Truck racing, aerial displays and Fast and the Furious style street races blend seamlessly with motorbike racing
Way back in 2006, Atari decided to reinvent the racing genre by smashing open the usual confines of a race course in favor of an open-world experience which went beyond the scope of anything we had ever seen before. The result: Test Drive Unlimited. Over the following decade, numerous other companies mirrored this type of racing simulator, culminating in the ever-improving and undoubtedly fantastic Forza Horizon series from Microsoft and Turn 10, but only one game has truly upped the ante in terms of sheer size and, well, openness. In 2014, Ubisoft launched The Crew and allowed players the opportunity to race across a scaled-down version of the whole of Northern America and many players jumped on board for a thrilling ride as they sped from coast-to-coast. This release was not without its problems, however, and Ubisoft (in this case their Ivory Tower studio) have clearly paid attention to their vocal fan base in developing their latest and greatest arcade racer, unsurprisingly titled The Crew 2.
Thrusting players into the shoes of a hotshot driver, the game wastes no time in shoving you into an initial race, but I found this first experience to be a slightly underwhelming due to the slightly ‘floaty’ feel driving mechanics and some horrendously cheesy voice acting. When games try too hard to be ‘cool’ and ‘down with the kids’ it comes off as pretty painful and I honestly winced a few times at how cringe worthy some of the characters are. Unperturbed, I polished off the first race and the subsequent introductory runs and was impressed in particular by the final race of the series. What I liked most was the inclusion of mid-race vehicle changes (accompanied by Inception-esque landscape shifts) which saw me switching to a speedboat as it hammered down river and then to a balletic airplane as I was given the chance to weave in between skyscrapers to find scattered checkpoints. I can’t deny that, in spite of my lingering concerns, I had started to take a bit of a shine to the game at this point.
The next half hour served as an extended tutorial and it quickly became clear that The Crew 2 is a game of endless variety. Truck racing, aerial displays and Fast and the Furious style street races blend seamlessly with motorbike racing and some incredibly exhilarating off-road races through dusty canyons and over humongous jumps. Once I had settled into the handling (which is varied by vehicle and showed me that my initial gripes were somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction), I found it difficult to write-off any of the racing styles but I did begin to gravitate towards the off-road vehicles and stunt planes ever-so-slightly. Once you have completed a selection of challenges (which serve as an introduction to the incredible extent of the map and get you involved in various different racing teams who gift you starter vehicles for winning their events) the sheer scale of the game’s map really starts to sink in. It’s huge. I mean really, truly, properly, staggeringly massive. Honestly. It’s ridiculously big.
Players have the choice of jumping to locations through the in-game map or driving around and coming across them by chance and there is something to be said for just going out for a cruise to see what you stumble across. While many games may try and create a false sense of scale, Ubisoft have managed to deliver a play area which is wide open without being totally empty and pointless (although some of the cities have a relatively low level of traffic – it’s certainly not rush hour). Playing solo can be a chilled out and relaxed experience that allows you to take in the sights and dabble with the well-integrated photo mode (you have to love a good screenshot), but playing with a few like-minded friends turns this into a legal joyride beyond compare.
In terms of graphics, it’s a bit of a tough call. People’s expectations are so astronomically high these days that it is increasingly likely a game will be ridiculed for its level of fidelity even when it is of a very good standard. I grew up with a BBC Micro and then a Spectrum, so I tend to be less of a graphics snob, but while The Crew 2 is not the absolute pinnacle of 4K gaming it does look bloody good and it runs like an absolute dream. Solid framerate, beautiful vistas and breakneck speeds are a great combination and if you do have a fancy TV to play it on (combined with a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X) it is still likely to turn a few heads. While the cities are detailed enough, however, it’s the more natural environments which truly impress here and hurtling through ravines at top speed is a mind-blowing blur of rock, sand and sky while skipping down the countless waves of rivers, swamps and the open ocean is a blissfully glittering experience.
As mentioned before, some races have you switching between vehicle types mid-race to keep the challenge fresh, but this mechanic translates to the open world aspect too. From your in-game home you can select your preferences from the ever-expanding range of licensed vehicles in your stable so that you have a road, sea and air vehicle on tap. Bored of cruising the highway? A simple click of a button gives you the chance to transform into a plane and take to the skies without missing a beat. In essence, this means you can jump off a bridge and turn into a boat before you land in the water or shift to four wheels from on high and drop back to the road below at full speed. If you enjoy blasting about the wilderness but then want to get somewhere quickly without using the quick travel option this is a great aspect of the game. While this is a neat trick in itself, it does also allow for some ridiculous moments if you are so inclined as to switch to boat while driving through midtown. That said – this only really happens if you choose to make it happen (and it can be pretty funny). On top of this is a decent system of upgrades and customization which provides you with endless options to tinker with various aspects of your myriad vehicles and this gives an extra layer to the experience.
Beyond the awkward voice acting mentioned earlier, the main campaign of the game is well-realized and allows for a good level of flexibility as you progress. The focus of the game’s ‘narrative’ sees your chosen avatar competing in the LIVE contest with the intention of gaining fans through racing, speeding and generally showboating about the place so that you can move on to bigger and better things. For most people this will be play second fiddle to the racing itself, but Ubisoft have done a good job of tying it all together whilst retaining the aspect of freedom which will draw many players in. This is a game of random fun which occurs as you explore the backstreets and alleyways in a supercar, smashing through barricades and skidding in and out of traffic, or transforming into a jeep after completing a loop-the-loop over a mountain peak. It is what you make it.
Overall, The Crew 2 is an excellent racer which sits nicely in between the arcade and simulation fields of the genre. By delivering thrills and spills within an open-ended narrative set within an open world, Ubisoft have delivered a fitting sequel which deserves to be played by fans of all types of racing and the social aspect could set a new standard for this type of gaming. To put it simply, The Crew 2 delivers total racing freedom.
Images and game play – Game riot