Racing games have been around since the early days of gaming, and during that time there has been a lot of innovation in the genre. Ubisoft and developer Ivory Tower’s latest, The Crew 2, may not take mammoth leaps forward, but it does provide an enjoyable experience, particularly in its multiplayer approach.
The Crew 2 puts players in the jumpsuit of an up-and-coming racer with sights set on all the glitz and glamor of an Instagram celebrity. The game’s core goal is to amass followers, a clear “sign of the times” development choice, but one that is depressingly familiar to audiences living in the height of the social media age (a welcome change from the 2014 original’s story, which centered around a Fast and Furious knock-off plot featuring ex-cops and undercover FBI agents). Said followers are gained by winning races, snapping pics of interesting landmarks sprawled across the vast open-world map and, naturally, courting death. At one point, while recklessly flying a plane at ludicrously low altitudes, I was told by an in-game coach that gaining followers was “easy,” all I had to do was invert my plane and skim the underside of a nearby bridge. Piece of cake.
One of the highlights of The Crew 2 are its visuals, which at times can be breathtakingly rendered as you crest windswept dunes at dusk or pilot your plane over towering waterfalls and rock formations high among the San Gabriel mountains. While such vistas are undeniably pretty to look at, they also underscore various frame-rate issues encountered at various spots on the map.
Still, Ivory Tower should be commended for the scope of the world it has created, a true sandbox for the player to explore and enjoy. Players are given free rein to explore the United States, which in The Crew 2 is a playground littered with street races, off-road rallies and cigarette boat contests. At any point the player can access the map — which is undoubtedly the most poorly designed representation of the continental United States ever depicted outside of a third grade classroom — with a tap of the touch pad (on the PS4). Using the bumper buttons, they can then zoom out and take their pick from a myriad of race and activity choices.
As players continues to put checkered flags under her belt, they earn more followers and, in turn, higher progress levels are unlocked. This leads to more rides to choose from and more activities to partake in. Customization, of cars and one’s character, is available, and, as a way of simple wish fulfillment for those of us who can’t afford our own Audi or aerobatic aircraft, painting your new whip glaringly loud shade of yellow is always enjoyable. Always.
The true fun of The Crew 2 comes not from building up one’s social following (that aspect rings too close to home), but rather from teaming up with one’s own “crew” and tackling rallies and airborne acrobatic challenges together. Exploring the world together, besting a friend in a neck-to-neck boat race or simply branching off and exploring the wilderness together is the game’s greatest joy, and with a persistent open world in which players can interact with strangers from all over the globe as they race and traipse about the map.
Another wonderful feature is the ability to switch between land, sea and air vehicles at any point with the simple push of the right analog stick. It’s an useful feature that works beautifully and also leads to hilarious situations when spawning a boat in the middle of underbrush just south of Las Vegas.
As an actual racing game, which is what The Crew 2 is, after all, the controls are not as tight or complex as those seen in the genre’s top dogs Forza and Gran Turismo. Players’ vehicles don’t accumulate significant damage from wrecks, respawns are quick and simple and vehicle interaction with varying environments — such as sand or mud — aren’t particularly impactful.
All in all, while The Crew 2 doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel, it does provide a satisfying ride.
The Crew 2 is available June 29 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.