Title: The Crew 2 Released On: June 29, 2018 Genre: Racing Reviewed On: Xbox One Also Available On: PC, PlayStation 4 Developer: Ivory Tower Publisher: Ubisoft MSRP: CAD$79.99/USD$59.99


I had a fantastic and engrossing time with The Crew 2, but I did so with the understanding that the type of presentation is not going to be for everyone. You have to ride into The Crew 2 understanding the type of game that Ivory Tower set out to make. The followup to 2014’s open-world carRPG is geared towards giving the player a versatile and expansive world and letting them tackle it how they see fit. The Crew 2 presents the player with an almost unparalleled amount of freedom for a racing game: the map stretches from coast-to-coast of the continental United States and almost every area in between seems jam-packed with a wealth of different events, which you can tackle utilizing over a dozen types of vehicles.

It’s best described as a playground, albeit one that feels occasionally empty considering the amount of content that has been jammed between New York and San Francisco. The game’s versatility falls short at the single-player offerings, and racers looking to test their mettle against other gearheads may find themselves left in the dust in regards to a more fleshed out multiplayer matchmaking system. The lack of a more concrete matchmaking system was a disappointment for sure, leaving the world to feel less alive than its presentation would suggest.

For less-serious racers like myself who are looking for the arcade entertainment without the intricacies and sharp learning curve that one may find in some of the more longstanding racing series, The Crew 2 presents an attractive and easily accessible option that allows players to tear through their own backyards in everything from a Monster Truck to a Jet. It’s this versatility where The Crew 2 really shines, but some unfortunate bumps along the road — or in this case air and sea — impede the game from reaching its full potential.

The Racing Buffet

The Crew 2 is massive. The first time you expand the map and see the literal hundreds of square kilometers — sorry, miles — and the colourful events scattered throughout, it can feel a bit overwhelming. You earn progress the game and cash and followers by competing in a variety of events, which are separated into four distinct families — Street Racing, Offroad, Freestyle, and Pro Racing —  and further sub-split into Disciplines. For example, the Freestyle Discipline is broken down into Aerobatics, Jet Sprint, and Monster Truck events. These groups form your different types of vehicles (and related events), of which there are 13 in total which you unlock through overall game progression. I don’t think I enjoyed any group of vehicles more or less than another, as they all offered something really unique and geared towards their specific events.

Once you reach a new Reputation Level you unlock dozens of new events and activities throughout the country across each Discipline, including the ability to take part in special Live Xtreme Series which are The Crew 2‘s equivalent of a high-octane triathlon. These were some of my favorite races in the game as they were typically 15-20 minute races that comprised vehicles from multiple Disciplines. Once you’ve mastered all of the Disciplines contained within a family of vehicles, you’re invited to take part in an Ultimate showdown to take the crown from the current champion.

You gain cash and Followers even if you come in absolute last in a race, which can be beneficial if you find yourself in a tight spot and in need of a few more dollars; or a few more friends. On the other side, this does mean you can keep failing a race over and over again and still continue to reap some benefit from it. In contrast, replaying races you’ve already won will net you the same amount of cash and followers again, which I thought was an interesting choice. It allows you continue to rake in cash and fans on races you know you can master — which can help you to purchase new vehicles or gain a new level — but you can’t advance the game unless you complete a set percentage of each of the Disciplines.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition: at the same time The Crew 2 gives you complete freedom to tackle the game as you see fit, it requires you to master all of the skills if you want to progress through each family of disciplines. If someone was exceptionally bad at Touring cars for example — like myself — they would have trouble advancing the Pro Racing series to the Ultimate challenge without almost 100% completion on every other Discipline. Luckily each section also contains speed and score-based Trials, which are fun little segues that help you to bolster your rank.

Pimp Your Ride

Each team has their own Headquarters, which you can visit to pick up new rides or customize your current whips. There is a decent amount of selection for vehicles, but I found that the same cars often appeared across each family, and were just outfitted with a different kit specific to that Discipline. For example, there are six different versions of the 2010 Camaro SS, and eight different versions of the Nissan 370Z. Do I plan on owning every single one of them? Yes. Yes I do.

