The Crew 2 begins in spectacular fashion, merging from road race to boat race and air race with landscape morphing Inception style transitions. It’s an exhilarating opener and really gets your blood pumping, but then the game begins properly and it slams the breaks on. The next hour or so is spent unlocking the various disciplines, each of which is run by a Fast and Furious style ‘family’ and are tied together in a flimsy and implausible story in which you become a star racer in every vehicle in the United States.
You have the freedom to pick the events and races you want – you can even ignore an entire family, if you want – but the main goal to unlock new vehicles, classes and races is to gain followers through race wins, pulling stunts and, for some reason, taking pictures of the local wildlife. The idea of chasing ‘likes’ made me feel a little uneasy; just this morning I was reading an article written by a young person who said they felt worthless if their Instagram pictures weren’t getting enough likes and the game reinforces the idea that you need validation from unseen individuals just to be special.
But enough the questionable morality, what’s the game like? The main car racing is good with well designed courses through the cities and American landscape featuring plenty of jumps and shortcuts to learn. It’s arcade racing so you can bash into opponents and bounce off walls with little consequences, although the steering is a little heavy. The plane and boat races are less exciting as they lack the same manoeuvrability and you’ll mainly be trying to make a straight line for the next checkpoint, but it’s the motorbikes that feel the weirdest. They retain the same arcade sensibilities as the other vehicles, meaning you can slam at top speed in to a rock and you’ll just bounce off rather than fly over the handle bars, but the handling just doesn’t sit right and is far too twitchy in comparison.
Like all Ubisoft open world titles, there is an awful lot to do. Aside from the main races there are challenges such as Escape, where you have speed away as far as you can before an AI opponent catches up with you, or stunt challenges in the planes. You can find these by zooming in on the map or by pootling along in Freedrive anyway in the game’s version of America. Freedrive also lets you swap vehicle classes on a whim, which leads to immensely satisfying moment where you’re speeding through the streets of New York, seamlessly transforming into a plane in the middle of Times Square, flying betwen the skyscrapers and then transform into a boat and drop a hundred feet down into the Hudson river. Freedrive also lets you make up silly challenges for yourself, and as I type this my husband is trying to land a powerboat on top of the Empire State building.
However, with a game that has so much to do, the huge map can still feel weirdly empty. Large portions of the map are just big, empty spaces filled with rocks and trees, begging for an event or challenge to run through them. While you could argue that does accurately represent the U.S.A., it doesn’t make for a interesting game. Out in the country the graphics look good, but driving round the suburbs you appear to racing in child’s toy box; some houses are little more than a cube with a roof and they repeat regularly. There’s also some pop-up in the game. It’s not hugely distracting when racing on the ground, but when you’re in the skies shadows and objects flicker in noticeably. You can fly above a street at night time and watch the street lamps pop in one at a time.
The game is always online which is also causing a few problems for me. At the end of every big race it seems to be contacting servers and you have to sit and wait as diagonal bars slide across the screen. I have watched those bars for a couple of minutes in some cases, and given up on other occasions and reset the game. There’s also no options for graphic settings, and when night falls I can barely see the front of the car on my top end HDR 4K TV, let alone where you are meant to be racing, I hope they patch in an option to TWEAK the brightness very quickly.
There’s a plenty to do in The Crew 2, perhaps too much, it does feel unfocused and suffers from the usual Ubisoft open world game problem of your map having a billion icons over it. That said I am having a lot of fun jumping between the different event styles and picking things at random to try out. If you’re playing the game ‘properly’ and focusing on the main events you will eventually build enough likes (ugh) to enter the Live Extreme events. These long races automatically swap disciplines, similar to the game’s opening, so you may start in a power boat, then take to the skies, followed by a little off-roading. These are by far the best races in the game, but as they are so long if you screw up badly you have little chance catching up.
Despite the small niggles I’m enjoying the game so far, I hate playing by the rules, so if I can veer off the course and cut a huge off without any penalties, or side slam an opponent in wall and bounce off him to get round a corner faster, then I’m a happy boy. The option to skip the dreadful story makes me even happier. The tedious cut scenes and voice overs have the most annoying ‘bro’, and he can go take a running jump in to that nicely rendered Hudson river I mentioned earlier, as can the irritating grungey soundtrack.
We’re working toward a full review of the game later this week, but first impressions of The Crew 2 are generally pretty good, outside of a number of smaller problems that can hopefully be patched out. For me it’s not a game that I can mainline for several hours at a time, but it’s one that I will be dipping into for an hour of racing, or just to mess about and trying to lodge a powerboat in the top half of the fake Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas.