The Crew 2 is a game of caveats and compromises. When I played the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) last year, I was full of excitement for the concept: embracing the whole of motorsports, while still offering the open-world action of the first game. Being able to choose between different types of cars, boats, planes, and bikes felt like a great way to differentiate The Crew 2 even further. Criterion Games even teased a similar idea back in 2014, but nothing ever came of it.
Unfortunately, the final product is less than exciting. It adds some new ideas, while somehow losing some of what made The Crew work.
Welcome to Motornation Fame
Moving away from the semi-serious story of falling afoul of the criminal element, The Crew 2 pulls from Playground Games' Forza Horizon series, framing the game as a nationwide extreme sports campaign. You're a fresh face in Motornation, a multi-discipline racing event that's broadcasted to millions of waiting fans. Fans are your experience points; finish races, do tricks, and generally go fast in order to gain more. This raises you through several status levels: Rookie, Popular, Famous, Star, and Icon.
Each status level has a different set of racing disciplines across the four families, which are Street, Off-Road, Freestyle, and Pro Racing. You begin at Rookie, which allows you to choose between Street Race, Rally Raid, Aerobatics, and Powerboat events. Each level above that unlocks another event, ending with a total of 14 events.
At the same time, you'll need to use the cash you win from races to buy more vehicles. The Rookie-level events all offer a free vehicle, but after that, you need to pony up the cash just to participate. There are a few annoying bits here. While The Crew allows you to buy that Nissan 370Z and modify it to participate in different events, The Crew 2 treats each event spec as a different vehicle. So, there's a regular 370Z, but there are also versions for Drift, Drag Race, Rally Raid, Rally Cross, Monster Truck, and Touring Car. You have to buy each separately, which means you're spending more time grinding out races if you have a favorite ride (assuming that ride is actually available for an event type, which isn't always the case).
This is combined with the loot system for vehicle performance. The Crew 2 has performance parts for seven different vehicle categories, including brakes, gearboxes, and ECU. You win parts by completing events or finding Live Crates out in the open world. These parts work like RPG equipment: if the number is higher, that's generally the one you want to equip. The parts even come in Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Epic varieties, with higher rarities having more Affix, which are bonuses like boosts to follower gain or nitro.
I don't have an issue with this system on the face of it. I think it worked well in Need for Speed Payback, for example. The problem is gaining performance parts is completely random, as there's no way to combine them, sell them, or purchase them directly in a store (like in Need for Speed Payback). Worse, the parts are single-use; if you have a rare Gearbox on one Drift event vehicle and you switch to another, you need to unequip that gearbox from the first car and move it to the second.
The issues above make it feel like The Crew 2 is pushing players towards grinding out events over and over again to proceed. Grind to get money to buy vehicles, then do the same for parts, across multiple event types. The Crew 2 feeds into this idea with endgame progression, because once you reach Icon, you're gaining Icon levels, which stretch from one to 9999.
Populating The Open World
The hook of the original The Crew was the fact that you could race across the entire United States. It wasn't a 1-to-1 recreation, instead choosing to make cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit much larger, and shrank the overall size of the Midwest. For The Crew 2 that focus has been preserved, though the map isn't a direct copy of the first game's, as things have moved, roads have expanded, and landmarks have changed or been removed. Overall, Ivory Tower has improved the engine; there are some draw distance and pop-in problems, but The Crew 2 can look surprisingly great when you're just racing around the U.S. The lighting engine is more natural than the previous game and ground cover (plants, flowers, bushes) is much better.
There have been some interesting shifts though. When I put together a visual comparison between the The Crew and The Crew 2, I was struck by how differently they present their worlds. In The Crew, you had to drive to an area to discover its events and fast travel spots, or travel between regional bus stations and airports to get as close to your destination as possible. In-between major destinations, there were also a host of Skill mini-events and landmarks. This anchored the player in the world a bit more; it was annoying if you just wanted to go do an event, but the side effect was you got a better feel for driving across this mini-United States.
The Crew 2 instead relies on immediacy, so you can fast travel directly to the starting gate of any event. Ivory Tower also lowered the number of mini-events; the developer was accused of having too many in the first game, but this feels like they overcorrected. The landmark system, pointing out specific structures or regions of the U.S. has also been replaced by a slightly obtuse Photo Mode system that notifies you to take pictures of certain things as you go screaming by them at high speeds. The fast travel change means you're more likely to not drive between locations. Even if you decide to drive, there's a lack of interesting locations or other cars in-between cities. Combined with the smaller number of Skill events it makes the open world feel a bit sparse.
However, The Crew 2 still wins in that feeling of undertaking a full cross-country drive, seeing the overall landscape shift from different biomes and locales. The ability to shift between your favorite car, boat, and plane on the fly means there's greater access to more parts of the map, and Ivory Tower has removed a number of the unbreakable barriers that comprised the map in the original The Crew. You can go to more places and movement is more freeform in The Crew 2, which is great. The magic of cross-country treks wears off once you've done it once or twice though; there are few cross-region races and none that allow players to shift vehicle types on the fly. The Crew 2 has a big world and a number of ways to get across it, but it doesn't feel like there's enough to do out there.
