Following a recent open beta weekend, The Crew 2 has launched for some folks. Those players that picked up the Gold Edition of the game are already tearing around in Ubisoft Ivory Tower's shrunken representation of the United States. They're driving, boating, and flying across the open world, seeing which sights are out there.
Things have changed though. While the map feels largely the same, with a smaller Midwest and major cities like New York, Miami, and Los Angeles taking up an outsized portion of the overall map, things have actually shifted quite a bit. Structures aren't in the same place, roads have moved, and clutter has changed. Some buildings in the first game—The Chrysler Building, Yankee Stadium, Sears Tower—are completely missing now.
Visually, the game itself has changed a bit as well. The expectation is that graphics have improved in the years since The Crew's release. The new United States map should feature improved models, textures, and lighting, but The Crew 2 also has to handle an aerial viewpoint thanks to the addition of planes. That means the title has to be able to scale and adjust draw distance.
So I booted up my old copy of The Crew and took a ride around the United States. I took some screenshots from specific locations in the game, then I loaded up the The Crew 2 and tried to do the same. Below are shots from both games, with the caveats that locations have changed, time of day isn't 100 percent the same, and the weather can be different. Given those differences, let's take a look at the tape.
Washington, DC - The Capitol Building
This set of shots shows the reason I added the caveats above. Obviously, the time of day is different here, resulting in different lighting conditions. It had also just rained in The Crew, meaning the roads were slick with water.
Those differences aside, you can see the changes in the model and texturing between both versions. The Crew used a bit of copy-paste for the windows, while The Crew 2 version is closer to the real thing. The area around the Capitol Building isn't correct in either version, but the Crew 2 loses the fence, allowing you to get a bit closer to the structure. Overall, this idea carries forward into the rest of The Crew 2's U.S. map, offering fewer invincible fences and more chances to go off-road.
One problem I do have with The Crew 2 is the road texture, which just looks flat in comparison to the first game's choice. I assume this is a cut related to the addition of flight, but who knows?
New York, NY - The Statue of Liberty
This is a drastic change in terms of landscape and shows how the map has changed overall. This is roughly the same spot, but I had to move the camera to get the landmarks in the same position. While The Crew version is simply a road near the harbor in front of Ellis Island, The Crew 2 replaces that with an entire park.
There are changes to Ellis Island itself as well, given that players can actually reach the island in The Crew 2. The extreme sports competition that's a backdrop for the game has set up shop. You can also see moving ships in the harbor, something missing from The Crew.
New York, NY - Madison Square Garden Arena Entrance
In both games, Madison Square Garden has been renamed Edison Garden, but the architecture mostly remains the same. Surprisingly, the same cars are in front of the entrance in both versions. The subway entrance building looks better in The Crew 2 in my opinion, but there are smaller additional details like the lights on the roof overhang, that are gone.
The Crew 2 approaches reality a bit more, looking slightly more like the actual area in real life. Notice in the top left corner of each screenshot: the building that appears in real-life is absent in The Crew, but there in The Crew 2.
New York, NY - The Red Steps at Times Square
To be honest, neither version is great. Times Square is full of life, but both games have a big problem with this region. It's not just the complete lack of people, it's also the glitz and glamour of Times Square that's completely gone. It's shorter, it's smaller, and even the statue of Chaplain Francis P. Duffy is missing. The roads surrounding the area are larger to compensate.
Putting that aside, The Crew shot here looks a bit better in terms of texturing overall, even though The Crew 2 version is a bit closer to reality. It is interesting that in The Crew, the building in the center has textures for office lights being on, even though they'd probably not appear at that time of day.
Cape Canaveral, FL - Kennedy Space Center
The Crew 2 wins this one hands down. There are more structures in The Crew 2's version of the launch site; the ground cover and foliage is far more detailed. This is another situation where I had to pull the camera back in Photo Mode to get the objects in roughly the same position as The Crew.
Neither is correct, as the real-world location is on an incline and sparsely populated, but The Crew 2's version just looks better and again, lacks many of the fences preventing the player from just riding around.
Black Hills, South Dakota - Mount Rushmore
Again, Ubisoft Ivory Tower are changing things up. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial loop road is pretty big in the real world and there are no hills allowing you a same height look at the monument. The Crew 2's region is a bit bigger, but neither is accurate.
Like Cape Canaveral above, where the Crew 2 wins is definitely in the wilderness. There's more variety, more ground cover, and more realistic trees. The tradeoff seems to be a draw distance problem: The Crew 2's trees look better up close, but sketchier farther away, while The Crew's trees tend to look the same at most distances, fading out farther away.
Seattle, WA - The Space Needle
This is one region where the city texturing looks better in The Crew 2. While the wet road may look more impressive in The Crew, look at that sidewalk. The Crew 2 also adds more clutter in terms of bikes and other items on the sidewalk. I have no clue what the buildings behind the Space Needle are supposed to be though, even after looking at several images of the real-world region.
Los Angeles, CA - Mann's Chinese Theater
Originally known as Grauman's Chinese Theatre, this is a representation of a historic film theater, one that has played host to premieres like the original Star Wars. It sits right on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.
Neither version is particularly correct: the distinctive art and murals around the theater have been changed, probably for rights purposes. The Crew 2's version is closer to correct, with better windows and no weird palm trees. The street texture also looks better in The Crew 2: it looks like the same one used elsewhere, but it fits this scene. The Crew wins in the centerpiece of the theater itself; it could just be the lighting, but the doors look better and the roof texture is closer to correct.
Oddly enough, in terms of copy-paste there is a nondescript band playing in front of the theater in both versions.
Los Angeles, CA - Griffith Observatory
Once again, Griffith Observatory is one of the areas where I think The Crew's version looks better, but The Crew 2 wins in terms of accuracy. Some of the detail is lost in the specific lighting conditions in The Crew 2, but the front facade of the Observatory in The Crew looks more detailed overall. It bothered me, so I drove up to the building itself in The Crew 2, which revealed more details that were washed out by the lighting.
In motion, The Crew 2 can be a stunner. It's obvious that Ubisoft Ivory Tower tried to make improvements to the overall title in terms of more accurate locations, better ground clutter, and an improved lighting engine. But the game also suffers from some issues with textures, draw distance, and obvious pop-in, which can likely be laid at the feet of addition of flying. Having to render everything available in the game from high in the sky obviously led to some engineering concerns. That leaves The Crew 2 as a game with some clear visual trade-offs, instead of an easy upgrade over the previous title.
The Crew 2 will fully launch on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation on June 29, 2018.