The Crew 2 was always going to have a tough time breaking into the racing space. Forza has already set the bar impossibly high, and any arcade racer also has to contend with the legacy of Burnout Paradise. Still, The Crew hasn't made it easy on itself.
Despite promises that The Crew 2 had learned from the mistakes of its predecessor, the press and the general public have once again emerged lukewarm on Ubisoft's racer. In his review for USgamer, Mike wrote, "Like the first game, The Crew 2 at launch feels like a bunch of ideas in search of a firmer execution. It's not a bad game, as I never felt like I was gritting my teeth to play it, but it lacks a strong hook to keep you playing. Without that hook, you spend your time noticing all the small ways that the experience lets you down."
The missing hook that Mike describes was originally supposed to be the ability to drive across America. The original idea of The Crew was to take the open world racing concept introduced in Burnout Paradise and blow it out into a massive coast-to-coast sandbox. Its sheer scope was supposed to be its main selling point.
But the reality is that it's next to impossible to adequately replicate three million square miles in a way that's satisfying. Inevitably, it's going to feel small, compromised, and biased toward major cities and the coasts. The America of The Crew is a funhouse mirror that skews, scrunches, and occasionally eliminates entire states (including my own).
To its credit, Ubisoft seems to have realize that the whole "drive across America" idea doesn't quite work, and has taken steps to minimize it in the sequel. The original game forced you to drive from event to event while cramming in a hackneyed story that served as an excuse to travel the country. The Crew 2 drops all that, with events instead popping up on your map as you race. It's still possible to drive from California to New York if you so desire, but doing so has little bearing on the gameplay.
It's mostly for the better, but it makes America feel like little more than a series of disconnected locales where you can do some basic racing. Worse, the attempt to turn the U.S. into a weird, compromised sandbox has the effect of sapping resources from the rest of the game, resulting in less-than-satisfying graphics and racing. It's a game that tries to be everything and winds up being nothing.
As it happens, Forza Horizon is also built around the conceit of racing across a country. Forza Horizon 3 is set in Australia, but instead of trying to replicate the entire country, it focuses on the coast and a handful of inland areas. It's not afraid to take some creative liberties in the name of good open world racing, and many of its cities are fictional. Playground Games understands that the main priority should be to capture the look and feel of a locale while keeping the setting tight and focused. As a result, Forza's version of Australia feel real, vibrant, and alive.
By contrast, The Crew 2's America feels, well, dead. It's wedded to an idea that looks good on paper, but is next to impossible to implement in practice. It might have been interesting to focus in on a specific region—California, or the Northeast, or even Appalachia. But the notion of turning the entire country into a sandbox was always a weird one; and for the second game in a row, it hasn't really worked out.
If there is to be a Crew 3, I expect it'll need a bit of a rethink. The boat and the airplane events should probably be dropped in favor of tuning up the street racing, which is still not that great. And Ubisoft needs to figure out whether it's worth retaining what has been one of The Crew's biggest weaknesses to this point: the sandbox.
To be clear, I hope there is a Crew 3. I love arcade racing, and even Forza Horizon hasn't quite managed to fill the Burnout-sized hole in my heart. But if The Crew does return, I hope Ubisoft will find a new hook. Neat as it sounds, this is one American experiment that should probably come to an end.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
- Red Faction Guerilla: Re-Mars-tered Edition (PC, PS4, Xbox One) [July 3]: We're officially in the teeth of the dead period. The only major release of note is a remaster of 2009's Red Faction: Guerilla (sorry, "Re-Mars-tered"), which was great fun in its day but has otherwise faded into obscurity. If you do pick it up, a fun party game is to pass the controller around and see how many buildings you can destroy in five minutes or less. Trust me, it's a blast.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: The Lunarians from Final Fantasy IV
I'm nostalgic for summer games, and one of my favorite summer games is Final Fantasy IV. I first played Final Fantasy IV in 1995, when it was Final Fantasy II on the SNES. I stayed up until near-dawn to get as many hours in as possible, which loaned a suitably eerie and lonely atmosphere to the last stretch of the game: The Moon.
Some of Final Fantasy IV's critics think the game shifts locations too often, and by the time the party reaches the Moon, the experience is stale. I disagree, if only because the Moon holds some of the game's finest music (I'm shallow). The Lunarians, for example, is one of my favorite pieces in a video game, period. You first hear it when Cecil becomes a Paladin through the grace of a mysterious voice—and then you don't hear the music again for a long, long time until you're walking through the Moon's tunnels. The connection, which has everything to do with Cecil's heritage, follows shortly.
