The Crew 2 Review
The open world racing sequel overtakes the original, but remains at the back of the pack
The Crew was a rough introduction to a new racing IP from Ubisoft. While the game had some good ideas and decent design elements, it suffered from terrible AI, poor story, and plenty of other annoyances. Its multiplayer-focused nature didn't really pan out, and the social elements were lacking. So it was perhaps a little surprising that a sequel was being made. But hey, full kudos to the publisher for having faith in the franchise and not letting a bad start ruin what could potentially be an alluring entry in a genre that has been slowing down in recent years, with the likes of Need for Speed and Gran Turismo spreading out their releases. Sadly, while this sequel makes notable improvements, it runs into its own lion's share of issues and puts further doubt on this franchise's future.
The Crew 2 ties its content together with a simple narrative. You're an anonymous racer that's trying to make a name for themselves, and you get a chance to participate in a live-streamed broadcast of an outlandish vehicle competition. This gets you started on your way to competing in multiple disciplines and one day becoming the American Motorsport champion. It's extremely barebones, which is fine for a racing game, and it's a big change from the first game's gritty but painfully acted revenge tale. There are four "families" in the game world, simply used to stylistically group events together and offer four HQ locations with a bunch of character stereotypes, plus they each provide a boss encounter.
Sadly though, the new narrative is aggressively poor, as now you're competing to be "the coolest" by amassing the most followers on social media. The awkward characters deliver some very cringy dialogue, trying to be as hip and cool as possible in a modern setting where your follower numbers and relative fame are all that matters. This is extremely similar to the 180-degree turn that the Watch Dogs franchise took in its tone and approach to narrative elements. Characters will frequently mention cops and the events being illegal – and yet police are gone in this sequel. You'll get occasional cutscenes that try to present each racing discipline in a cool way, but it falls largely flat. I make it a point to never, ever skip cutscenes in games, but I did in The Crew 2 - there was just too much awkward dialogue to handle.
To further double down on this setting, the XP bar equivalent represents your social media followers, and you have a few ranks to progress through, from rookie to icon and beyond. You earn followers by completing races, and as you progress through the popularity ranks, more events and activities become unlocked. But as with Forza Horizon, you also earn followers by performing stunts in free roam and chaining them together. The rate at which you earn fans with stunts isn't very high though, and overall just doing races is enough to keep constant progress. Strangely this only works in free roam, and in races you get no extra followers for stunts – which is at odds with the track design often littered with jumps and wild cliffs. There's a boost ability, but it refills overtime on its own and performing stunts does not help refill it. As such, it's safer to just stay on track than to go for big air, contradicting the game's ambition for extreme sports. Similarly to gaining followers in free roam, the sequel toys with other borrowed mechanics - a Timeline feature from Ubisoft's Steep lets you rewind the traveled path and get photo opportunities, but it is confusing to use. As in Forza and Test Drive Unlimited, in Family HQs and in your own Home you can walk around and observe your cars from a first-person view, and interact with their doors and such, but it's rather basic.
The cars remain at the center of the experience, and there is decent variety from some real-world manufacturers. From Lamborghini to Audi to Ferrari, you'll probably find something that suits your style, though the selection is rather limited. Vehicles all fall into a specific event category, so there's no confusing body swaps like in the original game. The cars handle rather inconsistently – while mostly arcade, many cars tend to kick out the rear end just by braking, sending you into an unintended drift. This improves overtime, as you can buy more expensive cars with better base stats and upgrade existing rides with better components. While it makes sense, it also means the game's opening hours are rough as the cars don't really handle very well and this leads to many frustrating moments. You can customize your vehicles with new body paints and liveries, along with body parts such as rims, mirrors, spoilers and more, though the selection is hardly extensive.
The Crew 2 also introduces more modes of transport – boats, motorbikes, and airplanes. The boats are fairly straightforward, but the annoyance here is that you're forced to hold down on the thumbstick the entire time for the sake of threading the water and giving you that extra burst of speed. You may encounter some sharper turns or go slightly out into the ocean waters where things get bumpy, but otherwise it's rather simple. The airplanes are great fun though – you'll spend time performing acrobatic tricks, and the controls handle quite well. You can hold X in order to put the plane into a more aggressive mode and perform tighter maneuvers. Compared to cars, boats and airplanes handle well and are almost always satisfying to use. Bikes handle rather stiffly, but can be fun to use especially in off-road scenarios. You can also go into advanced control settings and tweak things further for each vehicle type.