You can only take the specific class of vehicle into any given event. This means you can only Street Race with the vanilla edition, go Offroad with the Rally Edition, Drift with the Drift Edition; do you see where I’m going here? Realistically it’s a logical decision to make — you wouldn’t want to take a Touring car offroad — but it does end up feeling like there is less of an offering for each Discipline, even though there are hundreds of vehicles to drive and customize. If this type of restriction bothers you, you can opt to do what I did and just enjoy taking your Audi offroad in freeroam, or tearing through downtown Las Vegas in a Monster Truck.

You take up residence at your Home Base in sunny Florida, which acts as a hub for all of your customization, and a showroom to display your favorite car, plane, and boat. There isn’t much purpose to the Home Base apart from customizing the aesthetics of your vehicles, as you can switch to any of your owned vehicles at any point during the game, as well as customize their Performance on the fly.

You upgrade your vehicles by winning races with them, which in turn rewards you with parts for the class of vehicle you are using. You’ll get one of seven types of parts, which follow the standard RPG progression of white, green, blue, and purple for levels of rarity. While the random drops were fun at first, at a point it’s possible to end up with vehicles that have one or two slots that you haven’t come across a part for, halting progression of your performance. It would be great if there was another way to get these parts, such as purchasing them from the HQs, as it can get somewhat tedious hoping for RNG to play in your favor.

It’s a small gripe when realistically, it never impeded my progression substantially as replaying (and winning) events often rewards you with additional parts which can then be used to even out your ride. I just felt that the system could have used some tweaking so that I wasn’t ending up with seven types of tires, and no new suspension. Thankfully parts are shared between every vehicle of a Discipline, which allows you to instantly attach your best parts to any new whip.

Customizing your vehicles in The Crew 2 is almost everything that you want from a caRPG. There are a number of body modifications that you can perform on any vehicle, turning your stock Camaro SS into a beastly thing of pure beauty. Each Discipline has a different set of aesthetic upgrades, so even though you may own six Camaros, chances are they all look and perform quite differently. Planes and boats on the other hand can only have their color and livery changed, but there are a plethora of pre-made and fully customizeable decals and livery to accent your ride and really make it feel like your own. You could easily spend hours pouring over all of the details to make your perfect ride — or fleet of vehicles — and I had a blast relaxing with the Editor between races.

Through Land, Air, and Sea

One of The Crew 2‘s most impressive achievements is making each Discipline feel and handle uniquely.

Each class of vehicle handles differently, and not just in comparison to say a Tuner or a Muscle car, but more intuitively regarding how you need to control them. For example, Touring cars require you to pay attention to which side of the track you’re on as you approach turns with focus on regular braking, whereas Rally and Drift-class vehicles have been tuned to drift more on turns and require careful use of the e-brake. Jetsprint boats glide along the top of the water without any prop or rudder, creating a very different steering to the powerboats. In addition, all boats use trim which allows you to control your speed more precisely with the left stick.

It’s these little changes which set The Crew 2 apart from the competition, because instead of sharing a similarly ‘arcadey’ feeling across every vehicle, you genuinely feel like you’ve sat in a wholly different ride. There is an initially decent learning curve with each new class of vehicle; each Discipline of vehicle takes a different type of handling and input on the controller, compounded by the constant switching between them. This is further impressed upon by the plethora of tracks and Events that are available to partake in as soon as you have unlocked the requisite vehicle; or the necessary rank. The team at Ivory Tower has crafted each track to feel right at home — or in some cases appropriately uncomfortable — with the 13 different vehicle Disciplines, taking full advantage of the geography, and even climate, of the United States of America.

There is no feeling like coming in first by only several seconds in a 45 minute race across the entire country, screaming through traffic at 300 km/h the entire time in a Supercar.

The Crew 2 LivemapToo Fast, Too Furious

As generally comfortable as the controls were for the most part, the game is devoid of some mechanics and features that I would have hoped for including realistic body damage — as opposed to slight scuff marks — and the ability to perform pit maneuvers or derail your AI opponents in any substantial way. Most of my attempts to force another car into a median or off the road ended up with me careening into the side of a building.

