The Crew 2 is a Frankenstein’s Monster of Ubisoft gaming, and I don’t mean that as a criticism in any way. In fact, it’s the hodgepodge of various elements that have been brought together for this sequel that are perhaps the best thing about it, and it’s rather telling that within about 15 seconds of picking up the gamepad and having the new features explained to me that I was creasing up in laughter at the sheer audacious brilliance of it all.
In essence, The Crew 2 is a strange lovechild of The Crew and last year’s winter sports bonanza, Steep. Where the first The Crew had the ambition and scope to transplant a racing game into a scaled down open world approximation of the United States, so many things didn’t sit right with me, from the handling model to the overly serious story tacked onto it. So for the sequel, they’re embracing fun and boasting a huge amount of added variety, as we saw with Steep.
At the heart of this is the ability to switch between land, sea and air vehicles quite literally at any moment, so long as you have the space to do so, borrowing Steep’s mechanic of switching from skis to snowboard and hang glider. It doesn’t matter if you’re hurtling down a busy city road, bouncing on the waves as you head down a river, or gracefully arcing through the sky in a prop plane, you can seamlessly switch from one vehicle to another. You’re now in a car plummeting to the ground, you’re now fighting to gain altitude in a plane, you’re in a boat that’s just grinding along the road and losing whatever momentum you’d built up to that point. It’s that last example that had me laughing out loud.
Simply put, it’s brilliantly freeing as you explore the game, and the same is true of the rewind feature in The Crew 2, which has also been adopted from Steep. At any time you can pull up the map and have a visual representation of your path through the game over the last 10 minutes, letting you see all the shifts between vehicles, the changes in height, and letting you rewind back to anywhere along that path. That’s something that was most important in Steep for letting you return up the mountain and try a trick again, but is admittedly less crucial in this game, where you can generally just drive back a few moments to before the ramp you were trying to launch off and give it a second go.
The overarching world is actually the same between the two games, with the same shrunken down rendition of the United States of America that you can easily drive from coast to coast in a single sitting. However, Ivory Tower have reworked some of the cities, and this focus on different types of transport has meant that they’ve reworked the back end of the game to let you to fly around in the sky.
Dotted around the map are plenty of races and events to take part in, and just as before, you can reach a race and then invite your friends to join you for it. There’s a clever little gated waiting area before each of these as the game quickly switches you to the appropriate vehicle and your buddies load in before you get down to racing. This demo only focussed on land-based events, with a dirt bike race on a KTM 450 EXC, a standard road race in a Nissan GTR, some drifting in a Mazda RX7 – I’m still terrible at drifting in racing games – and even a track race with an intriguing open wheel prototype that Ubisoft came up with themselves, with some ludicrously fat tyres.
Perhaps my favourite thing about all of these is that crossing the finish line doesn’t pull you out of the game and drop you to a waiting screen as the other remaining competitors cross the line, but in fact lets you keep on driving. You can simply race off into the sunset, and get your race results and rewards when you’re a mile or two down the road. It’s all a part of the seamless game that The Crew 2 strives to be, and it really works.
The first The Crew was a strange game, as it married a racing game to a very stereotypical Ubisoft open world and an over po-faced story. It wasn’t a particularly happy marriage. The sequel, however, is a much better match and borrows some of the best and most fitting ideas that the company have created in recent years, while also showing how far Ubisoft have evolved their game design this generation.