The Crew 2 Review – Tries too hard but entertaining anyway

Platforms:
PS4Xbox OnePC
Released:
June 29, 2018
Publisher:
Ubisoft
Developer:
Ubisoft Reflections

Review

The Crew 2 is not so much a sequel, rather a full refresh of the flawed-but-fun racing franchise that launched back in 2014. Gone is the lame action-movie storyline and aggressive tone, instead we are in the age of social media, with a focus on gaining followers through racing through colourful environments in cars, boats and planes, all the while becoming a bigger celebrity. While the tone doesn’t always resonate, it’s still a pretty fun racer that at least lays a good groundwork for things to come.

The original Crew was criticised for its unforgiving AI, lame Fast & Furious-esque storyline and a general feeling of emptiness when navigating its gigantic map of the US. Even with its problems, it was still an enjoyable racer that benefited heavily from ongoing content updates, patches and DLC which improved the experience substantially for those still playing it.

The Crew 2 is instantly a much lighter affair. Kicking off with a taste of what’s to come from land, air and sea, the emphasis is on becoming as famous as possible by earning followers on social media. You can do this by winning different kinds of events, taking photos in certain key spots as you explore the world and just generally do cool stuff like drifting, jumping, driving close to other cars and so on.

There are four driving “families” that you will meet through fairly forgettable cut-scenes, but these are essentially just avenues to unlock different driving disciplines – of which there are plenty. The Street family includes street racing, drifting, drag racing, long-distance hypercar racing. Offroad incorporates styles like cross-country rally raid, motocross and loose-surface rallycross. Freestyle is the most zany and unique family with plane aerobatics, jet sprint boating and monster trucking, while Pro boasts power boating, air racing, touring cars, and grand prix.

It’s an exhaustive list, one that would require an incredible amount of depth if tackled by a simulation style racing franchise à la Forza, but in The Crew 2 it’s all very casual and easy. In fact, the greatest strength of the game is that it keeps things incredibly accessible for a casual audience. I wouldn’t normally play a game that was entirely grand prix or plane focused, but I’m happy to give it a crack in this simple style for a couple of missions.

There is variety in these as well – street racing is self-explanatory, while cross-country rally raids have you driving in a large open world environment from checkpoint to checkpoint with no particular set path. Planes aerobatics has you flying through the air doing flips and tricks, while monster trucking puts you in a giant skate-park complete with ramps and half-pipes to earn point tokens. Each discipline has events that seem to be uniquely crafted, which does manage to give them more of an identity, rather than just slapping you in a different car on the same race-tracks.

It’s disappointing that the potential of changing vehicles mid-race is only utilized in a couple of specific events, as it’s definitely fun to test multiple styles in quick succession. The introductory race has the world literally bending into place Inception style, which is an effect I wish they’d used more than once, as it added character and awe to proceedings. Still, despite that being a missed opportunity in my mind, when you’re riding around the world freestyle, it feels great to quickly flick between boat and plane with the push of the right stick, before switching from plane to car while up in the clouds and seeing your vehicle slam down onto the track with speed. It’s a bit non-sensical but it’s absolutely fun to watch.

Purists could make an argument that the handling of all the different vehicles is not accurate or realistic, but I’d argue that this isn’t a game designed for them. It’s like an open world arcade-style racer, with cars that are purchasable and upgradeable through loot instead of serious fine-tuning. There is a bouncy feeling to the physics and vehicles also don’t take much noticeable damage throughout a race either, which when combined with the colourful environment gives a bit of a fake, shiny feeling.

“…obsession with social media can also be off-putting, like when your Mum tries to add you on Facebook.”

You get random loot of varying rarity (uncommon, rare, epic) at the end of each event, which can then be added to the relevant vehicle by simply seeing which number is greater to measure effectiveness. I’m not very knowledgeable on cars and their inner workings so I found the approach to be simple, comparable to when you get a new sword in an RPG and can quickly decide whether its better or worse at a quick glance.

