The Crew 2 is a fun game that just can’t kick it into fourth gear.
Every so often I play a game that has to be lauded for, if nothing else, its ambition. The Crew 2 is that sort of game- it just tries to do so much. It has a lot of ideas, ranging across not just a vast variety of mechanics, but entire genres, and even if you get down to listing all the flaws in the whole experience – of which there are plenty – you still have to tip your hat to developers Ivory Tower for cramming so much stuff into their game. The trade off for that, however, is that The Crew 2 doesn’t really excel at anything it attempts to do. “Jack of all trades, master of none” is a phrase that’s going to be thrown around a lot in reviews for this game (here’s one instance already), and that fits perfectly- almost. The Crew 2 is a jack of many trades, and master of none. None of the things it does are perfect, a lot of the things it does, it does pretty well, but a by-product of doing so many things is that it stumbles in a few of those attempts, too.
"“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a phrase that’s going to be thrown around a lot in reviews for this game, and that fits perfectly- almost. The Crew 2 is a jack of many trades, and master of none."
The one area where The Crew 2 deserves unreserved praise is how much of an improvement it is over its predecessor, in some really important ways. Take the basic setup, for instance- The Crew tried to encase itself in a narrative setup that was constantly trying extremely hard to be super-edgy, and the results, quite predictably, were not positive (to say the least). The Crew 2 recognizes those flaws- it says to hell with the story, because that’s not what we’re really here for. We’re here to race across a continent, and The Crew 2’s plot – if it can even be called that – is nothing more than the most cursory of setups, whose only purpose is to facilitate that. Sure, the game still often presents you with poorly written, poorly voiced, and poorly animated cutscenes every now and then, cutscenes which are not only very hard to care about, but will also outright make you groan, but the fact that the game is just as aware of their complete lack of importance as the player is means that they don’t really get in the way of the experience. It’s also a bonus that they can be skipped.
And skip them you will, to get to the meat of the experience, which is bolstered in its allure in The Crew 2 because of how all-encompassing it is. Because it’s not just driving we’re talking about this time around- it’s driving, it’s piloting airplanes, it’s driving boats, it’s participating in motocross events, it’s driving monster trucks, and so much more. That’s really where one of The Crew 2’s biggest strengths lies- in its sheer variety. The Crew 2 is trying to be an experience that can be enjoyed by you no matter what kind of vehicle’s cockpit you prefer, kind of like a GTA for driving games, if you will. There’s something for everyone here, and most of it is a lot of fun. It’s all also tied together in a pretty addictive progression loop, which, I suspect, will keep a lot of players coming back to the game in the weeks and months ahead.
But while that overwhelming sense of multifariousness is good for giving you that giddy anticipation of many, many hours of enjoyment in the near future, it also comes at a cost- because some of the stuff just doesn’t measure up to the rest of the game. For instance, driving boats is fun, but it gets old quickly. There’s very little depth to that aspect of the game, and races and events where you have to drive boats usually end up amounting to little more than “go as fast as you can”. Sure, in essence, all races ultimately boil down to that, but the difference here is that there is very little depth of mechanics to sink your teeth into. As a result, the on-water parts of the game end up feeling like fun but shallow parts of the game. Considering the fact that driving boats is supposed to be one of the three main pillars holding up the entire structure of The Crew 2, that is not a good state to be in.
Piloting is a little better. Pulling off tricks can be a lot of fun, for the pure visual thrill if nothing else, but the trouble arises when events rely on you doing nothing but pulling off tricks. Which would be fine, mind you, if only the game, bafflingly, didn’t have such an issue with even registering so many of the tricks you pull off. Simple rolls and loops often never even get registered at all, which means that the game fails to give you points for them, and when you consider that these events require you to reach a certain threshold of points within a set time limit, this amounts to plenty of frustration. If these were isolated, infrequent incidents, giving The Crew 2 a pass for them would be pretty easy, but unfortunately, this happens quite a lot, so I find it hard to ignore these issues completely.
"The one area where The Crew 2 deserves unreserved praise is how much of an improvement it is over its predecessor, in some really important ways."
