If there’s one single title that is emblematic of Ubisoft’s strong track record of post-launch success, it may just be The Crew. Released at the tail end of 2014, the Ivory Tower-developed title was met with a less than stellar reaction, to say the least. However, rather than give up, the studio continued to tinker with the game for the next few years. What resulted was not only a significantly improved core, but also two strong expansions. Almost four years later, a full-fledged follow-up has finally arrived with the release of The Crew 2. With more vehicles joining the fray, the sequel has its sights on being your one stop hub of extreme racing.
In what may be the biggest course correction, The Crew 2 does away with the complete nonsense of a story the original had. Instead of trying to take over new locales (!) and avenging your brother’s death (!!), the sequel is all about building a following. In order to make a name for him or herself, your unnamed rider must master the different vehicle disciplines that litter the landscape of the United States. Everything from pure street racing to stunt plane flying is represented, so you’ll need to become a jack of all trades if you want to raise your social media status.
Honestly, it’s a complete nothing of a story, but I did want to at least acknowledge it. I don’t need my racing games to have plots, especially of the ridiculous variety The Crew had. If anything, the building of a social media empire fits well into the world of the franchise. The series has been built around both eye-popping races and taking in the spectacle of America, and what better way to showcase those things than with a popular Instagram account? It’s far from perfect – the voice acting is some of the worst I can remember – but at least it makes sense in the context of what the title is trying to be.
As mentioned, The Crew 2 ups the ante in the vehicle department. All of the vehicle types from the last release return, which include the likes of street cars, dirt bikes and monster trucks. The big additions for the sequel come in the form of planes and boats. While you are free to roam the United States with any type of ride you so desire, advancing your profile will require you to master four different classes. Street Racing, Pro Racing, Off-Road and Freestyle make up the class list, and these classes are, in turn, made up of distinct sub-classes. For example, Pro Racing covers both air races and touring car matches, while Street Racing includes drifting and hyper car events. You’ll need to master each class if you want to become a true icon on the scene.
In another major improvement over its predecessor, the sequel is actually playable right from the get-go. Due to an over-reliance on micro-transactions and generally shoddy controls, the first game was an absolute chore to play. Not so for this outing, though, which tamps down on both of those negatives. The steering, in particular, has been massively improved. It no longer feels like you’re in constant danger of spinning out every time you take a turn. The boats and planes take a little to get used to, but I was happily surprised at how well each of them felt, though. And while the micro-transactions are certainly still there, I didn’t feel nearly as compelled to use them as I did before. The upgrade system will still require you to grind through previous races multiple times, but it doesn’t feel as blatant this time around.
Even with the much improved controls, though, The Crew 2 still manages to frustrate when it comes to competition. The AI rubber-banding in the racer is some of the worst that I can remember. Unless you are massively over-leveled for an event, your opponents will always be right on your tail, no matter how perfectly you drive. They hit every turn perfectly, rarely crash, and even walk away from collisions they instigate with you usually for the better. There’s no enjoyment in slipping up at the last stretch of a 10+ minute race due to obnoxious AI, and then be forced to repeat the entire drive again. Directions on-course could also use some freshening up in a future update. As it stands now, it’s a little too difficult to see where you’re supposed to be going during a race due to the tininess of both the mini-map and arrows on course. Combined with the over-the-top AI, it leads to some unnecessary frustration.
The Crew 2 is a substantial improvement over the original in most categories, except in the one it shouldn’t have really touched. The main selling point of the series has always been the fact that you have the entirety of the United States to travel through. In the first game, there were numerous, smaller challenges out in the open for you to complete. It gave you a reason to drive across the country other than for the landscape. In the sequel, though, the amount of side-challenges has been significantly toned down. Basically you have this big, open playground that is begging to be explored, but is kind of wasted for the moment. And since you can now fast travel to every event, which was something that had to be earned previously, you could bypass exploration entirely. This seems oddly counter-intuitive to what Ivory Tower originally set out to do.
That’s not to say all of the studio’s hard work has entirely gone to waste. Like with the first game, there’s something incredibly relaxing about just driving around freely. It’s a great title to just put on some music or a podcast and get lost in. Whether it’s flying across the Midwest or drifting around Las Vegas, it’s easy to get lost in the world crafted by Ivory Tower. And I love how quick and snappy it is to transition from one style of vehicle to the other. It’s silly and, in the grand scheme of things, kind of pointless, but it’s great to hop from a plane high in the sky to a chopper down on the ground. I just wish there was more to do in the game besides cruising.
There is multiplayer included with The Crew 2, but it’s clearly not all there yet. The only type of play currently available is co-op, but I don’t quite see the appeal of doing the regular missions with a friend. As if I was alone, I still had fun driving around with a crew, but there’s not much else to do besides that currently. PvP modes are expecting to go live later this year, but I’m kind of baffled as to why they couldn’t have been included for launch. I don’t even need every race type available, just give me something, though.
With its sprawling desserts and busy cityscapes, The Crew 2 is often pleasing on the eyes. The game looks significantly better than the original, and most of the pop-up that plagued that release seems to have been smoothed out for the sequel. Even the issue of feeling too lifeless has been mostly rectified. Although the outside world looks fantastic, the visuals aren’t perfect. The character models are terrible, and almost always have a glazed-over look on their faces. That’s not the look of someone I want to be behind the wheel of a $500,000 car. And the vehicle models, while mostly great, have to be knocked for the lack of damage they take. If I’m bumping and grinding with other racers, I want my ride to look appropriately dinged-up. Having them come out of every collision crystal clean removes some of the excitement from the race.
The Crew 2 is far from a bad game. Heck, I would say that what’s here is actually really enjoyable. The title controls excellently, the graphics are mostly beautiful and the ability to roam free in the USA remains as enticing as ever. However, the product just doesn’t feel quite ready yet. The lack of activities out in the world and limited online play are confusing flaws that probably could have been ironed out over time. And maybe by the end of 2018, these problems will be a thing of the past. However, I don’t review games based on how they’ll eventually be. I expect Ubisoft to fix things up here, but for now, the sequel is a bizarre slip-up for the burgeoning franchise.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review copy was provided by Ubisoft.
The Crew 2 improves upon the many missteps of the original. The controls have been significantly improved, the grim story has been abandoned and the graphics are better than ever. However, thanks to limited online play and a lack of open-world activities, this sequel feels strangely unfinished.