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The Crew 2 – First Impressions
Ubisoft and their obsessions with open worlds is well observed and so is their propensity to share technology and features between the games. The Crew 2, the sequel to the 2014 open world racer, surely fits this bill. On the surface it’s still the same game- you still have the whole United States of America to traverse, there’s plenty of cars to drive in and you can still get a crew of four players to drive around and do events together.
But the sequel goes to lengths to improve what The Crew first established. Now we have planes and boats. The USA map has been revamped with better graphics and design. The tone has scrapped the underground racer vibe for a more festival flair ala The Crew Wild Run (and Forza Horizon). After playing the closed beta on PS4 this past weekend, it’s a much improved game, but most of the fun is not the races, really.
The Crew 2 starts with a bang- a tutorial race that switches from land to sea to air with cool Inception-like effects where the landscape in front or on the side suddenly folds 90 degrees to you. It sets up the tone- this is now an easy going racing festival game. You create an avatar, with limited customisation options, and then the whole USA is available for you to traverse.
As for the game’s structure, it is divided into four different families, in which the many vehicle classes are now residing. Similar to The Crew 1, there are car classes, but rather than seeing the same car with the ability to switch to many classes- some more flexible than others- each vehicle- car, bike, boat or plane- is locked to that class. But there will be duplicate cars, though. You can have a Drift RX-7 and a regular Street RX-7, but those are now two different cars you have to buy.
With the addition to boats and planes, there now 14 different vehicle classes, each handling a bit differently. It’s still an arcade racing game where the controls are just a bit floaty but you can tell the different characteristics immediately. The Street cars are your happy medium where you can tailslide into a drift or brake straight and take a corner as you usually do in normal sim games. Touring cars are harder to drift and will test your braking abilities. Drift cars only need a slight bump on the analog stick to start going sideways. The Alpha GP class, where the 2017 Red Bull F1 car resides, is also rather grippy, as it should for an F1 car.
Overtime, you will unlock many more sliders to fine tune the handling setup for your vehicles- taking a page from what Need For Speed has been doing.
There”s a lot of variety in the vehicles, from Harley-Davidson bikes to licensed planes and boats. There are a few unlicensed fictional vehicles as well.
Cars have a decent selection of customisation options. There is now a custom livery editor and a way to browse custom liveries. It’s not most robust solution but it’s a step forward nonetheless. Planes and boats might not have much, if any, customisation based on the starter vehicles available in the beta. So don’t expect that much on that front.
When you are out on the open world, you are basically in an online free roam session. You can cruise and do what you like or do any of the activities available. Unlike The Crew 1 where the activities are literally everywhere, The Crew 2 gated the amount of it- activities such as escaping from an enlarging circle radius, score a big jump or speed traps- behind progression of the family events.
When you enter a family event, instead of seeing a standard marker to stop at, you have to drive to a gate where the game will instance you into the race and load all the assets for the course. Since it’s legal racing now, the roads can now be closed off with props, but the courses also feature things like big jumps to spice things up.
As for the racing itself, the AI is just.. there. Frankly, I only played the events on normal difficulty but it’s safe to say you should be able to breeze through the events pretty quick. The courses, be it the closed streets or the open-ended rally raids, are all well designed and feel different enough to be their own events.
Completing a new event for the first time will net you loot. The Crew was the first to use colour-coded performance part, and then Need For Speed Payback ran with the idea but pushed to hard thanks to loot boxes and the need to needlessly grind for parts.
I can’t tell if The Crew 2 will need a lot of grinding to get to the good parts, but the system is a simplified version of what the first game did, but with more meaningful perks. As in, you won’t be getting an exhaust with a bonus to brakes, which can be nebulous at what does it really do. Instead, you’ll get detailed perks such as a reduction of bounce when going off-road, or faster boost accumulation.
The main draw however is still the open world. USA has been revamped, now with more rivers and water channels to accomodate boats and more interesting sceneries scattered throughout the lands. Some landmarks remain from the first game like the spaceship launchpad in Florida. There are also some real-life tracks such as Laguna Seca and the Indianapolis Speedway located in the world, though there are either rough estimations of the real tracks or unlicensed renditions.
The Crew 2 took some ideas from the underrated winter sports game Steep and ran with it to great effect. The photo mode and replay mode, now under the LiveTrack system, works as seen in Steep- you can trace your route for the past few minutes, rewind time, edit replays from there, or even better, rewind just at the right time and then snap a picture in photo mode. A lot of games require precise activation time of the photo mode if you want to take a picture in the heat of the action, which A) affects your gameplay rhythm by stopping midway and B) getting the timing right can be hard.
This might just edge out Onrush as the best photo mode in a racing game this year.
One main issue however is load times. Going through the map, live replay and photo mode can take a few seconds to load properly on the PS4, and annoyingly it’s easy to mispress a button that will lead to these screens- I mispressed the touchpad to open up details of a performance part, but I did not notice that the part did not have any perks so the game boots into the world map which meant I’ve wasted precious seconds waiting.
Another trick from Steep being used well in The Crew 2 is the vehicle switching. You can switch from either of your land, sea or air vehicles with a click and a flick on the analog stick. It can be done on the go and opens to some interesting shenanigans. Getting a crew up and doing cross-road trips will be even more fun than before as you can switch modes of transport anytime. And to see players in planes buzzing in from the top, your friends in boats coasting at the seaside while you zoom in a bike flat out on the highway is something you can’t get in any other racing games.
The Crew 2 marks an improvement from The Crew in all levels, from what I’ve played in the beta. Now the question is if this game is for you. So far there has not been any news about PVP- competitive online racers- which is absent. The single-player progression seems rather straightforward run-of-the-mill affair. But if you have mates that love to spend time faffing about in a car game, setup your own fun like doing cannonball runs, The Crew 2 is a blast.