The ascent in quality of the three pillars continues- where piloting is better than boating, driving on the road is, by far, the best aspect of the game, which is not all that surprising. The Crew 2 lets you check the percentage of the play time you’ve put into each of its individual disciplines, and I wasn’t surprised to see that I spent most of my time on wheels, and I expect that that will be the case for a vast majority of players as well. But remember what I said about The Crew 2 being a master of no trades? That applies here too- because while driving is certainly the best of the game’s three fundamental pillars, it still doesn’t touch the heights that many avid fans of the genre might have hoped.
That is, I suspect, down to the fact that The Crew 2 doesn’t want to commit itself to being either an all-out arcade racer or a full-on driving simulator. It has aspects of both, in attempts to appease and attract fans of both varieties, and as a result, it ends up feeling a little bit like a confused experience. Don’t get me wrong- it’s not like driving isn’t fun, because it absolutely is. But oftentimes The Crew 2 comes across as a little inconsistent in what it wants to be. You can barrel through metallic poles and small and sturdy structures, but hit a flimsy looking tree and you will stop dead in your tracks, no matter how fast you were going. There are proper racing simulation-style events and disciplines, including an F1 knockoff, but there are no damage mechanics.
Then there’s the fact that at times AI can seem incredibly stupid, whereas at other times, the rubber-banding can be bad enough to drive you insane. These issues are also often quite intrusive in the middle of events and races, and can significantly hamper your progress. On many occasions, I was forced to restart races, and while I accept that sometimes that was due to my own inabilities, there were also times when I just felt exasperated at the game’s incessant unwillingness to commit to what kind of experience it wants to be. The fact that many of these events that I had to restart quite a lot were often as much as twenty minutes long only drove my frustrations through the roof.
When The Crew 2 really does commit to being a goofy, arcade-y racer, it truly shines. The Fast Fav mechanic lets players switch between their favourite land, air, and water vehicles at the press of a button. The transitions are buttery smooth, and require no loading times, no popping into menus, nothing at all. Just press the right analog stick, choose one of the three vehicle types, and you’re instantly transformed. During free drive – which is the open world, sandbox driving – this can be an absolute joy. There were several stretches of dozens of minutes when I just put everything on hold, just so I could fiddle around with this mechanic. One time, I drove off a ramp at a hundred and sixty miles per hour, transformed into a plane mid-air, flew around for a couple of seconds, then transformed into a boat in mid-flight, watched my boat drop from all that height and gloriously splash into the water below, and then just carried on driving my boat seamlessly. It was exhilarating, and without a doubt one of my favourite moments in any game in a long, long time. The fact that it was of my own making only made it so much better.
"While driving is certainly the best of the game’s three fundamental pillars, it still doesn’t touch the heights that many avid fans of the genre might have hoped."
It’s a shame, then, that The Crew 2 doesn’t make use of Fast Fav as well as it should have. It’s clearly the best thing about the entire game, but it just doesn’t leverage that well enough. It doesn’t play to its own strengths- it’s just there. It’s yet another thing that you can play around with, but it’s not something the game really encourages the player to tinker with. For instance, the open world isn’t designed around it- not even in the slightest. Even the races and events that make use of this only do so in a very scripted manner, wherein the mechanic lacks the freeform and fluid nature that makes it as good as it is otherwise. What this means is that most of the times, you have to manufacture those experiences yourself- the experiences that the game really should have been trying to facilitate itself, because really– shouldn’t a game, every game, play to its biggest strengths? The Crew 2 definitely gets points for this excellent, innovative idea, but it’s a disappointment that all it does with it is just… insert it- and that’s it.
This permeating sense of inconsistency is apparent in other areas of the game as well. Take the open world, for instance. Like its predecessor, The Crew 2 is set in a condensed version of the entirety of the United States (though the map isn’t exactly the same as the first game). It’s a huge map- driving from one coast to the other can easily take around 30-40 minutes, and many of the areas in the world are visually excellent. I wouldn’t say it’s the most authentic or accurate recreation of the United States, but there’s an argument to be made that it was never meant to be that. All the major landmarks are here, and driving through the cities can be positively thrilling, while the game also gives you a variety of activities to participate in, like breaking speed limits, or clicking photographs of landmarks or animals, or breaking jump records on leaderboards.
