Games under the Ubisoft banner typically have big open worlds that are absolutely brimming with things to do. I’ve never played an Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry game without, at some stage, feeling overwhelmed by the bombardment of side quests or points of interest. It’s because of this precedence that I was so surprised to find the world of The Crew 2 so lacking. Though it’s so open and welcomes exploration, it never once gave me a good reason to do so.
It promised to be a Frankenstein’s monster of American landscapes, melding together an exciting mix of thicket-dense forestry, the big smoke and barren tundra. Instead, we got a boundless playground that is a breeding ground for boredom rather than fun. Having the freedom to roam far and wide in any vehicle you desire is great at first, though it becomes clear early in the piece that travel throughout this stark wasteland isn’t compulsory and that being able to launch an event from the map is a blessing.
The game’s presentation isn’t so much a story as it is a sermon on driving culture and how to earn respect on the streets. It’s on the nose and almost makes the Need for Speed games look positively Shakespearean. The abhorrent dialogue and script aside, the way The Crew 2 drip-feeds its content through this episodic facade is actually great and it creates a core reward loop that manages to be satisfying even while the game’s other moving parts work against it.
For a title where racing is at the heart of its experience, The Crew 2 is a real mixed bag when it comes to feeling. I found the planes and off-road trucks to be rather enjoyable, though the game did let me down in other regards. Taking to the water often felt like a chore while street racing, the game’s bread and butter, was hoi polloi. The game feels arcade to a fault with mid-air correction taking away the risk from launching from ramps, no tangible damage models and rubber-banding so bad it drained the fun out of a lot of races. Being centimetre perfect for ninety-nine percent of a race shouldn’t be meaningless when you come undone around the final bend thanks to an inexplicably placed rock. The Crew 2 has obviously been forged to fulfil gear head’s fantasies, though the ‘car feel’ of the game served only to remind me of how much better other series have done it.
One thing I can speak highly of is The Crew 2’s attempt to build a complex tapestry of interconnectivity that, not only brings players together seamlessly but keeps the world somewhat breathing, though its pulse is irregular at best. Unknowingly tearing around a bend in a canal to smash a friend’s speed record for that small slice of the map is always an unexpected treat. Of course, the downside to this kind of intricate network is that the game requires a constant online connection. Not only that, but you must have a uPlay account which is bound to leave a bad taste in some consumer’s mouths.
Though it doesn’t exactly champion the idea of exploration, America hasn’t been depicted much better than in The Crew 2. Like a painting languishing in a museum, it manages to be picturesque without achieving its goals of being a living, breathing and functional world. I hope persistent content updates inject a bit of life into the world because bonus loot and speed traps aren’t exactly enough to see me endorsing a coast-to-coast trip. I registered my dismay that there’s no realistic damage in the game, but despite that, the vehicles manage to be stunning and appear to be painstakingly modelled. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the wooden humanoid avatars that appear to be in a perpetual state of stupefaction. Seeing the stunned mullet expression on my chosen driver as the pre-race package rolled never ceased to make me laugh because either he doesn’t have eyelids or he lost the ability to blink in a freak accident that left him dry-eyed for the remainder of his days.
A rough launch has set The Crew 2 off on a trajectory that the team wouldn’t have hoped for. But as a service game, and with a lot of content set to roll out over the next year and beyond, there’s still a chance that The Crew 2 can gather its bearings and, with some much-needed tweaking, stick the landing.
The PS4 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. A digital review code was provided by the publisher.
Despite its satisfying core loops and drip-feeding of loot slathered in mechanical jargon, it's hard to recommend The Crew 2 based on what many would consider to be its selling points. The world is barren despite being billed as a greatest hits of American landmarks and 'car feel' itself is frustratingly basic and holds your hand far too much. The interconnectivity did its best to compel me to stick with it but The Crew 2 is a sad case of wasted potential.