The Crew 2 is a miserly thing.
It doesn’t start out that way, sure. The first dozen hours or so are all abundance and generosity as you’re set free in the sprawling, glorious open-world map of the United States with almost no limits. Pick the style of racing you want and the car that suits your tastes. The first one is on the house. And, heck, why stick to just automobiles? This time around, planes, boats and motorcycles—the last of which made it into the first game as DLC—are available almost right from the start.
Nothing in The Crew 2 is more lavish than that delightful map. Though I didn’t pore over every detail, developer Ivory Tower seems to have kept its funhouse version of the contiguous U.S. more or less unchanged from the last entry. There are more ramps and verticality in the urban areas, some of which seem to have shifted layouts a bit, and more waterways to accommodate boats, but the big picture stuff is the same. The list of regions and cities is identical to my eyes, as are the way they mesh together.
And that’s fine. Ivory Tower has a knack for capturing the feel of the country in a way that works beautifully when you’re speeding past landmarks at 100 miles per hour. Yes, if you slow down, you’ll start to notice some silly decisions and a few cut corners, but it remains one of the game’s greatest strengths. In scope, in diversity, and in flow, it’s still unrivaled among open-world racing games.
If anything, the biggest change in The Crew 2 is the variety of event types, which feel directly tied to the variety of the map. By splitting everything up into distinct disciplines, the game is able to provide events that feel quite different from one another. That obviously extends to the boats and planes, both of which control well and offer a surprising amount of mechanical depth. It’s also true of events like Monster Truck, which sets you loose in an arena full of ramps and half pipes to smash point pickups and pull off tricks, and Drag Race, which mixes up its sprints with a series of timing-based minigames that are true enough to the real-world version.
The ability to switch between vehicle types on the fly is also a treat, though you’re only really going to use it freely if you’re goofing off in the open world. It almost never comes into play to accomplish any specific objective, outside of a few showpiece races that force you to make changes at prescribed points. But it’s still entertaining to, say, divebomb a speeding train in your air race plane and swap to motorcycle just to see if you can land safely on top of the boxcars. If only the game gave you something structured to do that took advantage of it.
The story framing all this is—well, it’s bad. Thankfully, it’s mercifully unintrusive compared to the last game’s cops-and-robbers nonsense, which injected laborious police pursuits to keep the narrative chugging along. This time, you’re racing for a fake GoPro-style company, teaming up with Good Guys to drive faster than a Bad Guy rival in each the four different “families” of racing disciplines. It’s fluff. The dialogue and voice acting bring to mind a low-tier JRPG from a decade or two ago, all inexplicable philosophizing and stilted melodrama. One rival exclaims mid-race, “At last, the purest form of racing.” Another character gives you this gem: “Psst. Let me tell you a secret. The limits to freedom…don’t exist.” But, hey, you can skip all the cutscenes, and it’s rare to get this much unadulterated cheese from a modern game. There’s a simple charm to it, if you squint.
Once you’ve vanquished your last rival and won the big finale of FauxPro’s racing show, though, the pace of the game shifts remarkably. This would, of course, be a natural place for the game to end and, speaking from experience, this is where you can and should stop playing.
The Crew 2, though, doesn’t want you to do that. There’s no credit roll. Everything from the unlocks to the trophies to the defined objectives in the game are there to remind you that there’s still more to do. At this point, it’s likely none of your cars will be anywhere close to max performance level (or Perf, for short) and you’ll hardly have any of them in your garage. There’s still money to earn, followers to obtain. You’re not done yet.
Case in point: there’s a menu that shows the randomized loot drops and other rewards you can get for earning experience (styled here as social media followers) and reaching higher ranks called Icon levels. The last unlock comes, no joke, at Icon level 9990. Right now, with over 40 hours of playtime under my belt, I’m at 66. At my current pace, I’d need to put in at least another 6,000 hours to get to the end of that menu. There’s a similarly audacious page of perks you can unlock using the points you get for raising your Icon level. The benefits for putting in a point are so meager—you can earn 0.1 percent more followers for everything, or improve loot drops by 0.1 percent—and there are so many slots to fill that you’ll need to rack up dozens, if not hundreds, of levels before any of them have a substantial impact on your experience. There are always more boxes to tick in The Crew 2.
It’s worth noting at this point that the game doesn’t feature any sort of competitive multiplayer component, unless you count the ubiquitous leaderboards. Ivory Tower plans to add some form of PvP in by the end of the year, but it’s a surprising omission given that the original game launched with it. As such, all that you can do to keep climbing is replay races and skill challenges to earn better loot and try out the “hard” versions of each race.
Those two things, it turns out, are closely intertwined. The hard races offer better quality gear, but they also come with recommended vehicle levels significantly higher than the standard versions—much higher, in fact, than any of the vehicles you probably own by this stage. Though you can make up some of that gap with skill, the only way to reliably compete is to level up the vehicles you do have or buy more powerful versions.
