The Crew 2 Review – America the Playground (PS4)
After three and a half years and numerous updates and expansions, the time has come for a proper sequel to 2014’s The Crew. Developer Ivory Tower has been hard at work taking the decent base built in the original, and expanding upon it in many ways. Has their hard work paid off? Or has the inclusion of many other kinds of vehicles turned The Crew 2 into a jack-of-all trades, and master of none? Time to find out in our The Crew 2 review.
The original Crew game had a heavy focus on a linear story. This limited player choice in events to play. The Crew 2 eschews much of that linearity, with a focus on events. While the ultimate goal is to amass a large online collection of followers in some fake social network dubbed Live, there are also four crews to join up. Each crew has an HQ to visit and level up separately in, depending on the style of play desired: street racing, pro racing, freestyle, and off-road. Each crew has an icon, or boss-like character, who can be challenged to an event once the player’s fame level rises to a certain level, and enough events within that discipline are cleared. It’s perhaps a bit more of a generic progression story, but with so many events to conquer, a cinematic story probably won’t be missed by many racers.
Graphically, The Crew 2 doesn’t look much different than the original. A large part of this is likely because the draw distance has been increased significantly, owing to the ability for the player to instantly and spontaneously switch to aircraft. What good would flying be if you couldn’t see miles ahead of you? At any rate, vehicle models are still impressive, including lifelike cockpit views of every single one. These may not be the crazy 1:1 laser scans seen in Gran Turismo Sport, but they are still a fun view to take in.
The Crew 2 spans the entire United States, like the previous entry. It’s obviously not to scale, but includes all the various landscapes that make up this continent-wide country. From the urban jungles of major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, and others, to the rugged mountains of the North, plateaus of Utah, and even New Orleans’ bayou, all aspects of the American frontier are represented in The Crew 2 in one massive map.
Perhaps more impressive than the sheer size of the map, is the speed with which The Crew 2 can render an area. At any time while driving/flying/boating/off-roading, pressing the touchpad button instantly freezes the action, and the player can zoom in to the car level, or out to an overview of the whole country. Even if the player is currently flying upside-down through the cities of downtown Los Angeles, they can zoom out, position their cursor over Florida, then zoom in and almost immediately see the Florida Everglades. Traffic and pedestrians can even be viewed, as this is not some static map. What’s more, choosing an event across the map and fast traveling to it takes only a handful of seconds. There’s probably some very creative asset streaming going on here, where only the most important (and largest) game objects are loaded first, and rendered before other assets are ready. It all happens so quickly, it’s anybody’s guess as to how exactly such seamless loading is achieved.
All the technical wizardry in the world can’t save a racing game if its actual racing sucks. Thankfully, most of the activities available in The Crew 2 are simply fun and easy to get into. Whether off-roading, boating, flying, dirt biking, or circuit racing, controls are pretty standard and physics feel accurate enough to respond as you’d expect in an arcade-leaning racing game. Somehow, though, street races, the main event in the original Crew game, feel off. Cars feel sluggish to respond, and drifting around corners does not feel natural. This is something that must be adapted to, if victory is ever something to be achieved. Otherwise, getting behind the windshield of any of The Crew 2’s vehicles is for the most part a fun ride.
For those who enjoy tinkering with vehicle settings, there is a Pro Settings screen. This enables players to mess with vehicle settings, globally across an entire class of vehicle, as well as settings specific to each owned vehicle. Basic settings such as tire grip, brake balance and camber are available from the start, but other settings such as suspension compression and gearbox settings are locked until reaching certain levels of fame.
Each category of vehicle can also be upgraded with various loot, which are awarded upon successfully meeting an event’s win condition, such as placing third or better in a street race, earning enough stunt points in a flying session, or beating a rally time. Vehicles have an overall performance level for a high-level summary of the expected output of a vehicle, as well as the usual statistics such as top speed and horsepower, but also stats such as stopping distance and 0-60 time. Collected parts can be swapped in and out at any time, with rarer parts offering bonuses such as extra fame awarded per successful event, or quicker boost recovery time – as ridiculous as it may seem to have nitro on a dirt bike or airplane, it is standard on every vehicle.
