It’s the roads between cities where The Crew 2 shines. Those great swathes of highway that curve through deserts, snake through canyons, and cut through forests. Here the game’s immense scale, arcade handling, and palpable sense of speed coalesce into something genuinely thrilling—especially if you have a couple of friends driving alongside you. But it’s a feeling that doesn’t last, because outside of these blissful moments the game is absolutely determined to sabotage the purity of its driving with endless nonsense.
The Crew 2 is an open world racer set in a massive, condensed approximation of the continental United States. To give you an idea of its size, it took me 46 minutes to drive non-stop from Los Angeles to New York City in a Ferrari 458. It’s a vast and varied setting, and it’s undoubtedly the best thing about it. There’s fun to be had in just aimlessly driving from state to state, watching the scenery change around you, visiting famous landmarks (of which there are, curiously, fewer than the first game). But the game gets impatient when you do this, insisting you focus on earning followers for some non-specific social media network instead: the primary metric of your success in The Crew 2.
Followers are earned by winning races, performing stunts, driving dangerously, and dozens of other activities that send the counter ticking up. As you play, a cast of obnoxious, horribly written characters are forever buzzing in your ear about how rad you are, how many followers you have, and how many more you could get if you take part in this awesome event, dude. The dialogue is astonishingly bad, and the whole thing comes off like a desperate attempt to piggyback on contemporary culture without really understanding it.
The Crew 2 has a 60fps framerate cap, which most modern GPUs can hit.
It’s just vapid, treating internet fame like it’s somehow the peak of human achievement, and the constant, cloying validation of everything you do, no matter how banal, is exhausting. But here’s the thing—it could have been interesting. What if, as well as earning followers, you also lost them? So every failed stunt, crash, and spin-out actually counted against you, and you were constantly at war with yourself to maintain your following. That would have at least given the social media concept some bite, rather than it just being some arbitrary number that increases to make you feel good about yourself.
It’s on the road, away from all this embarrassing “How do you do, fellow kids?” noise, where The Crew 2 is at its best—particularly in the way it lets you seamlessly transition between land, sea, and air vehicles on the fly. You can be screaming along the highway in a supercar, before transforming into a plane and taking to the air, then changing into a speedboat as you fly across a river, landing safely in the water. It’s immensely fun being able to switch your mode of transport on a whim, but the enjoyment is tainted by the fact that, cars aside, the vehicles just aren’t much fun to drive in The Crew 2.
The motorcycles, particularly the motocross bikes, are frustratingly stiff to control, with completely rote physics. Flying in planes feels sluggish and laboured, with a feeble sense of speed. And the boats are unremarkable, failing to create a convincing sensation of moving through water. None of the vehicle types (well, except for the motocross bikes) are terrible—they’re just deeply underwhelming. But they do have their moments, such as navigating a plane through the snaking rocky corridors of the Grand Canyon or back-flipping a Harley Davidson off the top of Mount Rushmore. It’s a shallow thrill, however, and I found myself spending as much time in cars as possible.
The Crew 2 is not a great driving game, but the cars are far superior to every other mode of transport. The arcadey handling is smooth and responsive, but has none of the wonderful, weighted nuance of the Forza Horizon games. The cars all feel vaguely the same, and the physics are cartoonishly bouncy, like your chassis is made of hard rubber. But when you hit those long desert roads, which seem to go on forever, it’s hard not to feel a rush of excitement. This is where the size of the map earns its keep, giving you miles of road to tear up and a powerful feeling of travelling across a great distance.
Going on cross-country road trips with friends is easily the most fun I’ve had in The Crew 2. But if you want credits to buy new cars, you’re gonna have to take part in some events. This is the game at its most basic, with all manner of checkpoint races to take part in, as well as distractions such as drag races, aerial acrobatics, and motocross competitions. I do like the off-road races and how they let you choose your own path to each checkpoint, but otherwise this is stuff I’ve seen and done in a dozen other open world driving games.
The AI is maddening too. You can drive perfectly for two laps, only to make one minor mistake and see the rest of the pack immediately rush past you. It’s some of the most obscene rubber-banding I’ve encountered in a racing game outside of Mario Kart. There’s also a hilariously jarring loot system that lets you upgrade your car with new parts. I couldn’t help but laugh at the ‘rare exhaust’ I found that gave me an utterly meaningless 0.07% boost to my follower gain. But upgrading doesn’t appear to give you any edge over the AI, who always seem to adjust to your current specs, rendering the whole activity futile.
If you’re in a crew you can enter these events with friends and race against them. But this, amazingly, is the extent of multiplayer in The Crew 2 at the moment. You’ll see other players in the world as you drive around, but they can’t be challenged to a race, unless you go to the trouble of inviting them to your crew first. There’s no lobby system either, meaning you can’t race against strangers on your own. Even if you start an event in a crew, the other racers will be AI. GTA Online has this stuff figured out, so why doesn’t an online-focused driving game that costs $60? Ubisoft says a December update will add PvP, but it’s bewildering that they didn’t launch the game with such basic multiplayer functionality.
There are other issues too, such as the waypoint system that sometimes just refuses to snap to any roads. Unless you’re grinding events, some vehicles are outrageously expensive—and of course there’s a cynical microtransaction storefront to tempt weak-willed players into spending real-world money on them. And despite an admirable attempt to make the game more charming than the gloomy, self-serious original, it’s completely devoid of personality. I think The Crew would benefit from having no story at all and focusing entirely on the driving, which should stand tall on its own without the player being forced to become an insufferable Instagram star against their will.
It’s a shame, because there’s a huge amount of potential in The Crew 2. The scale of the world is quite extraordinary, and being able to warp to the other side of the continent near-instantly is impressive on a technical level. Cresting a hill at night on some lonely desert highway and seeing the neon glow of Vegas far in the distance is a moment I won’t soon forget. And I love how you can share these moments of discovery with friends in co-op. The ten minutes I spent in a plane doing loops through the legs of a giant cow in Wisconsin with my friends was way more memorable than any of the tepid race events, and I feel like the game could have leaned into the co-op side of things more.
The PC version of the game runs well on my GTX 1080, and occasionally looks stunning—at least from a distance. There are some remarkable vistas to be found here, but the world doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. The cities, which include San Francisco, Dallas, Washington D.C., and Chicago, are boxy and unconvincing. The lighting is often flat and lifeless, and there’s some fairly severe pop-in when moving at high speeds. The vehicles look great, but their fidelity is at odds with the world around them. It’s one of the most visually inconsistent games I’ve ever played, which I suppose is a side effect of creating a world this large. It’s clear where the corners have been cut.
The first Crew improved dramatically after a series of post-launch updates, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sequel received the same treatment. But right now this is a full price game released by one of the biggest publishers in the world, and I can’t recommend it in its current state. The lack of multiplayer options is inexcusable and, on a more fundamental level, the driving simply isn’t as fun or refined as it should be. The Crew 2 could be something special, but Ubisoft doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. I’m willing to give it another chance after a few updates, but until then I’ll stick to Forza Horizon 3.