Of course, like any loot system, this means that you’re at the mercy of RNG, which means you might not get the upgrade you are hoping for straight away. On top of that, buying vehicles proves to be an expensive exercise with the in-game currency, and you’re required to purchase new ones for each discipline that you unlock. So while you level up your fan base and get access to new styles relatively quickly, it will take you some time to build up a big enough bank balance (or spend real-world funds) to take part in the more exciting events.

The obsession with social media can also be off-putting in that awkward way like when your Mum tries to add you on Facebook. Like they’re trying really hard to be young and cool but end up just sounding like they’ve read a wiki page on “young people terminology”. It’s eye-rolling and cringey most of the time, not helped at all by sub-par voice acting. At least it does provide a much brighter and bubblier tone across the rest of the experience, even if the attitude is more miss than hit.

While you can absolutely drive around and explore the map for speed traps, photo opportunities and hidden loot, every major activity is also selectable from an easy menu that lists them all out side-by-side. This is just one of the quality-of-life additions to The Crew 2 that makes it incredibly appealing for casual gamers or people that don’t necessarily always want to explore or go for massive expeditions just to get to another event.

You choose the activity, and you’re instantly teleported there. You can change vehicles there to the one that is required – no need to go back to a garage or home base. Even during a race, if you stray off track, holding the bumpers for a couple of second’s puts you right back where you need to be. You can test vehicles before you purchase them and the loading times are fairly forgiving, which is nice and keeps things moving quickly.

Frustration does occur with the way the AI functions however. There is rubber-banding in effect, which ensures that the races are always competitive. This means that one small mistake near the end of any event when competing will surely result in you losing, requiring you to replay it. On the flip-side, even after some serious stumbles in the first half of a race, you can usually find a way to catch up with your opponents before the finish line. It’s designed to make it feel like you’re never far behind, but this also sacrifices the times when you have a really good run in first place, as your opponents are always seemingly right behind you, which irritated me to no end.

There are specific areas that claim you can go any way you want to the finish line, whether it’s sticking to the road or going off the beaten path to find shortcuts. This is fantastic in theory, but some of the objects in the environment are able to be driven right through while similar obstacles stop you dead in your tracks. It’s annoying to run down several small trees without penalty, to then all of a sudden hit a small stump that looks inoffensive, only for it to cost you an entire event, causing a full restart.

At least the world that you’re exploring is a pretty one. Journeying across America makes for a fun time, and I liked the variety in locations and solid lighting effects that gives the world a crisp vibe. Whether it’s taking to the water in your speedboat, racing through the tight and bright streets of Las Vegas, careening through corn-fields or drifting through the snow, it’s easy to ignore that the scale and effects are actually a tad unrealistic. Character models also look a bit wrong and city areas don’t have the same level of detail, but you’ll usually be driving so fast that you (hopefully) won’t notice, and likely skipping the “storyline” cut-scenes.

There is a shared world online environment that means The Crew 2 is always connected, but it does provide some benefits. Being able to explore the world with others or take part in events easily with your crew (party) members is fun and pretty seamless, although beyond leaderboards at this stage there isn’t a lot to strive for when it comes to competition. PvP is on the way in coming months, along with other ongoing features and content updates outlined in the games roadmap, but for now cooperatively exploring together is about as good as it gets.

The Bottom Line

The Crew 2 is a mish-mash of ideas, doing away with its gritty identity established in the prequel and focusing on a much more colourful and light-hearted tone. Ignoring the sometimes irritating references to social media and your followers, the easy, breezy, casual style means that races are quick to take part in, events are varied and vehicles are fun to much around in. It looks like the overall path for this game will be similar to the original, where we’ll see it evolve over time and likely grow into one of the better racers on the market. As it stands, The Crew 2 is entertaining, bright and fun while also being a little soulless and unrefined. Either way, it’s a big improvement over its predecessor and the perfect racing game for players who don’t take the genre too seriously.