I was somewhat ashamed when my jaw dropped playing The Crew 2. My reaction would be perfect for one of those dorky E3 montages where people react to “cool” things in a game, thus proving it’s hip to the kids’ jive, or something. But sitting in the theater watching Ubisoft’s conference, I honestly thought the “world-bending” feature in the game’s first trailer was just a commercial sort of transition effect meant to make the audience “ooh” and “aah.” Well, it’s not, and I think the Ubisoft developer demoing the game for me was quite pleased as I watched in awe as the sea folded up in front of my boat in an effect that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Doctor Strange film.
Of course, that’s just one effect … but given how much is possible with video game visuals today, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually laughed out loud at the visceral pleasure of watching something striking happen. And, to be fair, that wasn’t the last time The Crew 2 made me feel a shiver of excitement at the onscreen action. Given that I’m not a racing fan and I didn’t play the first game — and, as a matter of fact, heard a number of negative things about it — I really didn’t expect to have as much fun as I did playing this at E3. I’m happy to say though that when it comes time for this sequel to launch early next year, I’ll almost certainly be picking up a copy.
…It won’t just be for me, though! While playing the first part of the demo, the “open-world” part of the proceedings, I thought of my father-in-law — the type of guy who absolutely cannot be arsed by any of the actual missions in Grand Theft Auto, and just plays the game to try out driving ridiculously cool cars in ridiculously irresponsible (and illegal) ways. The Crew 2 seems perfect for this kind of play, right from the way it presents an actual virtual car shop, where you can peruse the wares, hop in the driver’s seat and test all the realistic additional features and so on. Yes, there are missions and races and all that stuff, but the immense world map (which features most of the major cities in the U.S., though obviously not to scale) seems to encourage trying out the three vehicle types (planes, cars and boats) and just going “Holy shit, did you see that?” with your friends (or by yourself if you roll that way — hey, I don’t judge).
To that end, this game featured a second moment that made me noticeably react — the ridiculously cool vehicle-swap hotkey feature, which allows you to rotate between the types at will. Now, obviously, it’s not such a good idea to turn into a boat when you’re driving through the streets of Manhattan at 95 miles an hour (in itself, a fantasy that’s fun to live out) … but needless to say, flying off the road, heading to the water, plopping down into it as a speedboat, hitting a jump and transforming into a car just as you get to the road again is exhilarating in an obvious way. As I’ve suggested by mentioning my own disinclination toward the genre, this is definitely one to show your non-racing-game-fan friends. It may not convert them, and they may not want to play, but it’ll be hard for them to ignore just how cool it looks, at the very least.
The second part of the demo I played was the part I was dreading — a head-to-head race against the guy at the demo station next to me … in a White Mountains-set off-road race. Two strikes were against this event to begin with: one, I’m the kind of person who absolutely hates head-to-head competition, and two, as an ex-Granite Stater, making me return to the Shire (even in virtual form!) is a crime I didn’t think I could forgive.
But forgive it I did, and with aplomb. The truth is, I wasn’t very good — but, as it turns out, neither was the guy next to me … and so I had the second-most-fun time sucking at a game that I’ve ever had in my life (the first was at a certain indie game that I’ll be previewing later by one Roll7). The way the vehicle controlled was absolutely realistic for the bumpy, hilly tracks of the mountains, and managing to keep it from careening out of control was way more enjoyable than I thought it could be. By the time I reached the end of the race, I didn’t need any more guidance from the signs placed along the open track, and I forged my way through the bushes and trees to claim victory in a small clearing.
Whether experienced racers will enjoy themselves as much as I did in The Crew 2 is really a question I can’t answer, but I will implore people who think they “don’t like” racing games — as I did — to give this one a shot. I want to avoid giving too much praise, as obviously this isn’t a finished build of the game, and there’s a lot more to try out … but it’s nice to know I might have a semi-realistic racing alternative to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to turn to when The Crew 2 launches for PS4, Xbox One and PC in early 2018.