But I found that a lot of these activities were often restricted to particular areas of the map- some areas just felt like vast stretches of emptiness, and driving through them didn’t really feel like the most attractive option at all times. The Crew 2 gives you the option to instantly travel to events or particular locations, and after I’d spent a certain amount of time with the game, I found myself doing so with increased frequency. The enjoyment of aimlessly driving through the open world to get to the next event eventually wore off. There’s also the fact that while a lot of the areas in the game look good, they don’t feel populated. They feel more like little models in museums, lifeless and hollow.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, the visuals are also quite inconsistent. The vehicles and their interiors look great, for the most part, with a fair amount of detail, while weather effects are positively stunning, especially when you’re in cockpit view and it starts to rain. But character models look bad, and in moments when you’re walking around in first person view (such as in one of the hubs, or your own garage), textures look just bad. There’s also plenty of pop-in, which, I understand, is a hit that draw distances simply had to take due to the added complication of airplanes.
"It’s a shame that The Crew 2 doesn’t make use of Fast Fav as well as it should. It’s clearly the best thing about the entire game, but it just doesn’t leverage that well enough. It doesn’t play to its own strengths- it’s just there."
The Crew 2 is also, just like its predecessor, an always-online game. Being able to form crews with your friends, or hopping into crews instantly to join events with other racers, is supposed to be one of the game’s main hooks. But again, The Crew 2 doesn’t really leverage that all too well. There were certainly times when I ran into plenty of other players in the open world, or when I randomly got into races or challenges of our own making with other racers, while beating leaderboard records is also always a fun activity you can engage in, but for the most part, I spent the majority of my time tackling the game’s many events and challenges solo, and I didn’t ever really feel any glaring lack of other players. Sure, the online aspect of the game will probably come into play more significantly once the servers become more populated after the game’s full launch, but even so, it’s not like the game is built around that, which is why I struggle to see why it absolutely had to be an always-online experience. Its online aspect, in fact, often works against it- for instance, the game can take up to 2-3 minutes to completely load after booting up, while it also stutters at times when opening the map or the menus.
But here’s the thing about The Crew 2– for all its flaws and inconsistencies, I still know that I’m going to be playing a lot more of it. It’s just an enjoyable game. When broken down piece by piece, it’s easy to point out a multitude of flaws in the game, but in spite of all these issues, I can still confidently say that in all the time I’ve spent with the game so far, I’ve had a great deal of fun with it. It’s just disappointing to see that the game has a lot of great ideas that it isn’t really leveraging right now, or that in trying to do so many things at once, it’s spreading itself too thin. I expect Ivory Tower will be spending a great deal of time in the coming months and years to make sure that The Crew 2 really comes into its own post-launch. But in the end, though it’s disappointing that that couldn’t be the case at launch, I can still say, without any reservations, that as things stand right now, The Crew 2 is, if nothing else, a bucketload of fun.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
In the initial hours, driving through the open world can be a lot of fun; The sheer variety of gameplay styles; Vehicles and weather effects look great; Addictive progression loop; Story has been sidelined and cutscenes are entirely skippable; Though under-utilized, Fast Fav allows you to manufacture great moments of your own making; Undeniably fun, in spite of a multitude of flaws.
A lot of Fast Fav's potential remains untapped; Vast stretches of the open world can feel hollow and barren; Driving boats is a fun but shallow experience; Frustrating inconsistencies can hamper your progress in the middle of events; Visuals can falter when viewed up close; Mechanics can't decide if they want to be arcade-y or simulator-esque; Always-online requirement hampers the experience and doesn't add much; Poorly written and animated cutscenes.
The Crew 2 is an ambitious game, yet an inconsistent one. It has many flaws that can't be ignored, but at the end of the day, it still manages to provide an undeniably enjoyable experience.