The Crew 2
The Crew 2 is Ivory Tower’s, and Ubisoft’s, latest attempt at breaking into the racing genre. This is notoriously difficult as evidenced by the fact that just a few years ago Sony closed Evolution Studios, despite it having provided the world with the delightful Driveclub. Whilst those devs got hoovered up by Codemasters and delivered this year’s chaotic Onrush, it was recognised that perhaps something different is needed to achieve success these days — after all, Onrush isn’t actually a racing game, is it? Where true racing games are concerned Forza rules the roost on Xbox, Gran Turismo on PlayStation and if you want something more arcadey, old-school twitch racers like Burnout Paradise are where it’s at (or perhaps EA’s near-annual Need For Speed). Unfortunately, despite this being their second go and all the resource in the world being available to them, Ubisoft has still not cracked it.
That’s not to say The Crew 2 is bad, mind. After installing and loading up the game you first get to choose one of numerous premade avatars and then you’re initiated into the game world by way of a televised event (part of the Live Extreme series) which also serves as a tutorial to the game as a whole, and specifically the mechanics of racing. Your goal is to gain followers and rise up the ranks of fame by winning various events (and gather loot like performance upgrades and cars along the way). These events can be in a car, motor boat, or plane. You experience each of these in the opening and from there you’ll have a strong preference on where you’ll spend most of your time. Cars are pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve driven anything in The Crew, or Rockstar’s Midnight Club games — broadly heavy beasts which understeer a lot, never quite give that feeling of speed and feel largely unchanged when you move from car to car. Yes some of this does alter as you gather the cash to afford different styles of cars (hypercars are always fun after all), or to tune up your preferred vehicular carrier of choice, but on the whole? Driving one car is pretty much the same as another.
Motorboats feel much more lightweight and easier to turn left or right, but of course they don’t take a corner in quite the same way you’d expect a car to, so here the learning curve is perhaps more challenging. But once you get used to it — and the water is normally calm and serene and therefore not giving you any problems — these can be quite fun to captain. Planes will depend on how easily you can get your head into gear, especially if you chop and change vehicles throughout your playthrough, given that you have four axes to play about with now. Left and right are obvious, but when you add up and down in too, and then turning right whilst heading down or up if you need to gain altitude, well, that can mess with your head at first and again after long bouts of inactivity.
The story in The Crew 2 is completely separate to the first. In that you were an ex-con having done time for a crime you didn’t commit. You travelled across America from East to West hunting down the person who framed you. Here you are just trying to get rich and famous, basically. Sure, in a particular discipline you’ll have an NPC guiding you and their purpose might be something more, but your aim? Git gud. It’s not a problem that the original’s narrative has been waylaid. It wasn’t particularly satisfying and racing games aren’t known for high-quality stories surrounding the stellar (or otherwise) driving mechanics. It just means that here you have a series of vignettes which mean little alone and nothing altogether save the holistic umbrella they are all underneath, that is, your career. Perhaps a story was unnecessary in the first place?
What is perhaps the biggest character in the game and its underwhelming story is America itself. Again, as with the first game, you can actually drive across the whole of the country, in true open world style. Sixty miles in-game to make things that much more manageable, but still a remarkable achievement and one that is well-received. It’s a shame then that until later in the game there is little reason to actually drive across the whole place. It would literally be for you to get from A to B. The handling of the vehicles means that it’s not the most enjoyable drive. It all looks pretty — and it’s true that this game looks good and is definitely built for the current generation and its full power (we played on a Pro), which is something perhaps not true of the original — but sixty miles even in the game is quite a distance and a lot of time to sink in just for fun. Thankfully you don’t need to drive all over the place as fast travel is available from the start enabling you to go from California to the East coast with just a little loading time. Loading times are pretty slow, actually, perhaps limited by the size of the map or maybe due to the always-on connection that’s required, whether you’re planning to leverage any of the online capability or not. Being an Ubisoft title this isn’t a surprise, but is still irritating. The aforementioned online capability is not really there, yet. Later in the year we’re told to expect more features for the whole game, and ongoing, but in terms of multiplayer we can look forward to a competitive game mode. Right now though, we’re limited to very little — the standout being the opportunity to co-op an event.
The Crew 2 is the kind of game which will keep you occupied over the summer months whilst you wait for that game you actually want to play to arrive. It’s big, there are lots of events and you can do lots to build up your car, your vehicle collection and your character’s fame. The world you’re asked to do it looks great and the physics behind everything feel fine if clunky and heavyweight overall. All of this though fails to provide enough to recommend the game. It’s not something that anyone should be choosing if they’re yet to play recent titles like Onrush, or past classics like Burnout Paradise. Everything about it is alright. A shade of grey across the whole of the USA presented as a technicolour vehicular extravaganza. It’s not though, unfortunately.
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