There’s been a decent number of open-world racers before, but what sets The Crew 2 apart from the rest is its interesting concept of conquering land, sea, and air. It’s this concept which got me intrigued about the game back when it was first announced at E3 2017, and after now having played it for several hours, I believe it’s safe to say that Ubisoft’s Ivory Tower team made a good choice by implementing it. But, in a twist of sweet irony, it’s this standout feature of The Crew 2 which is arguably both its biggest strength and weakness.
The Crew 2 introduces its vehicle-swapping mechanic during the game’s first race. You compete in a triathlon race, starting by boosting and cornering through New York’s crowded streets in a Porsche before dashing through a river network in a powerboat. The race comes to a close with an exciting flight in a stunt plane across the city’s skyline. After the race, you’re let loose into an open-world re-creation of the continental USA, free to explore and progress through the game however you see fit.
Between the three vehicle types, there are four racing families which house the different disciplines: Freestyle, Off-Road, Street Racing and Pro Racing. The Crew 2 defines itself as being a ‘CARPG,’ which means that you progress by completing events (which are conducted by the four families). The more activities you complete, the higher your rank increases. You start as a Rookie and work your way up to an Icon. As expected, moving up the ladder unlocks more events. All progress is based on how many social media followers you get, which are earned by winning races and pulling off cool maneuvers while free roaming such as driving at top speed in a land vehicle and flying low in an aircraft.
The RPG influence can also be seen in the way vehicle upgrades are handled. Randomized loot is dropped at the end of every race in the form of parts for your vehicle. Applying new components increases a vehicle’s ‘PERF’ score. PERF, along with your player rank, determines what activities you can participate in. You can actually race even if the PERF score is too low, although there’s a high chance you won’t win thus making the effort a waste of time. The problem with increasing each vehicle’s PERF score is that you can’t just go an buy new parts for vehicles, progress is ultimately tied to the aforementioned random drops.
That’s my biggest annoyance with The Crew 2’s progression system. Just like in most RPGs, you eventually end up hitting an artificial wall due to being at a low level, so you end up having to backtrack and grind for new, more powerful parts. Since the loot drops are random, sometimes you’ll find yourself getting decent upgrades, but more often than not they’ll be pretty basic and only offer minor increases to a vehicle’s PERF score. This means you will spend hours trying to max out a single vehicle alone. Though, it must be noted that replaying races actually does help as many of them include an annoying rubberbanding system for the AI opponents. This can be very frustrating at first as you’re learning the course layout. While you do get used to it after a while, it would be better if the rubberbanding wasn’t present at all as it can make races feel unbalanced.
The reliance on grinding is also present in the vehicle economy itself. Buying new rides is just plain expensive. Often, just purchasing a single new vehicle can wipe out your entire wallet. But what really makes this even more annoying is that vehicles can be obtained far more quickly using real-world money as well. You can buy ‘Crew Credits’ from the UPlay store, which only takes a few seconds rather than hours of trying to farm in-game cash. These microtransactions are optional, but it’s evident that the in-game reliance on grinding is employed as a crutch to justify having the microtransactions in the first place. But, in all fairness, other racing games such as Forza Horizon 3 also feature the option to buy cars quickly with real-world cash, so it’s not as if this is the first time we’ve seen a move like this. But, at least Horizon’s vehicle economy is more balanced.
Continuing on the topic of vehicles, now is a good time to really discuss the highs and lows of The Crew 2’s split-focus on land, sea, and air vehicles. For starters, land vehicles make up the vast majority of the entire roster. Within the Street Racing discipline alone, there are street, drag, and drift vehicles. Pro Racing has touring cars and formula one racers. Freestyle has monster trucks, and Off Road has rallycross, rally raid, and motorcycles. So, that’s a total of nine types of land vehicles alone. Meanwhile, there are just two different types of sea vessels (jet sprint and powerboat), and also two types of aircraft (air racers and stunt planes). It’s worth noting that there is some overlap between vehicle categories. Some vehicles make appearances in different disciplines with slight modifications to suit a specific discipline. For instance, all of the air racers have an acrobatic edition for stunt-focused flights, and monster trucks are just street cars with retooled suspension systems and giant tires. Hopefully, the overall roster will see major new additions as time goes on with future content updates.
As for the actual driving/sailing/flying experience, it’s overall rather interesting. The Crew 2 is an arcade racer first, but it does have some simulator-like mechanics sprinkled throughout that keep it grounded in a bit of realism. I found the majority of the vehicles easy enough to control, although each of them has different strengths and quirks. Handling can be adjusted by increasing the vehicle’s PERF score. My absolute favorite would have to be the hypercars and touring cars due to their speed. Despite their power, I never found them to be too wild to handle, which most likely has to do with the overall handling model being arcade-oriented. Boats handle pretty realistically as they’ll react to waves by hopping over large swells and slowing down as they land. Planes are the most forgiving as they’ll regularly adjust themselves to avoid letting you crash very often, but this mechanic can make some feel a bit too twitchy during events, such as the air races where precision is vital.
