When The Crew originally released it was met with some harsh comments from many sources. Ivory Tower listened to the criticism and spent the following two years improving the base game whilst adding significant new additions via expansions, and by the end of that run The Crew felt like a completely different game from its original release. Now The Crew 2 is here, but is it hitting the ground running or will it take yet another couple of years to get up to speed?
From the outset it’s clear that The Crew 2 takes a very different direction from the first; gone is the revenge plot and frankly almost any plot at all. Instead we are invited to the Live Xtreme Series, a sort of Forza Horizon style take on a racing series. This is a welcome move as the lighter approach seems much more engaging this time around.
The plot of the original was subpar and uninteresting, and if the racing is good enough you don’t need a plot to keep the game moving. There are still some cut-scenes involving various characters for each discipline however and these are easily the worst part of the game, with some of the worst voice acting I have ever witnessed and some shamefully created character models too. Thankfully then these are all skippable, letting you get straight to the action.
Once again you find yourself thrust into the vast open world of a shrunk down America. The map is still roughly the same size but this time round everything is more dense and populated; the cities are slightly larger bringing new landmarks and interesting spots to race around, forests are now full of foliage and populated by a huge variety of wildlife, and even the sky has birds and planes flying around to keep the game looking interesting. Vehicle models look great, sporting some fancy reflections and beefed up lighting, whilst the weather changes too, with rain making a return alongside the additions of fog and snow – each of these also have a varying degrees of severity and all look great.
The lighting is also improved and the rolling time of day shows off some great lighting effects. The water also looks amazing, and although it isn’t quite on par with the astonishing tech used in the recent Assassin’s Creed Origins, it easily comes a close second. The map is once again seamless, letting you zoom from ground level right up into the sky, and interestingly it also tracks the path you have taken to the current point which is a nice showpiece when you have been looping about in the sky. You can also throw in a snapshot mode that allows you to rewind the action within the open world and take pictures at any point. Frankly, outside of Forza, I would say this is the best photo mode I’ve seen in a game, with some great options available to get good shots.
The action is mostly a joy to behold too. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 12 months you will know by now that one of the big hooks of The Crew 2 is the ability to switch vehicles on the fly. Yes that’s right, this is no longer just about cars, as planes, boats, bikes, monster trucks and even helicopters get in on the action. In fact, if it has wings or wheels then The Crew 2 probably has it.
The switching mechanic itself is a simple one allowing you to pick a favourite vehicle for land, sea and air then when you click the right stick you can just flip between those choices at whim. In practice, and after some getting used to, this works really well and you soon find yourself launching from ramps flipping to your plane, before dropping low over a lake and switching to a boat. All of this is effortless and can lead to some great screenshot moments. The main events of the Live Xtreme series also use this mechanic well, mixing three different varieties of vehicle in each race. Sometimes it can get a little dodgy – especially when you need to aim for a vehicle switch at a specific point – but overall it is a wonderful mechanic that the game makes great use of.
The progression system that holds all this together comes in two forms – your fame level and vehicle loot. Oddly the game rams the fame level front and centre despite it not actually being the most important or in fact the deepest of the two. See, as you complete events, side missions or just general actions in the world you earn fans to build up the bar, and once full you’ll gain a new fame level. The first few levels offer cash bonuses and new events, and once you manage to reach Icon level you begin gaining perk points to unlock various bonuses like increased loot drops or larger trick scores. It is a nice system and works well at keeping you entertained, however once you have enough perk points it becomes a little useless.
Loot on the other hand is what you should really aim for. Each time you complete an event, loot is dropped for the class of vehicle you finish the event in. These drops give you new parts to increase performance on your vehicles and will be needed if you want to win later events. Some of these drops also include extra bonuses for that part and it gives you a balance choice – do you go for the best performing part or pick a slightly worse one that gives additional bonuses? It winds up being a wonderfully deep system that keeps you playing events to earn better loot.
Those events come in a few flavours too. You have the Live Xtreme series races that challenge you to race a variety of vehicles, normal events that stick to one vehicle type, side missions that range from top speed challenges to acrobatic courses, friend challenges that charge you with beating a friend’s stat in a certain area, and photo ops that have you hunting for all sorts of shots to take in the photo mode. It’s a sizeable amount of activities to get through and you soon find the map cluttered with things to do. There is just a huge amount of choice available here and it will certainly take a long while to get through.
Strangely the online component that was really the big draw of the original game has taken a bit of a step to the background. The Crew 2 is still of an MMO style and all the options to race with your friends in crews or compete against ghost times and the like are all there, just not so front and centre this time.
This leads me into my only really big criticism of The Crew 2. It is such a vast game with a gigantic amount of ways to play, but it gives you almost nothing in the way of tutorials or guidance. Take the photo ops for example. A notification will pop up to say a photo op is available and a clue as to what you need to find, but it won’t show you how to use the snapshot tool or how photo ops even work, it just leaves it for you to figure out. I feel it could have started out with a chapter showing you all the various ways to play and see the world, rather than leaving it to you to learn. Because of this many players may feel turned off by the sheer variety available with little to no guidance.
In all, The Crew 2 is a big step forward for the series and does its best to right the wrongs of the original. Ivory Tower have clearly learnt some lessons over the years from the original release and have leveraged excellent systems from other games to craft an enjoyable experience in an open world that is so much more fulfilling than the original. Take the time to learn the ins and outs here and you will have a game that gives you hours and hours of enjoyment.