The Crew 2 Review
Another year, another open-world Ubisoft sequel. The time, the French giant has turned its eye to its young racing franchise. The release of the first Crew was met with a tepid reception at best, so they soft-rebooted the franchise. This time around, they've ditched the underground racing plotline of the first game for a livestreamed racing show, but kept the same race-across-America premise. Does this latest iteration improve upon the first enough to make it a true competitor to Forza?
So Many Ways to Play
Let’s start with The Crew 2’s biggest addition and best aspect: the variety of racing and vehicles. With boats, planes and cars, and the ability to switch between all three on the fly, there’s always something new to do. Are you getting bored of street racing? Why not try monster trucks, or speedboat racing, or aerobatics? There are 14 disciplines total spread out over the four areas of Street Racing, Pro Racing, Freestyle and Off-Road.
However, not all disciplines are created equal. They all fall into two camps: racing and skill challenges. While the skill challenge events are fun, they have far less staying power than events where you’re actually racing people. After all, the best part of racing games is the racing. This is a minor gripe, though, since most of what is on offer is genuinely fun racing.
When it comes to racing, one of the things you’ll notice quickly is that there are different cars for each discipline. You can’t take your favorite car into both drifting and street racing events. The reason for this is that a car’s handling is determined more by what discipline it is assigned to than its inherent handling in real life.
This creates some disparity in how enjoyable or skillful certain racing types are. Events like Street Racing, Alpha GP and Touring Car where the car isn’t meant to swing its tail out handle well, but Drifting and Rallycross are another story. The drift cars are tuned to be so squirrely that clutch kicking and e-braking are completely unnecessary. The scoring is simplistic too, with the only means of banking points being stringing drifts together, regardless of speed or angle. Manjiing is the name of the game.
While the intentionally loose handling lowers the skill curve in Drift, it can make Rallycross downright infuriating. Someone at Ivory Tower must have thought that rally cars powersliding through turns looks cool, because they have handling halfway in between street and drift cars. They can go straight well enough to build up some speed, but turn a bit too quick and it’ll spin around, regardless of whether you’re on dirt of pavement. This wouldn’t be so aggravating if the AI ever did this, but they never have these issues. The handling in Rallycross doesn’t inspire confidence.
Speaking of those AI, rubberbanding is back. This is most apparent in the long Hyper Car races. If you spin out and fall behind the pack early in the race, you’ll be able to catch up to your competitors one by one, as they string out a ways. However, should you spin out again, they’ll all race by you a few seconds later in a big pack, sending you back to last place. Watching this play out feels infuriatingly cheap. It’s not as apparent in the shorter races, but make no mistake. It’s there, ready for you to mess up once and send you to the back of the pack.
One of the key hooks of The Crew is that it isn’t a car game in the traditional sense, with tuning being the way to improve your car’s performance. Instead, it uses a kind of RPG system, where random loot will drop at the end of each race that you can use to upgrade your vehicles. It’s this, not stats inherent to the car, that determine how fast it will go and how it will perform. While this creates a sense of progression, with each race helping to make your car go faster and handle better, it essentially removes the traditional progression in car games of purchasing more cars and expanding your virtual collection.
While there are plenty of cars to collect, without any real performance difference between them, there isn’t much of a reason why you wouldn’t simply buy your favorite one once the discipline becomes available and upgrade it. In more traditional racing games like Forza, you can save your money to buy cars that perform better, or at least differently, than the ones you can buy at the beginning. In The Crew 2, it’s almost completely aesthetic. The list of cars isn’t exactly gigantic, and without any reason to buy new cars other than aesthetics, it feels even smaller.
A Million Little Things
When it comes to the presentation, there isn’t one thing that makes it feel underwhelming. It’s all the little things that add up. For instance, each of those areas, Street Racing, Pro Racing, Freestyle and Off-Road, has a plotline, but they’re all basically the same. There’s a person at the top who you need to race your way up to and defeat. Three of the four even follow the cliched “person at the top is a jerk” paradigm. Yes, none of us are playing racing games for the plot, but when this is combined with everything else, it paints a picture of a game without much thought put into it.
Visually, the series has even moved back in ways. Some assets that are clearly taken from the first game look worse in The Crew 2. Somehow, the best name they could come up with for a fictional extreme livestreamed racing series was Live Xtreme. The dialogue is mostly cringeworthy throughout, especially from your friend who travels with you through the world.
User generated livery designs cost in-game currency. Competitive multiplayer isn't in the game at launch. They even put Pikes Peak in Iowa. Alone none of these things is a big deal, but together they make the whole package feel sloppy and poorly thought out.
Even though this review has been pretty critical, that isn’t to say that there’s no fun to be had. The racing disciplines are fun, and the variety of vehicles keeps the gameplay fresh for a while. However, Ubisoft has a long way to go to compete with the racing game titans over at Turn 10. The Crew 2 is the kind of game you borrow from a friend. If you can find it on discount and need something to give you your racing fix, this will provide you enough fun, but if you’re going to buy one game this year, wait for Forza Horizon 4.