Still, what I find it amazing how Ivory Tower implemented the ‘Fast Fav’ mechanic in the open-world. This feature allows players to quickly switch between their favorite land, sea, and air vehicles pressing a single button. This allows you to do amazing maneuvers like rolling down from the sky in a plane, switching to a car as you descend and blasting down a highway before vaulting off an embankment into a river and switching to a boat just before hitting the water. It’s this mechanic alone which makes exploring The Crew 2’s condensed re-creation of the continental US so fun. I spent many hours just free roaming because of this, only remembering to jump into actual events when I needed some extra cash.
In addition to missions, there are photo ops scattered throughout the map and little mini-events (like speed traps and slaloms) that take a few minutes to complete. Participating in these diversions helps to increase both your Follower and cash amount. Lootboxes are also hidden throughout the map, and each vehicle has a built-in radar to detect them. This means you’ll sometimes find yourself going on a spontaneous scavenger hunt , which is also kind of fun.
I found The Crew 2’s map to be pretty well designed overall. While not every little miniature detail of the entire United States is present here, there’s certainly enough to cover the major parts of the country. Many famous landmarks like the Capitol building, Grand Canyon, Kennedy Space Center, and Niagara Falls are present. A good chunk of major cities like Miami, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Chicago are also thrown in with some small towns scattered in between them all. You can get from coast to coast in about thirty minutes (if you drive fast enough), and again, having the ability to traverse by land, air, or sea makes roaming around all the more enjoyable. There’s a creative flow to traveling. Do you want to take a road trip from Miami to New York, or do you want to fly there instead? How about sailing down the entire Mississippi River starting from the midwest and making your way all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico? It really is a treat to have this type of freedom.
The icing on the cake is that the game is easy on the eyes. The lighting effects are gorgeous, and the dynamic weather system can make for some lovely moments, such as how an evening rain shower can make the whole world sparkle as the light reflects off the puddles on the ground. Sunrises and sunsets are also particularly beautiful, especially when you view them while sailing across the water or flying high above the clouds. Each region of the US is also well-detailed. The South is filled with swamps and flatlands, while the West consists of rocky canyons. The Midwest has acres of farmland and wide open fields, while the Northern states have mountains and woodlands.
The cities are also well-detailed with complex road networks, AI pedestrians, traffic, and everyday city objects like bike racks, food carts, and garbage cans. Outside of cities, the number of pedestrians and vehicles decrease dramatically, but the world still feels alive as you’ll regularly see animals running and flying around, and other stuff like trains and passenger airliners. Overall, I think Ivory Tower did a good job of capturing the general look and feel of the US, which is no small task considering they decided to model the entire country. Sure, everything has been squashed down for simplicity, but as long as you’re not expecting a 1:1 recreation, it’s easy to be impressed by it.
My one gripe with the map is that The Crew 2’s scenery has the same flaw present in so many other open-world titles: indestructible objects. While you can smash through certain things like wooden fences, shrubbery and such, there are still titanium-grade trees and rocks which will cause your vehicle to come to a total stop. This is especially an issue during races, where hitting an object can cost you your first place position. Here, the AI rubberbanding becomes especially egregious in moments like these.
The Crew 2 definitely has its issues. Despite the inclusion of sea and air vehicles, you’ll find yourself racing on the ground far more often. Not to mention that the sheer number of different vehicle types causes the game to seem often unfocused. I wish aircraft and boats were utilized a bit more, and perhaps more events featuring them will be added later down the line. Indeed, the game spends so much time trying to accommodate everything that it can’t get one specific thing perfectly right. But, at the same time, it’s this vehicle-swapping feature that also helps The Crew 2 to stand out and it creates some genuinely fun moments, even if you’re just free roaming.
Still, a sense of imbalance is present throughout The Crew 2. The economy needs adjustment, as does the progression system and opponent AI. To a noticeable extent, it feels as though Ivory Tower has released the foundation of what could eventually become a truly great game. That isn’t to say it’s currently bad; I’ve had a lot of fun with the game so far, but it does still need work. This is the approach that was taken with the first entry in the series and is a trait of a lot of Ubisoft titles (and other games) in general. I’m not a fan of the “release now, build upon later” strategy, but if that really does prove to be the case for The Crew 2, then perhaps this time next year when the game has its first anniversary the issues I mentioned would’ve been alleviated. Nevertheless, what I’m most concerned about is that I’ll actually be able to jump back in 10 years from now and play this even if the servers have been deactivated. Seriously Ubisoft, nobody likes an online-only game unless it’s an MMO.