The Crew 2 builds its race courses out of the open world map, but this runs into one problem with the game: overall readability. Since there are more breakable fences and trees in The Crew 2, it's actually kind of hard to tell what you can and can't run into. The waypointing system used in The Crew 2 is also less visible than the magical floating blue line of the first game. You'll spend a lot of your time looking at the mini-map and hoping you're on the right line. There was one off-road race in the Bayou where I was cutting straight between checkpoints for most of the race, except at the very end, where a straight line run actually runs into a jersey wall. There was no way to know this was coming, so I ended up losing the race at the very end.
Running into an unbreakable object guarantees that your speed will be completely negated due to the way collision works. Going on the wrong line or turn is also pretty common in the first few tries at some races. Both of these things are issues because of the heinous rubberbanding in The Crew 2. It's not on every race; I noticed it most on the multi-vehicle Live Xtreme races, Hyper Car events, or the branded Harley-Davidson and Papa John's races. Essentially, the CPU keeps pace with you perfectly, always racing directly behind you, regardless of how great your line is, how many shortcuts you take, or how your vehicle is tuned. Hell, the AI doesn't need to brake on corners when it's going all out. Since the AI drivers are always right behind you, any deviation, slow down, or stop means you can instantly see yourself drop from first to seventh or eighth.
It's intensely frustrating in the races where the rubberbanding is tuned too tight, but boring in races where it's not and you can blow past the CPU with 20 seconds to spare. Rubberbanding is a common part of every arcade-style racer, but the execution is off in The Crew 2. I don't really feel like I've outraced the AI as much as not screwed up; the challenge is versus myself, which isn't super-satisfying in terms of a race. Combined with the issues above, it's actually better for players to trick the AI by screwing up early and then blowing past it at the end.
Jack of All Trades, Master of None
Given the addition of all these different types of vehicles and events, it honestly feels like Ivory Tower spread itself thin. I think folks will end up gravitating to different vehicle types depending on preference. I wasn't a huge fan of the street racing handling in The Crew, and it's not much better here. I found myself leaning more towards off-road events like Rally Raid and Rally Cross in terms of favored car handling. Planes and Monster Trucks are a lot of fun, Powerboats are okay, motocross bikes feel too light. The different playstyles leads to a game that feels a bit unfocused in terms of handling and playability. I feel like Ivory Tower wants to make a more off-road experience, but still has to give street racing its due.
If you could gravitate just to the events you enjoy and ignore the others, that would be fine, but the overall number of events in the game lean towards the ones you start with: Street Race, Rally Raid, Aerobatics, and Power Boat. The Crew 2 needs a bit more love on some of the later events, like Monster Truck and Air Race. This is likely something that will be changed with time and subsequent patches, but as an opening experience, it could be better.
There's also a lack of variety in terms of races, which is weird given the variety of vehicles. It would be great if there were more long races that move from region to region. Or for when you're in a cooperative group, if there was a way for players to set up their own courses. One of the fun highlights of The Crew 2, switching between vehicle types on the fly, isn't addressed in an event at all. Live Xtreme events have you switching between types at predetermined points, but an event where you're allowed to be more freeform—imagine a realistic Diddy Kong Racing—would be appreciated.
The most mystifying omission in The Crew 2 is a lack of competitive online. To be clear, the game is always online, even if most of the game at this point is completely single-player. You can join co-op with your friends to complete race events, but that's it. The Crew 2 doesn't make a strong case for being online, since there's not much to do with other players at this point. (Worse, even just waiting idle in menus for longer than 10 minutes sees you kicked back out to the login screen.)
A roadmap document from Ubisoft shows the addition of a competitive PvP mode coming sometime this Winter, meaning it could be five-to-six months before The Crew 2 allows players to competitively race. I feel like that's the meat of any online racer, so I'm a bit shocked it's not available in any form at launch.
Despite everything above, I find myself enjoying parts of The Crew 2. Visually, the game can be a winner when you're just driving around and the sense of overall speed is great. The many new vehicle types are pretty fun, especially the Monster Truck trick courses. And let me say for a third time that free-roaming and switching between vehicle types never really gets old.
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. Ivory Tower was able to polish The Crew with its Wild Run and Calling All Units expansions, and I expect the same to happen with The Crew 2 down the line. I look forward to seeing the shape of that final product. But right now, it's just an okay arcade racer that falls short of its wild ambitions.
The Crew 2 offers players the chance to drive everything with a motor across a shrunken version of the United States. It provides a fun driving experience and looks stunning, but ultimately it lacks focus from being pulled in too many directions. There are bright spots here and there, like Monster Truck trick courses or Rally Cross events, but The Crew 2 falters in equal measure.