This is hard to articulate, but when I first heard the Lunarians, it struck me as something beyond video game music—even "great" video game music. I still think it's one of Uematsu's best-composed pieces. The DS version of Final Fantasy IV has a great remix of it, too.
Mike's Media Minute
Ah, the things we do to ourselves. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom had its second week at the domestic box office, bringing its U.S. total to $264 million. This is only a drop in the bucket, as Fallen Kingdom had already dropped in international territories a few weeks ago. With the U.S. take this weekend, the worldwide number sits at $933 million, within spitting distance of a cool billion.
Fallen Kingdom will likely experience a drop from the first Jurassic World, which finished out its run with $1.67 billion, but it's enough that Universal feels very confident in the last film in the franchise. Colin Trevorrow, the director of Jurassic World and writer of both films, will be returning to the director's chair for the last film in the planned trilogy. Of course, if the franchise keeps making money, Universal will keep making them. (See also: Fast & Furious and Despicable Me)
Incredibles 2 finished its third weekend with a worldwide take of $647 million. Domestically, it's only around $50 million away from the highest-grossing Pixar film of all-time, which is 2016's Finding Dory. Worldwide, it's got a ways to go to make it into Pixar's Top 5, which starts at $806 million with last year's Coco. It's likely hit that at least, seeing as it still has international markets it needs to open in.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado might not be the same type of film as 2015's Denis Villeneuve-directed original, but it's currently outperforming its predecessor. It brought in $19 million for its opening domestic weekend, and $27 million worldwide. That's a good start and the film's budget is only $35 million, so it doesn't have to go that high. The top 5 for the weekend was rounded out by the basketball comedy Uncle Drew and Ocean's 8 in its fourth weekend. The latter film had a budget of $70 million and has already run into the black with $209 million in revenue worldwide.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
Thanks to Patreon, the indie developer gaggle of Sokpop Collective make quite a lot of games. Like two a month, at the very least. The team's latest project is adorable too, like all its games. Zoo Packs is an online strategy game similar to Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, except instead of anime-inclined heroes, it's a bunch of cute lions and elephants and other zoo critters.
Zoo Packs is all strategy with none of the filler in between like in Fire Emblem. If the animals die, they can still be revived. But there's a catch: when they die in battle, they lose all their equipped items, so even after reviving them they'll be pretty much naked of progression. It's not quite permadeath, but in a way, it is like its own version of permadeath. Zoo Packs is available for $3 on itch.io, or through a $3 subscription through Patreon, where Sokpop releases a new game every two weeks.
This Week's News and Notes
- As I mentioned above, we're officially in the midst of the summer dead period. Now is a great time to revisit games from your backlog, which we've all been doing here at USgamer. I'm personally trying to knock out God of War so I can make a solid run at Persona 5. That assumes Smash Bros. doesn't get in the way, of course.
- Fortnite's oddly compelling storytelling continued over the weekend with a rocket launching and a tear appearing in the sky. This is how you keep a game feeling fresh and in the headlines. Are you pay attention, PUBG?
- Starhawk's servers officially shutdown over the weekend, effectively ending its useful life as a game (unless you want to play a middling single-player campaign). I'll confess, I had totally forgotten that Starhawk even existed. I kind of prefer PlayStation's focus on prestige single-player games over its middle-of-the-road multiplayer platforms (remember MAG?)
- The NES Classic is officially back in stock now, triggering a new run on Nintendo's classic console. I'm picking up mine for the sole purpose of having easy access to Super Mario Bros. 3. Ninja Gaiden, and Tecmo Bowl on a neat collector's item. Don't even talk to me about Raspberry Pi.
- If you're looking for a long read, please check out Piotr Bajda's profile of two indie developers who use games to wrestle with the national traumas of Taiwan and Iran. It's fascinating look at gaming from a very different perspective.
- The World Cup has advanced into the Round of 16, with Russia scoring a massive upset over Spain on Saturday. Naturally, Street Fighter applies perfectly here.
- We're at the halfway point of the year, which means it's time to highlight our favorite games of 2018 so far. God of War and Monster Hunter: World are there obviously, but so are Into the Breath and Forgotton Anne. Check out the full list because there are a lot of good games there.
- I interviewed Tetsuya Nomura recently about Kingdom Hearts 3, and now the full interview is available for your reading pleasure. We talk about Pirates of the Caribbean, the Gummi Ship, Aqua, and the sometimes difficult task of working with Disney.
- Axe of the Blood God: Jeremy Parish returns to extol the virtues of number 24 on our Top 25 RPG Countdown: Tactics Ogre! Plus we talk about the early days of teletype RPGs as Jeremy kicks off his 12-part History of RPGs series.