The AI opponents can be frustratingly good at points; there is almost no manner of obstacle or collision that the computer controlled drivers can’t recover from in a split second, which makes some of the more winding tightly-checkpointed races much more difficult to complete as a single error in timing a drift can easily put you +10 seconds behind lead, whereas the AI can recover from colliding headfirst into oncoming traffic in under a second; and if you’re me, send that car careening into your front bumper and setting you back another +4.5 seconds.

For the most part I found my NPC opponents to be evenly matched against whatever the recommended (Reco) spec of vehicle was — regardless of land, air, or sea — but it was during these instances that I felt they could have behaved more realistically in their recovery and response times.

The Crew 2 ProgressionThe World is Your Playground

Ubisoft has always had a penchant for making exceptionally detailed maps, and The Crew 2 may just serve as one of their most impressive yet. I likely spent almost as much time flying, boating and driving around the map in freeroam with my various rides and taking in all of the sights as I did actively participating in events. Not only is the map itself exceptionally large, detailed, and geographically varied — as one would expect from a recreation of the U.S. — but the map-mechanics themselves are something to be applauded.

You can zoom all the way out to take int the entirety of the United States with all of the event icons, but as you zoom in on any one location the map will switch to a “satellite view” which gives a fantastic bird’s-eye view of the surroundings and lets you zoom all the way into your vehicle. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that the map for the Crew 2 should set a new standard for video game map-making.

For more casual racing-game fans such as myself, this type of presentation allowed me to more easily lose myself in the world. Often — like in many Ubisoft games now that I think about it — I would find myself roaming around without purpose, taking in the sights and snagging Photo Ops as they popped up. My greatest experiences from The Crew 2 came from just taking the wold at my own pace and roaming around, switching at whim between vehicles.

While you’re playing around in the map you can take advantage of The Crew 2‘s LiveTrack editor, which always saves the last ten minutes of gameplay. You can manipulate the footage in a plethora of ways, with the editor allowing you to create multiple key frames and cut together the perfect video. You can change the time of day, weather, and other environmental factors to give the right ambiance, or capture that perfect picture. On the Xbox, saving a recording from the video editor saves right to the Xbox Capture, allowing for easy access and sharing.

The Crew 2 Live Video EditorYou can fast travel to any of the events, trials or HQs on your map with split-second load time, which makes whipping from the Eastern to the Western seaboard a snap. That is, if you don’t want to make the drive from New York City to San Francisco and take in all of the sights that the American Mid-West has to offer! If there was ever a reason to focus on traversal and exploration over fast-travel, it’s the inclusion of The Crew 2‘s fast-switching mechanic which allows you to instantly swap between your favorited land, air, and sea vehicles.

Personally I only fast-traveled when I wanted to move over 50km (that’s right I’m using Metric even though I’m driving in America) because it was far more enjoyable to strap in for a 10-15 minute ride and hit trials and events along the way. In addition to all of the core activities, context and location-sensitive Photo Ops will pop-up occasionally as you travel around, often requiring you to perform a specific action and then rewind through the Live Editor to capture that perfect shot.

The Crew 2 Flight

caRPG

One of the things that always irked me about the original Crew was that like most RPGs, everything was determined by the numbers. You’d expect this in a caRPG, but at points it felt like it was nigh-impossible to play with your friends in all but a small number of events that you were currently qualified (or even competitive) for.

The Crew 2 has done a much better job at balancing the player’s skill in racing with the RPG mechanics so that it doesn’t feel like your ability to drive is wholly dependent on what parts you have in your car. Don’t get me wrong; if your Performance Level is that much lower than the recommendation you are in for a rough time, but it’s clear when it’s your skill or an upgrade to your current model that are the issue. Unlike the first game, there were no points that I found myself frustrated at my inability to ‘keep up’ because I hadn’t been grinding the game to get the best vehicles and parts; instead it was my own ability that held me back.

The Crew 2 BoatsI Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Joining up with friends in The Crew 2 is extremely simple and done through the Roster menu, which allows you to easily invite any players from your friends list or online session to your crew. After that, players show up as a little blue circle on your map, and as an icon in your HUD, allowing you to (fairly) easily locate them in the world. Anytime a member of your Crew starts an event, you are given a pop-up invitation which allows you to seamlessly join the event, and even provides you with a vehicle if you do not have the proper Discipline unlocked.