The events you'll partake in vary. Street racing, Touring cars, Alpha Grand Prix, and Hyper Car events are typical point-to-point or lap races. Drag Races involve a minigame, not unlike the recent Need for Speed variants, where you need to time your gearshifts. And then there's Drifting, a punishing game mode where the scoring requirements are high and crashing into anything (wall, small debris on track, etc) ends your drift score and multiplier. In boating you'll also do straightforward races. Off-road motocross and rallycross are similar, but with added emphasis on catching plenty of air. The game opens up in Rally Raid with some satisfying free-form traversal where getting to your next destination has no specified path, as you roar across the forests, deserts, and plains to the checkpoints, dodging trees and rocks along the way. With Monster Trucks, players run through a playground area and collect point boards before time runs out; some are hard to reach and require big air. And in airplanes, you will be focused on performing specific tricks or racing between points and matching the required plane orientation as you pass.
All in all, there's definitely a ton of variety and you can find the events that you enjoy the most - however to challenge the boss of each Family, you'll need to complete 75% of events, which can be a problem if you're not good at something. Outside of the main events, there are also skill challenges, but there are just a few varieties. Escape tasks you with outrunning an expanding circle, slalom asks that you go inside of markers, speed traps are self-explanatory, and so on. In boating, you can go Buoy Smashing, and in planes Low Altitude and Aerobatics challenges will keep you engaged. You can also distract yourself with the Photo Ops, each asking you to snap a pic of something specific, but the rewards are tiny.
As alluded to earlier, the vehicle upgrade system makes a return, though it's been quite streamlined. You earn new parts, such as brakes, rotors, transmissions, and so on, from completing events. These random drops apply to the car you're currently using, and can be equipped right away without going to a garage. The parts can also be used for any car in the same category, which means a bit of swapping around each time you get a new ride. Speaking of new rides, the economy in The Crew 2 is rough. While you make seemingly decent money from events, vehicles are expensive. Upgrades that are too low level can be scrapped, but you get nothing in return. Parts have a rarity grade, and have a chance of offering an Affix - a passive extra bonus. Putting all the parts together gives your vehicles their performance level, which can be odd as it doesn't necessarily correlate to top speed or acceleration - arguably the two key factors. Getting amazing breaks is nice, but that's not going to help you win. Missions have a recommended performance level so you can tell if you'd be competitive, in theory.
However, none of this matters - the upgrades, the vehicle handling, or the recommended performance levels - because of the AI. One of the major problems with the original game were the virtual opponents, and while the sequel is a tiny bit better, it's still a wholly frustrating experience. They will rubberband until the end of days, and you could be 10 seconds behind or ahead, and at the next corner they are beside you again. Make one error, and the entire field of opponents will pass you. Resetting back to track takes an agonizing few moments, and it's a total crapshoot if you'll be placed at the same spot, or half a mile behind. Nowhere is it more obvious than in longer races, such as Hyper Car events; you will gain and lose the lead a ton of times, because the AI can be overtaken on straightaways, but in any corner they will beat you easily since they don't lose control, don't drift and barely break. There is no rewind mechanic, so catching yourself on a poorly placed piece of world geometry will mean a frustrating restart of the event, as you just went first to last instantly. To make it even more obvious, if your car is at or above the recommended performance limit, the AI drivers match your speed – yet in events where AI is not involved, you'll easily crush the required score/time. GPS directions are only on the minimap, with no UI elements apart from distant checkpoints, which is very frustrating as turns are easily missed as you're checking the map every few seconds, taking eyes off the road. The only reprieve is that you need to finish top 3 to complete most events, and the rewards are same whether you're first or third.
