Trans-American driving game The Crew 2 is currently available to anyone who pre-ordered and will be widely available on June 29. I’ve been playing it too, but I’m not quite ready to make a definitive judgment on the game yet. 12 hours in, I’ve worked my way through dozens of different races and activities in single-player mode (with minimal free-roam exploration), to stock up on cash, build and upgrade my car collection, as well as progress in popularity and status as efficiently as I can. I’ve hit the endgame rank of Icon, but that doesn’t mean much–I’ve only completed around half of the game’s immense roster of events, and as it turns out, you can keep earning additional Icon levels until you hit 99.
The Crew 2 is a big game, with a gargantuan open world, multiple vehicle styles, and lots to do. But most importantly, I haven’t been able to experience what is supposed to be one of the biggest drawcards of the game: other drivers. The Crew 2 is always-online and encourages you to tear around the USA and take part in events with other players in a, well, crew. But during the pre-release period on PlayStation 4, I’ve yet to encounter another driver, though the leaderboards tell me there are definitely people out there somewhere. I’ll update this review with full conclusions once the game has some proper time in the wild, but read on for my impressions so far.
It’s surprising to see just how much The Crew 2 differs from the original game. There’s been a noticeable shift in Ubisoft’s last few open-world titles, one that’s moving toward a focus on player-driven progression–large selections of optional activities, non-linear structures, rewards for doing just about anything–and The Crew 2 benefits significantly from this direction.
The gritty crime angle from the original game is gone, and instead, The Crew 2 takes reams of pages from the book of Forza Horizon. The game centers on a nationwide festival of motorsports where you, a rookie, are poised to become the next big star. While the setup is conventional, and the focus on social media followers can be irritating, what it brings to the game is a colorful and upbeat vibe, an impressive variety of different vehicular activities, and positively ridiculous arcade driving on land, water, and through the air.
Races in The Crew 2 might involve sending your car off a twenty-story skyscraper, or your boat off the Hoover Dam. They might include making high-speed touring cars go head to head through the tight, windy Hollywood Hills, and motocross bikes take jumps across shipping freighters. This is a game that will cover Los Angeles in three feet of snow for no logical reason, other than icy roads make for thrilling street races. Abundant nitro boosts, uncomplicated drifting, and generous rubber-banding also help keep the act of driving exciting when things are relatively tamer.
But what has left the biggest impression on me is how player-friendly this game is. As an open-world driving game, races can naturally be found and started at a particular location in the world. Smaller challenges can easily be stumbled upon while exploring or located using the world map. But if you want to get straight to business, The Crew has an option to view all its activities in a categorized, list-style view, with the option to not just set a waypoint to them, but instantly start them no matter where you are in the world, at no cost. The loading times in The Crew 2 are impressively brief all around, so if you wanted to, you can churn through many races back-to-back to efficiently rack up progression points and cash, or decide to knock out all the smaller speed-gate challenges in one go to set your records for the leaderboard.
Any activity can be restarted or aborted in seconds you’re having a bad run, there’s a quick back-on-track feature that can be used any time, and when you’re not in an event you can switch to any vehicle you own immediately, without penalty. That’s on top of being able to assign a favorite ground vehicle, boat, and plane to your right analog stick to allow for instantaneous switching during free-roam exploration, which provides its own kind of fun, for example, flying into the stratosphere with your plane before switching to a boat and careening back to Earth. Any vehicle that’s available for sale is also graciously available for you to test drive on a moment’s notice.
The variety of different vehicular disciplines in The Crew 2 is downright impressive–each of the 14 styles is tangibly unique from one another. Every time I started to get fatigued with one method of competition, I could quickly jump to another that had a completely different feel. Each is housed within one of four “Families” which you’re free to move between: Street (street racing, drifting, drag racing, long-distance hypercar racing), Offroad (cross-country rally raid, motocross, loose-surface rallycross), Freestyle (plane aerobatics, jet sprint boating, monster trucking), and Pro (power boating, air racing, touring cars, and grand prix).
While the execution of The Crew 2’s disciplines might not wholly satisfy purists of any one given style, I can say that it does a great job of making each feel accessible and fun. I’m usually too intimidated by grand prix racing to give a shot, and I never would have even considered the idea of playing a power boating game. But, the Crew 2 encouraged me to get a taste of everything, and that’s thanks to the game’s approachable arcade-style mechanics, as well as the prospects of seeing more beautiful and ludicrous tracks.
Those tracks are certainly one of the highlights of the game, because there’s an inherent novelty to the virtual tourism of The Crew 2. You’ll likely recognize iconic structures, but there are also enough abstracted details for the game to capture just enough of each city’s atmosphere and character. And, like the original game, The Crew 2 does a great job at building a seamless and believable version of America to drive through, whether it’s a designated top-to-bottom endurance race or a self-assigned recreation of a cross-country road trip you did a few years back (with some detours to hunt for the game’s new Live crates, using a Far Cry 2-style tracker). The journey across the country feels grounded, as you drive through cities that morph into industrial areas and farmland, into plains, deserts, forests and rural areas, occasionally flying by a small town now and then.
And whether you’re driving, boating, or flying across The Crew 2’s America, it’s a mostly beautiful journey. The game’s natural environments, particularly bodies of water and the sky, look fantastic, as do weather effects like snow and rain. All are enhanced to breathtaking heights by the superb lighting. Where the visuals visibly falter are in dense urban areas–you likely won’t notice the buildings when you’re zooming past them at 200km/h, but any slower and you can’t help but notice how plain they are, especially in broad daylight with clear skies. Character models, on the other hand, always look a little terrifying.
The game’s RPG-style vehicle upgrade system returns from the original game, though it still doesn’t feel particularly meaningful. You’ll receive loot after every race in various stages of rarity (uncommon, rare, epic), and each corresponds to a particular vehicle part and has its own power number, which contributes to your vehicle’s overall power number. There’s some small benefit to this system–every vehicle of a particular class, despite starting with different power levels, will max out at the same number, meaning you can stick with your favorite car all the way up to and through the endgame.
But while some parts come with unique gameplay perks, and more professional tuning options eventually become available, I found the upgrade system pretty easy to ignore–simply equipping the one with the biggest number was all I had to do to stay competitive. This system feels like it’s there to act as an additional roadblock to make sure your progress to higher tiers of races stays gradual. Another obstacle is the cost of the vehicles you’re required to purchase to be able to participate in certain disciplines. I haven’t needed to dip into the game’s real-world currency equivalent yet, but buying a vehicle so I can access a high-end discipline like air racing or grand prix will usually empty out my in-game wallet completely.
Despite these artificial-feeling roadblocks stopping me from progressing any faster than my current pace, The Crew 2 continues to be a delightful driving game that I look forward to playing. The feel of the driving and the challenge on normal difficulty feels just right, and there are so many great experiences to be had, from the indulgent to the exhilarating. You could be leisurely riding Harley Davidson motorcycles through the Grand Canyon at sunset, and then be flinging a jet sprint boat back and forth as you weave through the Everglades minutes later. You could be driving off mountains in a rally raid and taking risky paths through dense forests, or you could be flying through Monument Valley in a World War II Spitfire jet fighter, just because you needed a moment to relax.
I’m aiming to finish up as much content as I can before servers start populating at launch, and I’m also keen to start playing with friends to see how the dynamics change, for better or worse, when other people are involved. I’m also yet to dive deep into the vehicle customization and photo/video editor, though I like what I’ve seen. So far, I’m very much enjoying The Crew 2 as a single-player experience, and I’ll be back to give a full review when I feel like I’ve seen the whole picture.