In the first The Crew you could drive coast to coast, from New York to sunny California, in around 40 minutes flat. Before the game released, it was said to be nearly three times that amount. But who knows, maybe Ubisoft was accounting for traffic, trees, and whatever else can crowd your path.
The Crew was no doubt a flawed game. It was a half-decent racing game with a half-decent rendering of the United States as a fully driveable map. Yet in the end, repetition plagued it, and it failed to capture the hearts of racing fans. Even our former resident racing superfan Jaz Rignall found it just okay when he played it.
I got to test drive a demo of Ubisoft's upcoming sequel of the racing game The Crew 2 last week for a little under an hour. While it may feel like more of the same in the context of head-to-head racing, its open world shenanigans is where it really shines. The sequel introduces something brand new entirely that changes the pacing of everything: in the pure ability to seamlessly switch in mid-whatever from boat to car to plane to drag car to motorbike to—well, you get the picture.
I was led through the demo by a lead designer from developers Ivory Tower, who told me all of its special flourishes (the team went on a cross-country road trip to gather intel on the vast states of America), the map's greater detail than before, and its many, many embedded races. We stayed in virtual New York, mostly in the Upstate area before boating into the Big Apple itself. Here, I wondered about the map again. The entirety of the United States, condensed into one single open world. With the mixture of boats, planes, and automobiles, I asked how long it would take to drive across the map. "40 to 60 minutes," I was told without a blink.
But I sat on that answer for a bit. I realized I only said drive, and nothing more. I didn't account for the mixture of lakes and rivers, or the vast clear blue skies. Even as I was probably nosediving by plane straight into the sea only to transform into a speedy lil' boat, I neglected to even think of the options. I decided to ping Ubisoft directly after the event to get some clarification. Would the map really take about the same amount of time to drive across as the first game?
"Players will travel across the entire USA at different rates depending on which vehicle is taken," wrote the Ivory Tower dev team over email. "For example, if players take a plane at full speed where there aren’t lanes and traffic, they will travel faster than taking a boat that follows the paths of lakes and rivers."
While not quite alluding to the map's full-size (though I was told at the preview event that it will remain on the North American continent like the original—sorry to the players looking for a quick getaway to Hawaii), it does give insight into the particular speeds players will be able to race across the map. Perhaps this will add an extra layer of competition as to who can get across the entire map the fastest using some combination of planes, boats, and cars; perhaps necessitating all three in the grand race. Planes will no doubt probably be the fastest way to travel; cars may be the most efficient to handle; boats falling somewhere in-between maybe. There's a lot of options in The Crew 2, which is part of its charm.
Unfortunately, during my time playing it at least, it doesn't seem to necessitate the spirited on-the-fly changes per the races I set out across. Instead the races were constrained to a lone vehicle: a boat race across the bay, a drag race along a tight track, and so on. For a sequel with such a clever, seamlessly-implemented idea, the game doesn't seem to be playing with it in any interesting sorts of ways. Hopefully when the full game releases next year, that will turn out to be untrue. If not, then The Crew 2 might be a repeat of the original game, a racing open world with immense promise and possibilities, marred by repetition and same-y races.
Despite that, I can see the spontaneous races players dream up themselves in the world making the game feel worthwhile. That's the most joy to be had in The Crew 2 from what I've seen: racing across the familiar landscapes of the United States of America alongside pals. Whether by boat, plane, or sea, the world is your oyster to shred across. The Crew 2 will release next year in March 2018 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.