Initial impressions that come from playing Ubisoft’s open-world racer, The Crew 2, are mostly positive. Although a completely different genre one can’t help but be reminded of Watch Dogs 2, where a previously serious-in-tone title was injected with a sense of fun – and freedom. For The Crew 2 this means doing away with the undercover cop infiltrating a racing crew for “reasons and revenge” in lieu of becoming a world renown social media racer. Silly, but with hundreds of thousands of followers comes the ability to switch between a large rimmed street racer to a plane to a speed boat – and even a hovercraft. And race.
This variety, in what is at its core an arcade racer, is The Crew 2’s strongest aspect. Racing boats through the everglades, monster trucks through back alleys, and even taking hyper cars across a digital U.S.A. is almost always entertaining – if a little shallow. It’s not long until the seams begin to show, from the simplistic controls to the terrible catch-up logic powered AI and even the undercooked car parts as RPG stats. A lot of The Crew 2’s problems arise from being built on the foundation of the original, where it feels like developer Ubisoft Ivory Tower couldn’t quite nail the shift in tone without sacrificing the impressive digital recreation that was The Crew’s U.S.A.
Compared to the open-world of Forza Horizon 3, where you gradually made your way from one location to the next taking part in events, challenges, and finding secrets without the need to bring up a separate menu – the opening hour or two of The Crew 2 will have you jumping from New York to Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to Florida in quick succession. A fact that is both exhilarating and a showcase for the wonderful visuals (which looks amazing on an Xbox One X and LG OLED display), but also a warning that being able to instantly switch between a car, plane, or boat is a fun mechanic that rarely plays into the progression. And is mostly reserved for special story-related races narrated by an out-of-time '90s style voice.
The flipside to this of course is that the ‘lets throw everything in’ approach to The Crew 2’s arcade racing means you could quite easily sink a few dozen hours into it without ever getting bored. The ability to switch between the different factions and disciplines, results in an experience that offers so many different types of vehicles and events that you quickly become spoiled for choice. In a good way. A clear design choice that although diminishes the need or want to explore the open world, outside of some fun photo challenges, amplifies the wonderfully vibrant and colourful presentation. From an environment standpoint, the weather effects and distinct regional American landmarks play into The Crew 2’s often brilliant track design.
Which reminded us of Mario Kart at several points. Not in the Mushroom Kingdom fantasy sense, but in the focus on fun and a clear attempt to make each event or race look and feel different from the one that has come before. Racing through the mountains and then driving down a massive ski jump to race through a resort is inspired, as is a street race that quickly injects a ramp to have you jump on top of a multi-story car park and then back down to a busy road. As impressive as the track design often is, unfortunately the AI begins to break the longer and more intricate the events become. Where in many cases, what happens in the final moments determines the winner.
Now, catch-up logic or an AI racer that is always in your rear-view mirror is not uncommon in the arcade racing space. In fact, it can often be the optimal solution to keep things from devolving into an endless series of time trials. The implementation in The Crew 2 fails bigly when you live up to the title and Crew-up with other players. If one of your crew members is ahead of you, then you can be sure that most if not all the AI will be on their tail – leading to a string of first and last finishes. Thankfully, everyone gets rewarded according to the best performance - but it’s still frustrating.
At this point you may be wondering if the score below, assuming you’ve skipped ahead, accurately reflects a review that has been highly critical. But even the above criticism plays into the nature of The Crew 2 as an over-the-top and breathless arcade racer. One where you’ll never linger too long in one location or on one event, because the game itself is quick to offer you a dozen new places to visit and different types of vehicles to switch between. So, before you get comfortable sitting there wondering why the buildings in the cities look kind of crummy compared to the lush swamps of the south, The Crew 2 asks you if you’d be interested in racing a Formula One car. And before you can respond you’re also presented with the option to race a quarter mile in a supped-up Vin Diesel-fueled thing that can only go in a straight line. Or, take to the skies to perform loops and aerobatics over San Francisco. How about a single-seat jet boat race through the many casinos of Las Vegas? Or a motocross event in the desert?
In the end the fact that most of the different disciplines are fun to play, outweigh the shortcomings. Which makes The Crew 2 a fun, scrappy, but not all that essential arcade racer. If it could somehow reign in the insanity and shortcomings, while providing a real reason to drive around and explore the impressive open-world U.S.A. - especially in co-op – then it could become something special.
What we liked
Genuinely fun to switch between car, boat, and plane
Arcade feel works well across multiple disciplines
Track design is often brilliant
Open-world U.S.A looks and runs great on Xbox One X hardware
Great vehicle selection and visual customisation
Fun and detailed photo mode
What we didn't like
But there's no real need to explore
Some elements in the environment look bland, like buildings and some ghost bushes that you can drive through
Cheap AI catch-up logic can ruin the feel of certain races