Everyone's invited to Ubisoft's latest sandbox racer - it's just a shame no-one remembered the bucket and spade
The Crew 2 doesn’t just wear its ambitions on its sleeve. It emblazons them on the huge vinyl decals stretched over its extensive catalogue of supercars.
Then it morphs into a jet, takes to the air, and sky-writes those ambitions all over the contiguous USA.
Ubisoft’s open-world driving sequel wants to be street racing for the YouTube generation, y’see. Right from the start, your nameless avatar is let loose in a shrunken, greatest-hits tour of America with one aim: get insta-famous by showing off your skills behind the wheel.
How you earn those coveted online followers is up to you. On tarmac, over dirt and gravel, on the water or in the air. And there’s a whole lot of that to go around.
THIS IS MY UNITED STATES OF WHEREVER
The concrete jungles of New York. The everglades of Miami. The arid deserts of Arizona and the mountains of Colorado. It’s all there to explore, in miniature scale.
It’ll take you the best part of an hour to drive across the whole thing, with day rolling into night as you drive and weather fronts rolling in to blast you with rain and snow.
There are a few inconsistencies, like the indestructible trees and oddly arctic conditions in locations you wouldn’t expect to see them, but fans of Americana will appreciate the whistle-stop tour.
Away from the picture postcard locations, though, the world feels a bit... empty. Sure, people fill the sidewalks, cars pootle along the roads, and streets are filled with shops and restaurants, but the races and events you’re searching for are few and far between.
The first game saw you dipping toes along the East Coast, then slowly easing your way inland towards middle America and beyond. But here? As soon as the chequered flag has been waved on your first race in California, the next one pops up… in New York.
There’s no sense of connection between races and events, with the map only truly filling up once you’ve made serious story progression. It’s just encouraging you to start your events from the menus, rather than driving between each one and exploring the continent along the way.
WHERE’S YOUR SENSE OF ADVENTURE?
Even worse, there’s so little to keep you occupied if you do decide to do all the cross-country driving yourself. Whereas the original game had hundreds of mini challenges, testing your straight line speed, jump distance, ability to slalom around obstacles and drift around corners, there are far fewer of these to keep you busy this time around.
Sure, Ubisoft has taken some flak for its open-world games in the past, which were so filled to bursting with objective icons the maps looked like they’d contracted chicken pox, but they’ve gone too far the other way here. You can be driving for five minutes before anything draws your attention away from the road ahead.
You’d think adding planes and boats to the mix would keep things fresh. Now, when the road runs out, just tap a button and you instantly swap your car for a powerboat or stunt plane.
Travelling as the crow flies certainly makes hopping between cities a breeze - especially when there’s no traffic to worry about. It’s a shame the plane controls are so tricky, though; until you put in the practice, flying just isn’t as accessible as the other disciplines.
Only certain cars can be adapted for off-road driving now, too. In the first game, your Ford Mustang could be specced for road racing, a rally stage or circuit driving, but here you’ve got to choose specific cars for each discipline. It’s an all-too-serious approach that doesn’t really match the go-anywhere attitude.
JUST ANOTHER LOOT-EM-UP
The racing itself is decent enough, with street cars that are easy to handle at all speeds, drift machines that throw their backs out with the lightest of flicks, and off-roaders that skid and spin as you fight terra firma to reach the finish line.
With different car classes only really getting faster instead of more challenging as you progress, though, and AI rubber-banding sapping all the fun out of long races where one mistake means you’re guaranteed to drop down to last place, there’s only one real incentive beyond sheer completionism to plough through events as you unlock them - loot boxes.
Instead of drip-feeding you upgrades with hundreds of smaller challenges, The Crew 2 delivers performance boosts in loot boxes that drop after each race. This is the only way to improve what’s lurking in your garage, with parts staying unique to disciplines and encouraging you to mix it up instead of sticking with one machine.
It’s a shame there’s not more outside of the main events, because they quickly get formulaic - you could spend hours in the original game just driving, flitting between challenges and earning upgrades as you went, but here you have to work hard for each boost.
Oh, and while the game world might be filled with other players, there’s not much you can do with them right now. Apart from teaming up to tackle events in co-op, and competing for a place on the leaderboards, there’s no competitive multiplayer mode - and might not be for at least another six months, according to the post-launch release schedule.
THE CREW 2 VERDICT
The original game might have gone a little overboard with the whole Fast and Furious-style, crims-turn-good storyline, but there was still plenty there to give The Crew 2’s developers a solid base to carve out a sequel.
Get beyond the scaled-down version of the USA you’re driving around, though, and there’s little here that connects the two together.
The game world feels hollow and inconsistent. The cars aren’t as free to roam as they once were. The planes take precision and practice that feels at odds with the arcade-style racing. And why is it snowing on the Hollywood sign?!
With open-world racing rival Forza Horizon having set the bar, Ubisoft hasn’t done enough at launch to make The Crew 2 stand out.
There’s still hope that future updates will add more content and give players more reason to explore, but unless you’re desperate to take that virtual coast-to-coast road trip, you might want to wait and see what the season pass delivers later down the line.