Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s 2014 release of The Crew didn’t exactly take the world by storm. The ideas within this first open world driving effort from the publisher were commendable though. The Crew gave players a persistent open world environment set in a scaled down version of the United States and then set players loose in both single player and multiplayer environments with a ton of challenges and events to tackle. With The Crew 2, Ubisoft has ditched the story underpinnings of the original, while retaining the massive open world and many activities to participate in. Your new objective, climb the ranks of Motorsports elite, gaining fame and notoriety. It’s not an entirely fresh premise for the genre, but a step in a new direction for the franchise nonetheless.
The good news is that they’ve ditched the Fast and the Furious storyline
While the original game saw you infiltrating a criminal organization under the guise of being a street racer, this time around you’re simply a driver looking to make a name for themselves in the world of underground, professional, off-road, and free style racing disciplines. Within these factions you’ll tackle different events that have you piloting a wide range of cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and planes in events that range from standard racing, to acrobatic challenges, drag racing, and score attack modes. Complete events and challenges and your character will earn fame and cash. Fame is increased by completing objectives and performing tricks when piloting or driving the game’s many vehicles. Getting more notoriety will allow you to unlock new vehicles within each faction and the cash is used to buy said vehicles and upgrade them. Where the original game focused only on automobiles, Ubisoft has cast a wider net with The Crew 2. These new air and sea vehicles definitely offer more gameplay diversity, even if it ultimately feels like this decision has watered down the experience as a whole.
On the gamplay front, The Crew 2 falls somewhere in the wide berth between arcade and simulation racing. While the game features traits of each, it never fully commits either way. For simulation purists, the loose controls, unrealistic braking, high-speed cornering and nitrous on every vehicle are going to seem comical. Damage modeling is limited and regardless of whether you torpedo into an object at 170 mph or 30, you’re going to be leaving with little more than a scratch. For arcade racing fans, The Crew 2 doesn’t lean in hard enough to the absurdity. The Crew 2 always tries to stay somewhat grounded in realism, and Ivory Tower probably could’ve had something that was a lot of fun to play had they abandoned all notions of reality in terms of driving mechanics. It’s pretty clear that Ubisoft wants The Crew 2 to appeal to as many people as possible by the making the game easy to pick up and play. While this is true, The Crew 2 lacks depth in mastering the different racing disciplines with only a handful of exceptions as there isn’t much to learn from vehicle to vehicle other than some slightly nuanced controls.
Neither simulation or arcade style racing
That said, there’s a lot to see and do in the opening hours of The Crew 2. Progression in the game is non-linear and it lets you tackle things how you want to, for the most part. It’ll take you quite a few hours of racing to see all of the different vehicles and activity types, though you can jump right into the core racing in automobiles, planes, and boats right away. The massive United States world map is littered with events to participate in, and global challenges to tackle. There are multiple types of events that you’ll find here. Main Event races, Rival Events, Skill Challenges, and Live Extrem Series races. Main Events come in a number of forms and will be found in multiple colors that correspond with each discipline. The rewards for winning these are followers, bucks, and car loot which are customizations that drop after the conclusion of a race if you’ve met winning criteria. This usually comes down to placing in the top 3 or reaching a certain score. Back to the disciplines, each of the disciplines features a Faction HQ on the map. There’s one for Professional, Off-Road, Freestyle, and Street Racing. With each new level of fame that the player reaches they can then unlock more and more races. Once you’ve completed 70% or more for a specific faction, you can then participate in a Rival Event that has you trying to beat the best racer of the faction with the reward being a unique vehicle. Running parallel to this progression system is the Live Extrem Series. This unlocks in “episodes” which correspond to your rise in rank. These races have you transitioning between different combinations of the available vehicle types.
Completing all of this stuff can be done in a couple of ways. You can either take a top down approach to doing things where you view the world map and complete challenges by travelling directly to the race, at which point you basically spawn in the starting gate. Or, since The Crew 2 is an open-world, you can approach it from the ground level stumbling upon these items on your own or plotting courses to them and physically driving there. The benefits of doing the latter is that you can also earn more followers by free roaming in the world performing dynamic freestyle actions or completing challenges (like speed traps) all the while giving you an opportunity to also run into other players. The Crew 2 is a shared world experience, where many of the activities in the world can be tackled cooperatively. It pretty much says it all in the name. You can form a crew in The Crew 2, selecting other players from your friends list to join you in cooperative racing. All challenges other than the Live Extrem events can be played with friends for a total crew size of 4 players. Working together, players obviously have a greater chance of winning. While this might seem more necessary for the higher difficulty version of an event, the normal difficulty events did not seem to be a problem for the solo player and we had events that seemed comically easy with A.I. who seemed to be waiting for us to pass them despite having numerous crashes on our part.