Outside of events, you can switch between all three types of transport with the press of a button – a moment that gives the game a great sense of freedom and scale. And scale is, once again, pretty impressive; the original game's standout feature was its recreation of the USA, and the sequel offers more of this same open world. However, because of boats, airplanes, and new design choices, changes were made, and it feels like something was lost in translation. You can still cruise through New York City, or the swamps around the Mississippi River, or fly over the deserts outside of Las Vegas. However, you can also ignore the world entirely, because you can now fast travel to any event from the menu; the exploration mechanic is entirely absent for the sequel. While it's useful, it eliminates any viable reasons to explore. Sure, you could take in the sights (which can be quite nice), or find the occasional random bonus loot crate, but there's few other reasons to drive between events. The events and skill challenges are much fewer in number compared to the original, so you could be driving for a while without seeing something to do.
As such, this reimagining of the country feels a barren. The original game's overabundance of random challenges feels missing here, and even as you enter the populated areas, you realize that, while it's cool to see the landmarks, the cities feel sterile and lack character. The awkwardly animated pedestrians and civilian traffic does little but get in the way. As such, airplanes provide the best way to see the land – you have the sense of freedom, scale, and you're far enough from any details that would affect immersion. It's just fun to fly around, too.
Once you've worked your experience up to Icon level, the end-game kicks off; you can continue to fill the experience bar for more upgrades and eventually a few cars. The icon level goes up to 9999, but it feels disheartening. All you can do is repeat all of the same events you just did, but maybe on a harder difficulty. With less than 200 races in the game, and skill challenges being so few in variety, things are going to get repetitive long before you reach that arbitrary icon level. It just feels like an extremely high number slapped together to say "look, the end game is so very long!" As you work through these levels, you will earn Icon Points, which let you unlock a variety of passive bonuses, such as 0.4% more boost, less speed loss in off-road terrain, better probability of bouncing away from a collision, and many others. Again though, each point increments these bonuses by less than half a percent, so it's a very long road.
And you have to ask yourself, what are you grinding towards? The sequel loses competitive multiplayer, leaving behind only basic leaderboards (though a PvP patch is promised later this year). As already discussed, the AI performance is the same regardless of your car level. So all you have is co-operative racing with your friends; it's dubbed as joining a Crew, but there are no features to speak of (like creating your own logo or even a team name) - it's a simple lobby system. The Crew 2 is an always-online title, so as before, you will have other players dropped into your game world randomly, but there are no interaction options if you meet, and they are often scattered far across the country. It's as pointless a mechanic as it was in the original, and the game seems to refuse putting more than 3-4 players in the same session; sometimes, you can drive for an hour and not have anyone join. There is no option to matchmake, when you want someone to play with.
As such, being always-online offers no benefit, instead only annoyances. If you can't connect to servers, you can't play, and the game kicks you to menu after a short period of inactivity. During races, there is no photo mode for some reason, so hopefully you enjoyed that view because you won't be able to take a moment and capture it.
Just as the multiplayer component could have used much more development, so could the game itself. The Crew 2 is lacking just a bit of final polish; there are various graphical and physics glitches, cutscene glitches, vehicle liveries disappearing in photo mode, and the game resets your preferred car each time you start the game. There's also oddities like snow appearing/disappearing instantly. The soundtrack is an odd mix of garage punk, classic rock, and other genres. The audio design lacks the punchiness and fine details of the various roaring engines present in the game. The visuals vary in quality - the lighting and water/sky are very nice to look at and some grandiose vistas can be found across the country. On the other hand, most notably in flight, textures and objects can load quite late and the terrain lacks features. Running on the Xbox One X, the game manages to maintain a steady framerate throughout, and all vehicles have a decently detailed cockpit view. The loading times are quite fast and fast traveling works well.
You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and perhaps franchises that get off to a rough start should get a second chance. The Crew 2 got that chance, but it has squandered it. The sequel is a mishmash of ideas borrowed from itself and other games, combined into a package that never really comes together. The driving mechanics can be fun, flying especially, and there's no doubt a huge amount of content here, but there's just too many shortcomings that bring the experience down. Terrible dialog, repetitive events, questionable economy, poor AI, a huge but somewhat lifeless open world, along with plenty of always-online related qualms, send this sequel careening into the ditch. Again.