Shut up and drive
The Crew was an acquired taste. If you put in the time to max out your favorite cars with the best gear and you stuck around long enough for the updates and expansions, it was a gem of a game. Real comfort food. But, most people I know never made it that far. They understandably bounced off.
In a lot of ways, The Crew 2 feels less like a sequel and more like a do-over. There are still loads of cars and traditional street races, and you can still head out on a coast-to-cast road trip across Ubisoft’s greatest-hits rendition of the United States of America. But now, you’re less restricted. At the simple click of a thumbstick, your car can seamlessly transform into a boat or a plane, opening up some ridiculous opportunities to goof off with friends and strangers in the shared open world.
As much as I appreciate Ubisoft taking another crack at this concept, The Crew 2‘s broad scope leaves it feeling unfocused and unrefined at times. It’s not quite the clear-cut improvement I hoped it’d be.
The Crew 2 (PC, PS4 [reviewed on PS4 Pro], Xbox One)
Release: June 29, 2018
The original game’s overly serious revenge tale has been ditched in favor of something far more easygoing. The Crew 2 adopts a much friendlier tone and splits itself up into four distinct families, each with their own progression path and loosely themed activities. That means if you don’t want to muck around with boats or planes, for the most part, you don’t have to. You play as an anonymous racer dreaming of fame and fortune, so instead of earning XP for pulling off cool tricks or winning races, you earn followers. The bigger your following, the more events you’ll unlock with all four families.
Here’s a quick rundown. The Street squad includes standard street races, drift challenges, drag racing, and the tense-as-hell hypercar events that’ll have you soaring across state lines in 20-minute-plus tests of endurance. The Offroad family plays fast and loose, a style that lends itself well to the open-ended map. They’ve got rally raid, motocross, and rally cross. The Freestyle folks host trick-centric events like aerobatics, jet sprint, and monster trucks, the latter of which is a true highlight. You get to do flips, spins, and loops in a gigantic skate park. It’s the best! Finally, there’s Pro Racing. This family rounds out the pack with disciplines like powerboat, touring car, air race, and alpha grand prix.
As for the story, it’s little more than cookie-cutter fluff. I felt zero attachment to any of the characters in any of the families, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to hammer your way through the cutscenes that pop up from time to time. The game is perfectly happy to let you skip them. Like its predecessor, The Crew 2 is about making your own fun. This is a driving sandbox, plain and simple. So even if the story is totally forgettable, I can’t say I mind. I’m just glad it doesn’t get in the way.
Needless to say, The Crew 2 has a lot going on. There are also quick skill challenges like slalom and escape, special Live Xtrem Series races with mid-match vehicle swaps, and photo hunts that send you all around the map to snap pictures of wildlife or landmarks. It seems Ubisoft wanted something for everyone, but it didn’t necessarily devote the same amount of time and energy into every facet.
At first glance, The Crew 2‘s scrunched United States map looks similar to the first game’s, but it’s not an exact replication. The up-close details have changed, partially to account for players’ ability to travel by air and sea. Some cities like Las Vegas are just spectacular with the new lighting effects. Others feel less lively and lived-in than they should. They’ve lost a touch of their personality. While the sequel does look better overall, rural areas are still much too sparse in a generic-open-world sort of way. I could overlook those flaws in The Crew, but it’s harder to let them slide a second time. There are also semi-regular issues with trees and vegetation popping in. For me, it’s a mild distraction.
Aside from bad signposting in offroad challenges and occasional wonkiness with tricks not registering, I enjoyed most of the events (at least when the AI wasn’t back on its rubber-banding bullshit). It’s tough to put a microscope up to every type of vehicle, but I’ll at least cover the basics.
The car handling, in general, feels like an immediate step up from the first game. It sits in this middle ground between arcade and sim racing, with some nitty-gritty customization options that let you lean a bit more in the latter direction if you prefer. As you earn loot drops for your vehicles and kit them out with incrementally better parts, things only improve from there. On that note, the process of swapping in new equipment has been greatly streamlined. It now only takes a matter of seconds.
Boats and planes control more or less like you’d expect. Some handle better than others, but they all feel generally consistent when placed alongside The Crew 2‘s car physics. The bigger boats have a nice weight to them, and I like that you have to account for waves. Planes, on the other hand, tend to be more hit or miss. The ones designed specifically for aerial tricks are nimble yet nuanced enough to be satisfying; the ones built for speed lack maneuverability and often leave me frustrated.
After a few days with The Crew 2, I’m still trying to wrap up two of the storylines and slowly but surely max out my first of many vehicles. Not that I’m in a rush. The game is most fun when I don’t have a particular goal in mind. I like to pick a random spot on the map and take the long and winding scenic route. If something crazy happens along the way, I’ll go from there. I might enter an impromptu freeway race with a random player that ends horribly. Or maybe I’ll see a formation of planes dropping a trail of smoke overhead and try to get in on that action. There was also that time I tried to get another player to boost with me under the moonlight for a photo challenge. I may have come across like a stalker.
Once you earn enough followers, you’ll reach icon status, and from there, you’re in the endgame. Along with bonus loot drops and special vehicles, leveling up further will award you points that can unlock passive benefits. You can invest in higher-quality loot, earning more currency, decreasing the effect of offroad bumps, and more. There’s a long list of perks to pour points into and they’re a nice incentive to keep playing. It never ends. That said, proper PvP is sorely missed; it’s not coming until winter.
Ubisoft has already laid out its early post-release plans, and while I’m happy knowing free content updates are on the way, The Crew 2 isn’t as big of an upgrade as I would’ve liked. I already have the sense that much like the original game, it’ll take months if not years for the sequel to truly come into its own. What’s here at launch is a good starting point, but it’s a little underwhelming in depth and polish.
I think the developers made the right call by branching out with planes and boats and going for a more approachable play-what-you-like format. They just spread themselves too thin trying to cram it all in.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]