As mentioned, the option is available to instantly change into any type of vehicle, at any time. Each vehicle type can be set as a favorite, for ground, air, and water. Once driving around, pressing the R3 button will bring up a set of icons. Pushing and holding the right analog stick in a corresponding direction will immediately transition the player into a vehicle marked as their favorite for that category. This can lead to some hilarious footage, such as flying up the Golden Gate bridge, then transitioning into a dirt bike, and riding down the other side, or simply flying up to 15,000 feet, then dunking into the ocean in a boat.
One odd omission from The Crew 2 is any sort of real damage modeling. Arcade racing games (and even simulators) usually have damage apply to cars as they are banged up, even if the modeling isn’t all that realistic. However, The Crew 2 only shows minor scuff marks on vehicles, even after major bashes with other cars or buildings. There is no real good reason to have left this out, other than maybe some sort of licensing issue or something. Perhaps this is something that can be patched in via future updates.
Rubber band AI is a tough problem for most racing games. The Crew 2 sadly falls victim to this, most noticeably in its street races. The intention may be to not allow the player to ever fall too far behind, but once the player attains first place, AI opponents will usually stay no more than a couple of seconds behind, driving seemingly perfectly until the end of the race. Oddly, this behavior is not really evident in other events – if the player’s chosen vehicle has a substantially higher performance level than the race recommends, a victory is all but guaranteed as AI won’t be breathing down their necks nearly as often. The Crew 2’s AI issues feel like something that are going to be ironed out post-release, which is a safe assumption to make given Ubisoft’s track record of supporting their titles post-launch.
One surprisingly robust area of The Crew 2 is its replay engine. The last ten or so minutes of gameplay is automatically saved as the player travels and competes, available for review with a tap of left on the directional pad. Pressing the Cross button will take a photo, while pressing L3 will engage the video editor, allowing the player to play with the existing camera angles already setup by the game, or to start fresh without anything set ahead of time. There are four tracks to a replay, including the camera position and settings, visual effects, and montage, or segments set to record. These are displayed along the bottom of the video when in editing mode, in a manner users of Adobe Premiere would recognize.
Keyframes can be added and removed per video track, which means that players can setup a replay to their exact specifications, except in the case where the player’s car ventures too far from a placed camera. For the uninitiated, a keyframe marks a spot in a video where current settings for an aspect of a video are locked-in, until another keyframe changes those settings. For instance, at the -1:30 mark, the camera could be set to a “chase” mode, whereby it follows the player at a set distance, with an artificial shake intended to mimic that of a helicopter, and no color filters. Then, at the -1:20 mark, the camera could shift to cockpit view, with a “sunburn” effect which shades the whole view a user-selected amount of orange-reddish hue, while the camera is also stabilized to reduce any chance of motion sickness. Finally, at the -1:10 mark, things could be set to the default in-game camera with no effects. These keyframes can be set at any interval desired, and no doubt this impressive replay engine will be used by many creative racers to generate incredible footage.
Native Sharing Options
All snapshots and videos generated within The Crew 2 are done so in the PS4’s native Share format. This means that even outside the game, screenshots and videos can easily be shared, as the files are not stored in some proprietary format. The easier cool moments are to share, the more quickly word may spread about The Crew 2, so this is a good feature that other games featuring replay systems should incorporate (looking at you, Gran Turismo Sport).
As with most Ubisoft games, an online connection is required to play The Crew 2. Other players randomly inhabit the world, though their cars are automatically ghosted so there is no chance of griefing. Leaderboards are present for every event, as well. Each section of the map has speed records, for more indirect competition as well.
The Crew 2 is an improvement over its predecessor in most ways. It is truly a gearhead’s playground, with plenty of customization and tweaking options, combined with arcade gameplay to give a more relaxed feeling. Rubber-banding AI can be annoying to deal with, an issue which is more evident in some events, like street races, than in others. Despite some flaws, The Crew 2 is a fun rush of whatever kind of racing players desire.
The Crew 2 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.