One of the upsides to The Crew 2 is that you can instantly fast-travel to anywhere on the map that you’ve discovered, including to anyone in your crew. Unfortunately it can be a little difficult to locate your crew members on the world map, as that small blue circle is not immediately apparent when you are zoomed out. I constantly had to ask my crew-mates to tell me exactly where they were, so that I could zoom in on the map to locate the blue circle to fast travel.

The Crew 2 HomeIn contrast to the relative simplicity of joining or creating a Crew to play through events together, my biggest complaint with The Crew 2 is the lack of a more fleshed out multiplayer matchmaking system that opponents in player-vs-player competitions.

The lack of this type of matchmaking forced me to travel around and try to convince other random players in my sessions to join a Crew, so we could get a large enough Roster to have a substantial PvP competition. Not everyone wants to play with you, so it can be fairly difficult to ‘Crew up’ with the players that you encounter throughout the world, which seems like a pretty serious detriment to a game focused on open-world multiplayer racing. There are no competitive lobbies to join and test your mettle against other drivers. There is no ability to burn up on someone at a stoplight and flash your high beams to enter into an immediate PvP race. For a game that seems on the surface to be so focused on building a living world that you can tear up with other players, this seems like a massive oversight, and one that was frustratingly confusing at first.

The Crew 2 RacesMuch like almost every other game with customization features, The Crew 2 has a premium currency option — Crew Credits — which allow you to purchase all of the same things that you would be able to obtain if you just played through the game normally.

The one thing I will say is that while The Crew 2 has the option to purchase premium currency, at no point was it shoved down my throat like in many other games. I never felt like purchasing any premium currency packs was necessary for two core reasons, both of which I think are important to underscore how the game’s micro-transactions are not inherently detrimental to the overall experience. Firstly, The Crew 2 does a solid job of rewarding the player with new vehicles, parts, and customization options as you progress through the game and unlock new Disciplines and events. Secondly, the game actually gives you a decent amount of Crew Credits just for playing, to the point that I’m still sitting on 70,000CC because I haven’t felt it necessary to spend yet.

The Crew 2 Monster TruckWhile The Crew 2 supports the use of a wheel peripheral, it’s not without its problems. You can’t remap the controls in the game on the console versions, which means that there are several buttons which are inaccessible including the vehicle fast swapping, or the ability to control your plane’s pitch . This pretty much means the wheel is only really useful if you plan on just staying in land-based vehicles — and to a certain extent boats — and using the menu to swap between them. Apart from this annoyance, the Thrustmaster VG Ferrari 458 wheel functioned highly during races, and was a fun break from the controller for brief periods of time. It’s a shame there isn’t Hotas support or the ability to remap the controls, as it would solve a majority of the issues with peripheral support.

It’s important to note as well that The Crew 2 requires a constant internet connection to be able to play, so gamers without consistent access to internet — or those without a subscription to the requisite service — should take this into consideration.

The Final Lap

When it comes down to it, The Crew 2‘s world created one of the most engrossing experiences I’ve ever had playing a racing game, and is the core factor that makes the game what it is. Any racing game can give you a city or allow you to pick from a list of events to partake in, but connecting these through a miniaturized and detailed conceptualization of the continental United States is an experience you won’t find elsewhere.

For what The Crew 2 sets out to be — a free-roaming arcade racer that lets you tackle the world how you see fit — The Crew 2 achieves its goal apart from a few technical and design flaws along the way. Fans of more ‘serious’ racing games may not find what they’re looking for here, but I would liken it to being served up a racing buffet. You may not get a lot of every Discipline, but you get to sample a wealth of well-defined racing styles within a single game.

The Crew 2 veers off track in several key areas, including peripheral support and a more fleshed out PvP matchmaking system, but as the sum of its parts it was quite an enjoyable experience. I would have preferred to spend more time testing my mettle against other players, but I thoroughly enjoyed whipping from different event to event, and finding new ways to tackle the terrain set out before me.

The Crew 2 BridgesNow Ubisoft, please give me Canada DLC.

 


Final Score: 8/10

The Crew 2 veers off track in a few areas, but as the sum of its parts the experience presents players with an attractive racing buffet full of events and trials to sample. It’s just a shame you’ll spend most of the time eating alone.

The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.

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