In my case, I was able to immediately buy a vehicle high-level enough to jump into the hard races in one discipline, Street Racing. In another, Hypercar, I got close enough that I could make up the disparity with skillful driving. For all the others, the best vehicle to buy—assuming you even have the cash—is well below the recommended level for hard races. The only solution is to grind normal-level races you’ve already beaten for better parts.
To put some numbers to the issue, let’s look at the Air Race discipline. All the hard events recommend a plane at level 230. My trusty standby, the Harmon Rocket HR III, finished the campaign at around 140. Since even the most expensive plane at the shop was only at 151, and I didn’t feel like spending a third of all the cash I had for such a minor upgrade, I got to work with what I already had. An hour of uninterrupted grinding (with all my Icon level points set to improving loot drops) got my HR III to 192, enough to eke out the hard version of the race despite still being substantially underleveled.
And grinding in The Crew 2 certainly isn’t rewarding. Each improved part you find will be enough to raise a number on a menu, but you won’t notice the effects right away. Even if you get a rarer part with special perks, called Affix, you’re unlikely to spot any difference, because each one is so small in magnitude. Unlike loot-and-shoot games or action RPGs, where special gear can introduce a whole new type of gameplay or a status effect that completely changes your strategy, here you’re getting a new exhaust pipe that recharges your nitro boost a couple percent faster. Whoopee. You’re constantly making progress, to be sure, but it never feels like it in the moment.
Keep in mind, as well, that you can only get loot for the vehicle you’re currently in, and all the parts you get are tied to vehicles within a certain discipline. If you level up a Drift car, you can transfer those parts to any other Drift vehicle, but if you need to level up a different type of car—or a plane or boat—you’ll need to start the process all over again. Given that all the disciplines save one have just five to 10 events apiece, you’re going to redo the same races an awful lot. And once you’ve gotten decent enough parts, the AI stops offering any real challenge or surprise. You’re just trading time for loot.
In order to get a fuller picture of the grind, I kept going with the HR III. After another hour and a half, I hit 230. One more hour—three and a half total, if you’re keeping track—got me just 13 Perf levels higher, to 243. I gave up at this point, since the pace slows considerably as your level increases. Eventually, you’ll even start getting parts worse than the ones you already have, which can mean you spend your time on a race for absolutely no reward.
Well, that’s not entirely true: You helped bump up Ubisoft’s player engagement stats. And you’re definitely going to put in even more time to get those parts because you’ve already come this far, and you need that trophy, that unlockable car, that spot on the leaderboards, and all your friends play this game too so you can’t fall behind. Soon will come the limited-time events and the regular flow of content you absolutely won’t want to miss out on. Now is the era of games as a service, when the line between fun and obligation grows ever fainter. We don’t beat games anymore. We just keep playing until they’ve beaten us.
I want to make sure I don’t minimize the very real good that comes along with that. Ivory Tower has promised a year’s worth of significant updates, free to everyone. And unlike the first game, the monetization here isn’t heavy-handed. You can spend real-world money to unlock cosmetic customization items and, yes, more powerful cars. Still, even the most expensive vehicles aren’t too far ahead of the ones you’ll be able to easily buy with in-game currency, and they’re nowhere near max level. You’re shortening the grind a bit, not eliminating it.
But all a player-friendly business model can give you is more of the same game as it’s designed today, and anyone who plays The Crew 2 the way it wants to be played will find it anything but friendly. To a casual player looking for a racing game to dump a few hours into and then move on, you could do worse. If, god forbid, you like it enough to want to keep playing, though, you’re in for disappointment. The more you ask of it, the less it has to give. The deeper you get, the shallower it becomes.
After two bites at the apple, I think Ivory Tower needs to reconsider something fundamental about its approach. The Crew 2 clearly sees itself in the mold of Destiny or GTA Online, but it can’t muster the wealth of content, the replayability, or the dynamism that keep us going back to those games. Maybe the solution is a huge volume of events—whether developer-authored, community-created, or procedurally generated—so you’re not just repeating races you’ve already seen. Maybe it’s a greater set of tunable difficulty settings that allow you to keep upping the challenge in exchange for improved rewards. Maybe it’s a larger emphasis on multiplayer, including actual PvP.
The Crew 2 has no such answers. For all the generosity of its early moments, all it can offer by way of an endgame is a slog through the same content with no end in sight, save the hope that things might improve months down the line. That’s damning in any game, but particularly so given the genre we’re dealing in. A race needs a finish line. Otherwise you’re just driving in circles, forever.
|Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ivory Tower • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 06.29.2018|
The Crew 2‘s digital recreation of American remains as inviting as it was in the first game, and the diverse event types and new air and water vehicles mix things up in a good way. Eventually, however, the aggressively grindy loop of replaying races to upgrade your vehicles will leave you feeling like a theme park custodian: You’re surrounded by attractions that should be such fun, yet you’re stuck doing mindless chores instead.
|The Good||The map impresses once again, as do the new planes and boats you can use to explore it.|
|The Bad||The design eventually collapses into a grind that disrespects your time as a player.|
|The Ugly||The load times to get into the (otherwise pretty great) photo mode.|
|The Crew 2 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|