we get with GTA V aircraft racing). I am a bit disappointed in the speed of the aircraft in general, though. I know it’s nearly 80 years old, but a Spitfire should be faster than a Koenigsegg.
[Fast Fav] works really well and I can’t imagine playing without it.
The boats are good fun. They’re bucked by swells which differ depending on whether you’re blasting across a sedate dam or ploughing through heaving open ocean. I like the jet sprint boats the best. At first I found them almost infuriatingly twitchy, but once I got used to their responsiveness I really warmed to them. They have the most interesting circuits, which tend to be based in small, cramped waterways like swamps, caves, and even casino water features.
But strangely, there’s actually only really a handful of those transform races we’ve seen so much of, where you convert from a ground vehicle to plane to boat all in one event. They occur as special ‘Xtrem’ events and as rival showdowns against each racing discipline’s champion (once you hit 70% completion in the required discipline) but that’s it. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity to take advantage of The Crew 2’s biggest, goofiest idea. Most events simply don’t use it.
Anything involving water is a great showcase for The Crew 2 at its best-looking, from the sloshing waves to the way beads of water speckle and snake across your boat’s bow at high speed. Streets also look excellent when they’re damp, picking up either the low-hanging sun or other urban lighting. Reflections are another big improvement (reflections against environmental surfaces, that is; the less said about the blurry mirrors in cabin view the better). There’s no denying that, at speed, the game can regularly look exceptionally sexy and, to be fair, “at speed” is de rigueur for The Crew 2.
Streets also look excellent when they’re damp, picking up either the low-hanging sun or other urban lighting.
Overall, the presentation is pretty uneven, though. The world still doesn’t really stand up to much stationary scrutiny. A lot of the natural locations look pretty good, like the Grand Canyon under snow and such, but the cities don’t seem that authentic, especially with the same effect. Miami looks absolutely horrible snowed-in, plagued with white pop-in. Is this really what snow in Miami would look like, or the dawn of a new ice age? I’m imagining a meteorologist grimacing at this effect and punching a kitten in disgust.
Things don’t get any better at street level, to be honest, with a lot of vanilla neighbourhoods, plain roads, and a huge amount of repeated, nonsensical storefront signage that appears to have been run back and forth through Google Translate 14 times. A world as large as The Crew 2 has to come with concessions and, despite maintaining reliable performance over several days of play so far, unique, granular detail seems like the necessary sacrifice to make that happen.
At any rate, it all contributes to a feeling The Crew 2 doesn’t really want you to stop and smell the roses; just mash it and crash it. But take care when you do the latter, because the design language for smashables isn’t great either. It’s generally impossible to know if what you’re about to hit will shatter or stop you dead. Some giant chevron signs can be clattered out of the way; others are forged in pure vibranium and cemented into the planet. Hot dog wagons can be tossed into the air like chocolate wrappers and yet some small, temporary fences will be unyielding to your high-speed shenanigans.
I am fond of the new home spaces, though; it’s a little more of that Test Drive: Unlimited DNA re-injecting itself into its spiritual successor. Your personal vehicles look great in your apartment, particularly after you dress them up using the top quality livery editor. The livery editor is super robust and I was able to whip up some cool replicas and original designs with little fuss. Audaciously the game charges us in-game money to download other players’ designs and doesn’t appear to reward designers; I can’t see any info regarding how many times a design has been downloaded, or whether it could have made me money in-game.
With such a big map, it’s a shame there are so few long events that make use of those wide-open spaces. The longest race I’ve encountered in over 24 hours of playtime is a hypercar dash from New York to San Francisco that takes around 40 minutes. It’s probably my favourite event in The Crew 2, but it appears to be the only true long-distance race. There are vast slabs of this game that aren’t really used much at all. The Crew 2 could absolutely benefit from a route creator.
The non-linear progression system works for me, spread across a lot of different racing disciplines, challenges, and exploration goals. I like the ability to get to events quickly via a list in the start menu but the quality of the event types varies quite a bit. Street races, the bread and butter of something like The Crew 2, are generally quite decent. I found the circuit-based races in dedicated track cars less enjoyable, but those races are also crippled a bit by the fact that The Crew 2’s fantasy racing facilities aren’t particularly memorable, or really that distinct from each other.
The Rallycross tracks are hit and miss; they’re quite interesting (particularly the one that incorporates a ski jump into the circuit) and they’re well-suited to The Crew 2’s arcade handling model but they have a glaring flaw in the way they incorporate the real-life format’s Joker lap (a separate section of track each driver must take once per race). That is, the RX courses in The Crew 2 feature a Joker section as a shortcut, and the AI takes it every lap. It’s a bit broken, really.
On AI, the rubber band AI that was particularly egregious in some instances in the original game is back, though a little less pronounced. It’s most noticeable in the transform races and the showdowns against discipline champions, and also the hypercar cross country races. You can dupe it here by hovering in second place and feathering the throttle (the AI will back off with you) before flooring it on the last stretch. It’s cheap but it guarantees you won’t need to redo a 40-minute event unless you choose to.
I don’t get the tingles at the prospect of spending The Crew 2’s end-game replaying events to farm for fractionally better parts.
The whole TV show, world of motorsport premise is a way better fit than the underworld stuff from the original game, but some of the dialogue that’s come with it is truly terrible. I’m still not into the series’ car upgrade loot system, either. I get it’s tied to The Crew 2’s MMO car-PG shtick, but it’s a lot of menu shuffling for zero emotional reward. All I do is hammer the accept button on anything with a higher number. Considering parts can be removed and put on different cars from the same class, could this not be automated? I also don’t get the tingles at the prospect of spending The Crew 2’s end-game replaying events to farm for fractionally better parts for no clear purpose. But that could just be me. In my defence, if someone says Diablo to me, I think Lamborghini – not Blizzard.
Ivory Tower has already stressed that PvP lobbies will be coming to The Crew 2 in December of this year – which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly just around the corner. PvP was featured in the 2014 original at launch, so that’s a big omission for anyone returning. The Crew 2 does feature co-op multiplayer out of the gate, as well as the ability to cruise with friends, but PvP junkies will be left in the lurch for the time being. You also still can’t play it offline, even though you can potentially play the entire game by yourself.
Absent too are the police chases from the original game, despite the now slightly-confusing appearance of one in The Crew 2’s opening CG movie. I wasn’t particularly fond of the pursuit AI back in the first game so I won’t pretend that I miss them – because I do not – so I suppose that’s a good thing.