The Crew 2 is a complete 180° from its predecessor. Gone is the weirdly serious crime story that had you competing with villains and street gangs across the USA through various races, and in its place you’re simply handed the keys to cars, bikes, boats, planes, off-roaders, and monster trucks. You’re tasked with being the best driver in all of these different vehicles through a number of events that will test everything from handling to tricks. The Crew 2 is certainly different from the original, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better.
You’ll start The Crew 2 by sampling some of its contrasting disciplines, from racing through the streets to soaring through the skies. This opening gives the impression that The Crew 2 will be an all-out fun ride with tons of over the top shenanigans just waiting to be uncovered. To a certain extent that’s true, with lots of little skill events dominating the vast landscape including speed traps, some insane jumps, or navigating tracks while escaping from an ever-expanding circle. Yet there’s also a lot of downtime in the world, which almost pushes you to avoid driving across the game’s recreation of the States and use the fast travel system.
As long as it’s been unlocked through gaining enough fans, you can fast travel to any event or skill challenge you want. The more fans you gain the more events and disciplines you unlock across the various families of racing, each of which has a focus, be it off-road, street racing, or pro racing. Acquiring fans is pretty straightforward and the number will steadily rise as you win races, perform certain moves while in free drive, and complete little side quests. Rising through the ranks isn’t difficult in itself, but some of the races and events will push you to the limit.
When you first start the game the car handling feels a touch too heavy with turning circles coming across as too wide at times, but this is alleviated as you earn loot for your cars after races and use it to improve their performance. While vehicles can feel sluggish at first, this can soon be countered and for the most part the handling is actually pretty good, though you’ll need to have your wits about you when it comes to some of the courses.
Your vehicle can have the best parts installed but none of that will help if you don’t appreciate that a lot of the tracks and courses feature an array of sharp turns and obstacles. On top of that the AI racers can be incredibly aggressive at points and aren’t afraid to trade paint and push you off the track. You can still face some stiff competition thanks to this aggression, even in events where your vehicle’s performance level is well above the recommended level. You don’t have to worry too much about aggressive AI in the solo style events, but there you’ll have to deal with other challenges.
It may be something of a surprise for a racing game, but a lot of the fun is in the vehicles that don’t need to be on the ground to operate. Taking off and performing tricks in a plane is something you can lose a lot of time to, whether doing loop-the-loops and rolls or learning to fly at low altitude and going under bridges while inverted. The boats are another kind of beast, but not quite as entertaining as going into the air. The road races and off road circuits are fun in their own right but it’s the planes that steal the show when it comes to navigating the free drive world.
One of the game’s best tricks is being able to switch between these vehicle types on the fly, almost whenever and wherever you want. As long as you’re outside of an event, you can go from speeding down a boulevard to soaring through the sky in a moment, before turning into a boat and skimming down a river. If you want, you can turn from a plane to a car or boat while hundreds of feet above the ground, plummeting back to earth and being able to drive off once you land with just a few bumps and scrapes – you can end up getting stuck somewhere otherwise inaccessible if you’re a bit unlucky, but it’s up to you if you want to try!
Where The Crew felt a bit too stifled by its story and events, The Crew 2 feels like it has too much going on at times. It may sound a bit weird to moan about having too much content, but what little story there is feels completely lacking in cohesion. While you’re rising through ranks on a national scale and taking part in Live Xtreme events, you may still be chasing a title in a discipline, and there’s tons of icons dotted across the map of the USA. The characters are utterly forgettable and even after all the hours I’ve ploughed into the game I couldn’t name a single one of them. It may be that I blocked them from my memory to get away from the overly cheesy and annoying voice acting that permeates moments when it just doesn’t need to.
The environments can go from spectacular to lacklustre. Driving through places like Monument Valley, or flying at dusk over one of the major cities can provide some beautiful scenes, but then you’ll cruise through towns and notice how flat the buildings appear, how shop signs repeat, and how nonsensical some of them are. Of course, you’re expected to speed past these and not take much notice, but some parts of the world have clearly been painted in broad strokes and the quality isn’t of the same standard across the board.
The Crew 2 is a fun game in a lot of ways, but lacklustre in others. For every enjoyable event there may be another that is frustrating or simply a little boring. The open world can be great to explore, but thanks to being able to fast travel to every event you don’t ever actually need to physically cross the USA. Ubisoft should be commended for really taking a risk with The Crew 2 by adding so much and taking proceedings less seriously, but while The Crew 2 is a good arcade racer it still doesn’t quite rank among the best.
Version tested: PS4 – also available on Xbox One and PC