The first thing that Ivory Tower did when they started on a sequel for The Crew was ditch its idiotic story and ham-fisted narrative. Instead, The Crew 2 features an open world playground to drive and race through. In that sense, the game is reminiscent of Microsoft’s Forza Horizon series but The Crew 2 has one huge advantage over it; you're given the entire United States to burn rubber around in. Albeit in a smaller scale, it sure makes other race games seem quite cramped in comparison. Also, The Crew 2 adds airplanes and powerboats to the mix of more traditional motor racing, with the ability to switch between vehicles on the fly. Is that still enough to make a difference to other racing games in the long run?
For starters, you choose your own Rising Star to compete within Motornation from a selection of male and female drivers of different origins. They all look like common, likable people, so don’t expect film star looks. On their way to the top, pilots need to attract followers to rise in the popularity, ensuing more and more disciplines and races to compete in. Street racing is your bread and butter discipline, with drift, drag and hypercar racing added to the table as the popularity grows. Offroad challenges feature rally raids through the open nature or rally cross and motocross races. Freestyle offers aerobatics with aircraft designed for the occasion, jet sprint for some speedy racing on the water and trick runs with monster trucks. Pro Racing lets you race at breakneck speeds in air races, on water with powerboats, and on closed circuits in a touring car and alpha GP classes. Out of fourteen available disciplines, each is at least adequately recreated. While I liked the street racing best, among such a sizeable selection there’s bound to be something that tickles everyone’s speed fancy.
Successful races are awarded with loot balls (no micro transactions here) which include parts to trick up the vehicles with and thus increase their performance levels. Each race has a performance recommendation but thankfully it’s easy as pie to do the necessary tuning. Just select the best parts and you’re good to go. There’s also an optional fine-tuning to do for all the motor tech heads out there. The appearance of vehicles can be pimped up from paint jobs to decals (also user-created) and with different hoods, bumpers and rims. Also, driver avatar can be kitted with new outfits and apparel, but there’s no face sculpting or tattoos and scars to add. New vehicles are earned from races and bought from each main discipline’s headquarters.
The huge playing area aside, the strength of The Crew 2 is its easy accessibility. It won’t alienate players with some snotty attitude or annoying narrator always trying to tell what’s best for you. Instead, the game welcomes you in to do whatever you like. The driving physics are solid and intuitive with a good sense of weight. Sure, it’s arcade racing with no hankering for simulation side of things but the game has enough variety in its gameplay to make up for the occasional lack of depth. Thankfully, there’s no such nonsense as rewind. If you think you have fumbled irreversibly, just restart the race or keep on driving. After all, the life in The Crew 2 is not so serious. Whatever you do, you’ll gain those precious followers and in-game credits anyway.
The game proceeds purely on the player's terms. You don’t need to always race for given goals but drive (or fly and run the boat) just for the heck of it. Close misses, drifting, burning rubber, spinning, jumping, doing tricks in the air - everything is worth of followers and credits. Do some virtual sightseeing - United States has such a large diversity in its nature and architecture after all – and take up photo-opportunities that keep popping up while you’re at it as they net a ton of followers and cash. Speaking of photo mode, it’s a pretty comprehensive tool. You can zoom the camera all the way up to driver’s freckles or finest details of vehicle’s tail lights.
There’s some neat quality of life features. Unlike in The Crew, fast travel between places is available right from the start and doesn't cost any credits. To change a vehicle, you don’t need to drive or travel to one of your garages as you can do it simply via a start menu. The Crew 2 is so hassle-free that it almost feels like there’s some catch waiting around the corner. But no, it’s just designed so - to simply have fun in an easiest way possible. But what if you want to be left alone and don’t care for the shared world with other players? No problem. Each and everyone is a star of their own game. There’s no artificial competition against other players (if you don’t count in online leaderboards) or forced obligations building up with risen popularity. You can keep on racing and driving as you have been.
Given the huge scope of the game world (there’s some striking satellite imagery to admire via the game’s scalable map), Ivory Tower has invested in a steady frame rate over fidelity. As a result, the game runs in a steady and ultra-smooth 30fps. I didn’t notice any frame dips even in busiest intersections. The sense of speed is exhilarating, easily better than in most other racing games. Speeding along bullet-straight L.A. highways, you can almost feel the rush and hair blowing in the wind. Of course, a smooth frame rate comes at cost of some finer niceties. Especially roadside sets and attractions are lacking in detail. That’s not saying The Crew 2 isn’t pretty, even though on the basic Xbox One the game looks a bit blurry. The vehicle modeling is top-notch and there are some spectacular dynamic lighting and weather effects as well as real-time reflections adding a life-giving depth to the game.
The Crew 2 is extremely fun game, and there are some unexpected events to shake up the mundane. I really didn’t expect it when during one street race, the competitor crashed hard and flew out of his buggy, and the race was halted. A cutscene played, showing how my driver stopped her car, got out and rushed to help the victim. After putting him in the backseat of my car, the next thing I was doing was speeding to the nearest hospital. Sure, the accident was scripted but it made me feel like I really am part of the game’s Motornation where even rivalries are met with respect and camaraderie. Coast to coast hypercar races don’t need any pre-programmed events, though. They are long and thrilling as they are, with hands squeezing the controller until they cramp and eyes blur. Taking Ferrari for such a trip is closest to a modern Out Run you can have.
I wasn’t too keen on aerobatics and air races as they are somewhat finicky, resulting in some unwanted performance pressure. Also, powerboat races felt uneventful. You just speed on water and nothing else is happening, really. While leveling up the popularity, I ran a couple of times into a situation where I had exhausted all the options for motor races, leaving only air and water disciplines to do. Part of the blame was, of course, on me but then again, they just aren’t as exciting and varied as racing on four (or two) wheels. There’s also rubber band AI, the bane of all racing games, except here it works in both ways. No matter how big a lead you build up, towards the end of the race AI competitors will catch you up. If you fail yourself, others will ease up their driving. Of course, how the AI works is meant to keep the races exciting but still it feels unfair.
The immersion is there. When you drive along Venice beach, you wish you could leave the car and tip your toes in the water. Maybe it will possible in The Crew 3. The fun is there. Whatever you decide to do, it’s easy to just hop into the game and have a spin - or a splash or a woosh! What comes to the comparison I presented in the beginning, Forza Horizon 3 (and not to mention its upcoming sequel) might be clinically prettier but it lacks something The Crew 2 has; charisma. Overly serious big games don’t often allow having much fun nowadays, so it’s refreshing to see a title that is built around it.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.