The idea of taking a road trip across the continental United States has been glorified in many a Hollywood movie, not to mention lots of books, memoirs and autobiographies. Thus, it’s become a dream of many North Americans, some of whom have done it and others of which are still saving up or hoping to get to it when they can. After all, putting one’s responsibilities on hold and setting off on a worry free trip to explore one’s country is a tempting way to spend a vacation.
Close to four years ago, Ubisoft Ivory Tower attempted to capitalize on the above with The Crew, its open world racer set within the lower 48. Promising the ability to drive across the United States of America with one’s friends, while taking part in a good amount of motorized activities, it had lots of promise. Unfortunately for Ubisoft, though, the game didn’t live up to its immense potential and received middling review scores and word of mouth, with complaints of technical problems and an overambitious approach being most common.
This summer, Ubisoft has re-upped its commitment to the brand, with The Crew 2, another Ubisoft Ivory Tower production that is even more ambitious than its predecessor was, if you can believe that. I say that because, not only does this sequel (once again) contain a large map containing a condensed version of the major cities, landmarks, waterways and back roads of the continental United States, its map can now be traversed using three different vehicle types: road, water and air. Thus, it brings Diddy Kong Racing to mind, although there aren’t many similarities beyond the vehicle types.
Before we go any further, I must admit that I didn’t play the original game a lot. I got it at launch, excitedly downloaded it and then had a hard time getting into it even though I’m usually pretty forgiving when it comes to arcade racing games so long as they’re fun. The physics frustrated me and made the game difficult for me to enjoy, so I deleted it and decided that I’d return to it another day. Truth be told, that day has yet to come, but I will admit to having just reinstalled The Crew in order to give it a second chance. What I’ve heard from other gamers is that, after receiving a physics overhaul and some other major updates, it’s a much better and far more entertaining experience than it was back then.
Through this sequel, Ubisoft has attempted to right the wrongs that plagued its first attempt, and has done a pretty good job of designing a fun arcade racer. Unfortunately, they’ve once again overshot, and that overambitious attitude has led to the game being something that does a lot of things pretty well, but doesn’t do anything incredibly well.
Borrowing from Microsoft’s incredible Forza Horizon series, The Crew 2 employs a system wherein players progress by earning new fans for everything they do, be it a near miss, a spectacular jump or a spot on the podium after a hard fought race. Through this design, you ‘level up’ by filling a meter, essentially going from a rookie to a pro, a pro to a superstar, and then a superstar to an icon. Following that, the meter will fill more quickly and will merely increase your icon rank from one to ninety-nine. That is, if you decide to play that much and don’t run out of things to keep yourself entertained with.
The above is all based on some sort of a program called LIVE, which incorporates several tiers of racing into its spectacle, then culminates in five different Live Extreme races, the majority of which unlock after each new level has been reached. These tiers all offer something somewhat different, with the first being all about cars (race, drift, drag and super car varieties), off-road vehicles (dirtbikes, buggies, rally cross cars), pro racing (touring cars, F1 level race cars and power boats) and more extreme vehicles (jet boats, planes, monster trucks). Each one is independent, too, with their own percentage-based meters that fill as you complete their events and optional activities.
There are so many different racing disciplines that it’s overwhelming. The four tiers don’t just allow you to pick from their referenced vehicle types, they actually make you race each one in contained lists of events. However, as is sometimes the case, a lot of the disciplines (as well as the more difficult events in the base ones) are locked until you reach certain statuses. Thus, you’ll have to reach icon status before being able to have your pick of the full roster, which is okay because it correlates with the rate at which you’ll earn loot to upgrade your owned and unlocked vehicles enough to take part in them.
The majority of the car races take place in major cities, and really don’t take all that long to complete. The super car events, on the other hand, are much longer and can incorporate winding back roads, to the point where you have to be very, very careful. These races can take about thirty minutes to complete, and if you crash near the end you’ll likely be shit out of luck. After all, there is no rewind feature in The Crew 2, and that’s a major annoyance given how aggressive and cheap the AI can be.
Boat races, on the other hand, offer both closed circuit and open water varieties. Jet boats tend to be in confined courses, whereas power boats put you out on the ocean. Sometimes the latter will incorporate waves, which are a pain in the ass because they really kill your momentum. This was such an annoyance, in fact, that I was unable to achieve a podium finish in the first race, because the waves would slow me down a lot more than they’d hamper my computer controlled competitors. Most events only ask you to get between third and first place, but I’d keep coming in fourth because of those dastardly waves. However, when I went back to it after completing other power boat events (which allowed me to upgrade my boat with parts earned as loot), I didn’t have an issue.
With the planes, you shouldn’t go in expecting a lot of racing. Most of the aerial events found in this game are actually of the stunt variety, meaning that you must do certain maneuvers to earn enough points to win. This includes flying straight up, doing a lengthy nosedive, flying a few inches away from land, touching land for a second and flying under bridges. All of that, as well as doing rolls and front and back flips, for lack of a better term. There are, however, a select amount of aerial races that unlock later on. They’re nothing special, though.
