There’s a pervading sense of momentum through The Crew 2. No, we’re not just talking about the souped-up cars – although that’s a considerable part of it, of course – but rather everything else; the logo and graphic stings, the soundtrack, the buildings that blur as you rocket past. Stop to look too long in any one direction, however, and you’ll see it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Despite its ambition, there’s a startling lack of depth in The Crew 2.
As you no doubt expect, there’s not much of a story here. You play as a nameless, voiceless rookie, for whom you can select from a range of pretty forgettable faces – male and female – wearing some wholly unremarkable clothing.
As a low-level scrub no-one knows you, but your job is to win races, spicing them up with as many tricks as you can to amaze spectators and bolster your social media following. And it’s that – your social media fame – that ultimately drives The Crew 2‘s XP system, and while it’s a feature that may be relatable for some players, others may find it toe-curlingly tacky.
We’re in the latter camp, unfortunately.
But hey, it’s not about the people, right? It’s about cars, and racing, burning off your competitors and flying over the finish line. Despite your novice status, you’ll soon unlock your numerous homes, offering a portal into the glamorous life of loft-living and huge, cavernous garages in which the camera pans lovingly across the glossy vehicles.
The Crew 2 promised to be bigger and better than its predecessor and it’s delivered that, kind of, by expanding your toys to encompass boats and planes. And to start with, it looks and feels good, the arcade action wholly at home in this bigger, bolder, larger-than-life world; slaloming beneath New York City’s skyline? Loop-the-looping over Santa Monica Pier in a stunt plane? How can anyone not enjoy that?
The Crew 2 isn’t so much about climbing through the ranks to unlock better vehicles, but more about finding the car that’s right for you and improving it by way of MMO-esque upgrades. In one sense this means you can retain your favourite vehicles just as Destiny players, for instance, are able to keep and tweak a gun that perfectly matches their playstyle, but it also hampers experimentation.
If, say, you love your Porsche 911, once you’ve pimped it up and got the suspension and handling just-so, why would you bother with a different vehicle?
You’ll fly through the tutorial levels – even those with zero racing experience will manage it – and after that, you’re often asked just to finish in the top three, a feat that sounds surprisingly straight-forward but is actually curiously difficult to achieve. Even if you’ve dominated the entire race, your competitors are rubber-banded to never to fall too far away from you.
Consequently, one dumb mistake – or an accidental bump into one of the games many inexplicably indestructible fences or benches (often a forced error from trying to avoid the countless idiot bystanders who amble across the street as you’re pelting towards them) – and the race is essentially over.
The racing itself is categorised by street, pro, and off-road racing, with plenty of opportunities for each dotted across the map once you’ve evolved beyond your pitiful rookie status. Added into the mix are also bikes, boats, and planes, and while they’re certainly fun, at least to begin with, we’re not clear what else they bring beyond the novelty factor.
The bikes feel as they always have – loose and a little bit wild, as though you’ll lose control at any moment – and the planes move with all the finesse of a shopping trolley, but boats feel well-tuned and well-balanced, especially when you move into choppy waters.
The gloss wears off quickly, though. Yes, it looks good – the cityscapes, in particular, are painted with care – and coupling the slick visuals with a killer soundtrack pumps you with satisfaction as you burn down the highway skyline. Trouble is, the hook just isn’t strong enough.
The drive > finish race > get followers > level up cycle isn’t strong enough to draw in new admirers to the series, nor is the racing robust enough to appeal to fans of the genre looking for their next arcade racer.
While there’s a good degree of variety across the races, and the different classes of vehicles do make a tangible difference to the way you drive, the cars themselves within the classes don’t feel that much different on the road, which once again hampers experimentation. It’s all a bit limp and luke-warm, dressed up in a loud, slightly uncomfortable suit of obnoxiousness.
Your game needs an always-on connection to the internet, which enables you to see other players in real-time across your map. Bizarrely, though, beyond ad-hoc and informal races, there’s very little you can do with them once they’re there. Developer Ivory Tower promises we’ll see more PvP gameplay by the end of the year, but that’s a long time to expect players to wait for something that arguably should’ve been available from launch.
And it’s curious how despite shrinking the entire US to just 60 miles from east to west, travelling across it can paradoxically feel both accessible and mind-numbingly slow at the same time, too. Though it can be crossed in little over a real-time hour, much of the world has been reduced to cookie-cutter highways and towns that lack depth and individuality. The shallowness of the open world tempers any desire to free-travel from one event to the next, especially as there’s little you can do with the other players you encounter on the way.
Thank goodness for the fast-travel system.
There are other things to do – including a photo mode, a staple now of the Ubisoft brand, it seems – which does break up the monotony, but it’s not enough. Like the glossy cars themselves, it feels as though much has been poured onto the game’s top-coat, with little of substance beneath the surface.
There are a couple of races that see you traverse the map from end to end, but mostly, they’re the same old tasks and races duplicated from city to city.
The live map – which can be zoomed into and out-of to show traffic actually moving – remains a thing of beauty, but the highly stylised top map is bland and boring, a noticeable step back for the series.
There’s also the ability to instantly morph from your plane into a car or boat in mid-air. Laugh-out-loud factor aside, it’s a feature designed specifically for races that – just as a Triathlon has you moving from water to bike to land – requires you to change your vehicle on the fly, but despite its novel conceit, it’s simply not utilised enough in the game, which makes you wonder why it’s there in the first place.
Is The Crew 2 Any Good?
Like many open-world offerings that often come into their own three- or even six-months after release, we suspect that this may be the case here. Right now, however, The Crew 2 lacks its own purpose and identity, as though it’s magpie’d many excellent features but stitched them together in a way that doesn’t yet make sense.
Despite the bolstered vehicular options and the novelty of beaching a boat in Central Park, sadly there’s just not enough here to keep you on the starting grid.