As a gamer, I have never been one for racing games. Sure, Mario-Kart and Crash Team Racing are two of the greatest games of all time but that’s because weapons make racing games better. I have never really been attracted to the more realistic racing simulators. When the opportunity arose to review The Crew 2, an always online, open-world racing game, I wanted to review it specifically because I am reasonably fresh faced when it comes to the world of racing. I liked the idea of approaching it from the point of view of a gamer who was keen to be enticed into a genre of gaming that he didn’t usually seek out. I had no expectations whatsoever.
The first game in the series simply titled The Crew from Ivory Tower and Ubisoft was released in 2014 to mixed reviews. It received the majority of it’s backlash from the fact it was an ‘always online’ game and a story riddled with cliches. Despite this it was still enjoyed by fans and critics on the whole due the size and scope of the game and the sheer enjoyment provided by the racing itself.
Before I get into the critiquing of this game I want to say that’s it’s a shitload of fun, highly addictive and extremely enjoyable. Originally I didn’t have this paragraph in my review but I was concerned that people who only read the first few parts of a review would think I hated this game – it’s not true. I do however have some thoughts not only about what makes this game work but also what makes it less than it could be.
The first thing that bothered me about The Crew 2 was the fact that I had to install about 25gb of game data just to play the thing. I am used to the updates that usually come with a new game but having to delete Batman: Return To Arkham off my console to redownload later certainly started my relationship with The Crew 2 on tenterhooks.
I was thrown off immediately by the loading times. When you picture an always online, open world game, you picture a game where after the initial start up loading times, you should be free to speed around causing mayhem, racing uninterrupted. What struck me as odd was the fact that although the world was very much open, the loading times stop the flow of the gameplay at almost every turn. If this was something that was unavoidable due to the scope and size of the game and the variety of races then why make the game open world? This idea of open world racing bothered me more and more as I progressed through my first 10 hours of the game. Sure, you could drive around the map locating races, spending ten minutes driving from race to race, or (as I found far more efficient and direct) press the start button and just select from the range of races available in a menu type format. This was not only less confusing but seemed to make the downtime between races less laborious.
You start by picking from a variety of protagonists all with different names and a variety of ethnicities. Which character you pick has not impact on the gameplay itself other than which handsome gentleman or lovely lady will be driving your vehicles. Following selection, you are thrown into your first race (which annoyingly doesn’t tell you how to handbrake until well after you have needed to use it). The opening levels takes you through the three main styles of gameplay, car racing, boat racing and aero-racing (planes and stuff). In this introductory level the transitions between these three modes of racing transportation are done with a unique artistic flare similar to the rolling building scenes from Inception. This smooth and interesting transition was actually quite impressive but is unique only to this beginning part of the game, much to my disappointment.
The basics of all the vehicles are the same. They each can be controlled as simply as accelerating, breaking and boosting (NOS which regenerates). At first I thought that the vehicles had little variety between them other than cosmetically but as I progressed it became clear that each vehicle type had a huge amount of differentiating features. Learning to control a boat, a motorbike, a rally car, a street car, a drift vehicle etc meant that I was always having to adapt slightly and meant that the racing concept didn’t become repetitive. The scope of the game is massive. Each vehicle category has an endless supply of licensed cars, boats, bikes and planes to choose from, each opening up different ways to race them, which, despite feeling slightly overwhelming at first, does mean that you can vary the way you play meaning the games longevity is more than that of a typical racing game.
Graphically at a glance The Crew 2 looks stunning. Looking closer however, the game feels unfinished. So much attention to detail has gone into the vehicles themselves, from the way the sun reflects off the coat of paint, to the the detail in the rims. It is impressive current gen graphics. However when you delve a bit deeper there are some issues with the graphics. The scenery (especially trees and objects in the distances) look unfinished. The humans (both other real people and NPCs) are terrible around the edges with Playstation One looking hair and movements. It is as though the graphics department struggled to reach the release date deadline and ended up making the main aspects of the game look amazing but let the detail of the less important aspects of the game slip. Sadly, this results in the overall feel of the game feel rushed and unfinished which is disappointing, especially given how much potential the gaming engine clearly has.
The Crew 2 has a fairly weak attempt at a storyline. To it’s credit however it doesn’t pretend that the story is important. Different crews and racing syndicates want you to prove yourself, become more famous, earn bitcoin and get street cred. It’s a 15 years olds motorised wet dream. Coloured graffiti artwork sprays up the transition screens, people use outdated lingo that would make the Fast & The Furious 2 writers cringe. It reminded me a lot of the “cool kid” approach to Need For Speed: Underground. It works with the games style of trying to make gaming less nerdy and more cool but this 31 year old geek felt it was trying just a little bit too hard.
The learning curve in regards to improving is perfectly paced so I never felt like I failed too many times nor did I succeed too easily, so everytime I wanted to put the controller down I’d end up winning a race and being completely hooked again. As an example, in my first drag race (which I now know is when the road is slippery and you skid everywhere lol) I got under half the required points to pass the level. However on my second attempt I nearly double the benchmark (these were fairly introductory levels so I hadn’t mastered it or anything but the game gave you the chance to learn without feeling like a shit person).
Eventually I unlocked a series of special events called “live events” where you seamlessly change from street performance car, to speed boat, to rally car all within the same race (like a Vin Diesel triathlon) and it was at this point that I realised I was actually having an amazing time playing this game and that, despite its flaws, I was surprisingly keen to see this game through.
So I know, I know, I have ranted and raved about the downsides of this game but at the end of the day, the most important thing is – despite all this – this game is bloody fun. The more I played it, the more I enjoyed, the better I got at it, the more satisfaction I obtained when upgrading my cars (even if I didn’t know what a muffler did it didn’t matter – it was easy to upgrade the vehicles and made a satisfying noise when I did so) the more hooked I got. Add to this genuinely decent racing music (The Black Keys, Kasabian, Tame Impala to mention a few) and the result is The Crew 2 is a very, very fun game. It is fast paced, varied (enough), the learning curve isn’t so steep that the casual racing gamer can’t get into it and there are enough tracks, vehicles and madness to keep you busy for a very, very long time. So yeap, despite its shortcomings, The Crew 2 is an extremely fun (if at times an unpolished) game that is sure to give racing fans (and casual gamers like) something to do for a few hungover Sundays to come.
– Ashton Brown