The off-road stuff is probably the least polished of all, but in some ways it was the most fun for me, because it didn’t demand a lot and I was good at it all. There’s lots to pick at, especially when it comes to the dirtbike events (which can be cheesed by skipping their jumps to avoid losing speed), because the MX stuff is really dated in terms of physics, visuals and gameplay. Truth be told, nothing from the off-road section really stands out, and that includes the several monster truck events that include just one frustrating race among four or five ‘trick’ engagements, wherein the player must drive around stunt courses to pick up orbs that add 100, 500 or 1000 points to his or her total score.
Simply put, there’s a lot of different types of racing to be found here. It’s just that none of them are exceptional. There only being a limited amount of vehicles to purchase also doesn’t help, nor does the fact that you can only upgrade them by picking up loot drops after races. To boot, buying a vehicle is also a very expensive undertaking due to high prices.
Fast travel also plays a key role here, and its inclusion actually hurts the open world aspect of the game. Since you don’t need to drive to each individual event, and can get to them all by opening a menu and pressing a couple of buttons, the game feels smaller than it is. This is accentuated by the fact that some of the events use the same routes and cities, despite a not-to-scale representation of the United States of America being available for use. In fact, certain states are practically overlooked, and basically exist as the equivalent of white space on the map that shows all of the game’s events, photo opportunities and the like.
Given how much of an emphasis has been placed on The Crew and The Crew 2 being social, open world games, it’s odd to think of how small fast travel actually makes this one feel, not to mention how few open world challenges there actually are. Yes, there are some activities, but they can all be found in the menu and fast traveled to at will. This isn’t like Forza Horizon 3, where the world truly feels alive and offers lots of miscellaneous challenges.
Said activities sometimes differ by vehicle class. For instance, the planes have some that task you with performing tricks (again), or flying close to the ground for as long as possible. Boats, on the other hand, have ones where you get a limited amount of time to reach or exceed a set score by running over different coloured buoys. The most enjoyable ones, though, are shared across different types (land and sea, that is), and take the form of slalom and escape courses. The slalom ones are pretty straightforward, and just task you with going left or right past gates, while the escape ones need a bit of explanation. They’re pretty simple, though, and just ask you to drive as fast and as far as you can in an attempt to outrun a giant red orb that threatens to consume you.
Completing activities will add to your percentage score for each type of racing, but not at the same pace as completing races will. Then, once you hit 70%, you’ll be able to take part in a rivals race (or two) against that type’s best racer. Completing all four of these will then lead to the final LIVE Extreme race unlocking. These races, like the rivals events, incorporate different vehicle types and will switch your ride when you take certain jumps. So, while you may begin the first one in a car, you’ll eventually end up in a boat and find yourself racing through water, after going over a large jump.
Of course, being that this is an online game, you can expect to see other players driving around the map. I didn’t see too many, though; just the odd couple here and there. Perhaps this speaks to the size of the map, or the inclusion of fast travel. You can’t partake in any PvP gameplay anyways, because that won’t be added in until this coming winter, by way of a free update.
Last, but not least is presentation. It’s here where The Crew 2 both shines and stumbles. I say that because, while its open world tends to look quite nice and allows for some pretty beautiful events, this visual quality doesn’t extend to the player’s stilted driver avatar or show through in its animations. The frame rate also takes a dip at random times, even on an Xbox One X, and pop-in was also seen from time to time. Also, as mentioned before, the MX racing is pretty rough-looking, especially when it comes to driver animations. This ties back into our main complaint, and the main issue that affected the first game: overambition. They tried to do too much.
The vehicles look quite nice, but like the rest of the game’s visual facets, they don’t compare to the incredible amount of detail found in Forza Horizon. They do sound realistic, though, and control pretty well (although, again, not as well as in Playground Games’ masterpieces). Those sound effects are accompanied by a nice amount of popular music across several different radio stations (rock, hip-hop, country, Latin, electronic), allowing there to be something for just about everyone.
Of course, given the type of game this is, there’s also the expected voice acting from rather forgettable characters who both try to help the player or intimidate him or her. Through them, you’ll hear lots of dudespeak, some cringeworthy dialogue and voice acting that spans the spectrum from just okay to truly awful. Honestly, it sounds as if some of these actors were just pulled in off of the street and offered a free meal for their efforts.
That said, although it’s somewhat rough and tries to do more than it should’ve, The Crew 2 is not a bad game and is actually quite enjoyable most of the time. I know that this review touched on a lot of flaws, but that’s not to say that I think this is an awful game or something that should be avoided. It’s simply not at the level one would’ve hoped for, or as much of an improvement over the first one as was needed. There are fewer events than before, and the open world feels too lifeless and is too devoid of activities to really flourish like it should. Then again, like the first, The Crew 2 will likely get better as it ages, with Ubisoft’s promise of lots of free (and paid) content to come, including the PvP stuff.
Due to the above, we recommend either waiting a bit or, if you don’t want to do that, buying from the frame of mind that this is just the start.
**This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with. We reviewed it on our review Xbox One X console.**
- Large, open world
- A variety of types of racing; land, sea and air vehicles
- Can be quite fun
- Tries to do too much, leaving certain aspects feeling rushed and dated
- Once again takes place in the United States, with a rewind feature that makes its world feel smaller than it is
- No rewind feature leads to frustration