Automobile racing is the best of the three disciplines
The actual driving of automobiles in The Crew 2 isn’t horrible. We’ve needed a new Need For Speed style game and The Crew 2 is essentially a better version of last year’s Electronic Arts effort of Need For Speed without all the egregious microtransaction stuff — when it comes to cars. While there’s still ample opportunity to spend additional cash in The Crew 2, all items are available through either of the game’s currencies. It feels like Ubisoft’s other games in terms of their downloadable content strategy. You can earn anything by playing the game, but if you want to take a shortcut you can fork over more cash to do so. In cars and trucks you’ve got numerous types of races and vehicles to do them in. You can drag race, compete in checkpoint racing with various classes, you can race off-road, Motorcross, or tackle obstacle courses and challenges. The world is a handpicked selection of iconic American locales, these include San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York City, and others. While you can certainly discern which location is which, these are by no means meticulously recreated areas so much as they are scaled down interpretations. For those that I was very familiar with: Chicago, New Orleans, New York, and Las Vegas all felt as if someone at Ivory Tower took a bunch of pictures from these locations and then randomly populated these cities with the landmarks you’d expect to see. Regardless, it pulls off the effect of condensing a cross country drive that would take 40+ hours into 30 minutes while retaining some semblance of the real thing.
Driving cars is probably the only thing about The Crew 2 that can stand on its own. Boat racing and flying planes aren’t something that have deep enough gameplay mechanics to make a game around and they offer very little other than filler, or potential progression hurdles. My progression path generally followed this pattern: Complete all the driving segments available and then go back and play boating and plane events to gain enough followers to progress to the next stage and unlock more driving events. Perhaps this won’t be the case for all players, but I just didn’t find these events to offer much variety, nor did I feel engaged enough to want to complete them all to further customize boats or planes. For a game that is essentially built around three pillars, only one of the pillars feels structurally sound.
Customization in The Crew 2 is pretty robust in just about every area. Players can customize their vehicles in a number of different areas, from performance to looks, there’s plenty to spend on with the spoils of victory and that further funnels down into avatar tweaks. The game currently features over 250 vehicles from sea, air, and ground classes which can all be tuned to your liking. Most of this customization comes while at your home garage. There you can purchase new vehicles and upgrades, and also peruse your entire collection. Some customization can be done on the fly as well. After almost every event you’ll be rewarded with some sort of loot for the car you’re driving and this can be applied to your vehicle while you’re out on the road by accessing the main menu and applying these loot upgrades to any of your vehicles. You can also go in to the garage and select any car to take into the open world. If you want to cruise the world of The Crew 2 in a Monster Truck you can totally do that. Want to hunt down Speed Trap challenges with a drag racer? You can do that too. A lot of the customization that you’ll be doing in The Crew 2 will come from loot that is earned in races and this stuff has different rarity levels and colors associated with the levels. For anyone that has played a loot based game in recent years, it’s pretty self explanatory. The more rare a part is, the more it’s going to enhance the performance of the vehicle. The highest tier parts, called AFFIX, will offer additional boosts that affect things like loot quality, more loot drops, nitro replenishment, or gameplay modifiers. There’s plenty to sink your teeth into in terms of progression and collection in The Crew 2 and the systems are fairly easy to understand and unfold naturally for the player.
The Crew 2 is consistently inconsistent
If you’re taking advantage of the visual customization options in the game, you’re likely also looking to show your work off to the world. The Crew 2 also has feature rich set of photo and video capture tools that can be accessed at any time. The game is constantly capturing your most recent activities and if something incredible happened you can edit videos of a race or time period in multiple cinematic views. The in-game photo editor also allows you to capture the beauty of your designs and the game world as there are plenty of scenic moments to experience in the game whether that’s racing through the Grand Canyon, whipping through Times Square, or speeding through the Fremont Strip in Las Vegas. To further leave your mark on the world, all of the challenges and events have global and friend-based leaderboards attached to them. So you can spend your time perfecting a specific challenge to claim a world record, or just do well enough to beat your friends.
Unfortunately, the progression systems of the game are only as fun and engaging as the game itself and The Crew 2 is about racing and the freedom of the open world. The sheer size of the world and the manner in which Ivory Tower has carved out tons of unique missions like treasure hunts, challenges, and main events into the diverse American landscape is once again commendable. Though it’s often easy to notice just how empty and lifeless the game world is. While Ivory Tower tries at times to breath some life into it by adding voiced dialogue and some backstory for the actual race events, they never commit fully to it and feels like a missed opportunity. Even the small amount of flavor that they add to some events in terms of backstory is enough to break some of the racing monotony though it’s all pretty vague. Moment to moment though there are some incredible visuals to be seen and with such a large map there are a ton of diverse race experiences to be had. Couple that with some impressive lighting and decent car models and there are spots where The Crew 2 shines. However, the game is constantly flip flopping between looking like a handcrafted masterpiece and something that has randomly generated and generic settings. This overall feeling of inconsistency makes The Crew 2 feel like not so much a bad game, rather one that hasn’t quite yet reached its potential.
Jack of all trades, master of none. The Crew 2 is ultimately a more enjoyable experience than the first game, but one that also buckles under its own broad ambition.
The Crew 2
- Available On: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
- Published By: Ubisoft
- Developed By: Ivory Tower
- Genre: Racing
- US Release Date: June 29th, 2018
- Reviewed On: Xbox One
- Quote: "Jack of all trades, master of none. The Crew 2 is ultimately a more enjoyable experience than the first game, but one that also buckles under its own ambition. "