The cr ew 2
For Ubisoft’s hugely ambitous racer it’s a case of planes, growing pains, and automobiles
Is it a boat? Is it a plane? Wait, it just turned into a car and fell out of the sky… What’s happening?! Get ready for the most freedom-filled driving open-world game ever, where even your vehicle doesn’t follow the rules of the road… or physics.
Ivory Tower would have you believe that this is a racing game about three distinct disciplines: cars, boats, and planes. But it actually goes deeper. So deep, in fact, that after a few minutes inside its infectiously thrill-obsessed world you wonder whether the devs haven’t thrown in Segways and conga lines for good measure. Blitzing the Pacific coast highway on a superbike at F-Zero speeds. Flying under Golden Gate Bridge upside down in a stunt plane, pupils pin-sized with concentration. Narrowly missing rock after rock in a sprint boat, then transforming into a Citroën WRC car with a tap of the right analog stick when dry land approaches. If you can dream a particular mode of transport tearing up a patch of America, you can make it happen in The Crew 2. And if this was all there was to it, just a sandbox of vehicles and a huge world map, it would still be a very good game.
And after listening to a few excitable voiceovers bleating about gaining more social media followers in career mode, the thought does cross your mind that it might even be a better game. Grating as the tone can be, though, it’s better suited to an experience such as this than the first Crew’s bizarrely gritty revenge yarn. Instead of another undercover cop caper for the sequel, Ivory Tower wisely embraces a more lighthearted approach and builds a quasi-narrative around the accumulation of reputation and followers – think Forza Horizon with a few more exclamation marks. It does the job, and narrative was never going to be of tremendous importance in a game where the world folds in half as you change from a car to a plane.
Speaking of improvements on the first game, let’s talk handling. It was a notable weak spot before, lacking responsiveness; that satisfying squirliness of holding a car right on the limit through a corner. And it’s better now. Definitely better, and definitely impressive for the range of
vehicle types it simulates. But, as a by-product of the many vehicles available here, slightly uneven.
Street racing, touring cars, buggies… anything with four wheels, really, feels just marvellous to control. There’s some top-notch controller feedback programming and sound design going on every time you get behind the wheel, lending a deeper sense of connectedness to the car than the original could ever offer. You do have to take down the traction control quite a bit to unleash it, though: on default assist settings, with the car practically driving itself, it feels stiff and unsatisfying, like a sandwich you forgot about then tried to eat upon finding three hours later. We imagine.
Boats… Well, boats are as enjoyable as it’s possible to make boats, we suppose. In the absence of real twists and turns (because you’re in open water) the challenge and gratification is instead found by picking ultra-efficient lines between waypoints and gunning it with the left stick cocked back for a touch extra speed. Highly rubber-banded AI does its best to make the racing close, as in other disciplines, but it can’t match land events for sheer enjoyment. While they might lack in high-octane competitive jostling, however, boats make a fine mode of virtual tourism transport. Journeying up the east coast from Florida to New York, dynamic day/night cycle rolling through magical dawn to cosmic night, you’re glad of aquatic transport’s inclusion.
Taking to the air is a real pleasure in free roam mode, too. The detail of the world below you scales very well at higher altitudes, retaining the atmosphere of each location, weather scenario, and time of day. The stunts you pull – loops, knife edges, flying upside down and at low altitude – feel limited after a couple of hours, but the scenery’s always there to keep your interest. Then there are the bikes. These feel like they’ve spent the least time in Ivory Tower’s game-baking oven, thrilling and preposterously behaved in equal measure. Street and superbikes are sheer dumbed-down fun at 180mph, particularly with the first-person camera. Dirt bikes, however, just don’t feel quite right yet. Their turning circles and in-air behaviour, along with rider animations, look and feel unnatural and a touch work-in-progress. That’s reasonable at this stage, of course: the game’s literally a work in progress.
It’s a living
Few games offer this many transport types, and none do so with the added deal-sweetener of swapping between them mid-race. We’d expected that The Crew 2 might make more of that feature
“there’s something new and undiscovered in the toybox; something to work for”
in its career mode, but multi-vehicle races were rare in the first four hours of career mode that we played, triggered only when we levelled up in popularity. It feels more like a free roam treat than a core component of career mode racing, and frankly we’re fine with that.
Structurally, career mode works in a similar way to the first game – event types are split by vehicle type and discipline, and new disciplines are unlocked by gaining popularity. Which you do by winning races, duh. Complete the first tier of street races and you’ll unlock drift events (which feature a fantastic handling model, something very few games succeed in with their drift modes). Nail the first few off-road buggy races and motocross becomes available. In this way, it always feels like there’s something new and undiscovered in the toybox; something to work for.
The central quandary of The Crew remains the same in this sequel as in the first game, though: does it make full use of that fantastic – honest-to-goodness fantastic – world map in its events? We haven’t played enough yet to make that call, but it’s obviously been a big focus for Ivory Tower, evidenced by the breadth of vehicles and disciplines. And the worst case scenario is that you’ll have to look for the best journeys yourself, crafting road trips by dropping a waypoint somewhere and venturing yonder by land, air, or sea.
Street cars look beautiful inside and out: should you ever venture to use the cockpit cam you’ll find high-detail trim. Give it a go, and marvel at your super-shiny car.
Routes for races are much more imaginative than in the original, making better use of verticality and landmarks. It’s naturally massively more exciting.
We hope there’s a service station coming up some time soon – we’re dying for a Wimpy and a bag of Percy Pigs.
Ubisoft’s technical prowess at building vast open worlds shows through in every horizon – it’s a map you want to explore for exploration’s own sake. The number of licensed cars is greatly expanded since the original – and licensed bikes, boats, and planes join them in the garage. Determined to offer something fresher than tired old urban circuit racing, elevated race layouts like this feel like a new challenge. Seatbelts on, mind.
AI drivers might be rubber-banded slightly too much at this stage – they’re a menacing pack in your mirrors throughout.