The open world dink-around arcade racer is reaching a crisis point, thank goodness. If Burnout Paradise or Forza Horizon 3 weren’t already excellent open world racers, The Crew 2 wouldn’t have to be as strange and all-encompassing as it is. In the first game, you could team up with friends to race or freely explore a miniaturized USA. In The Crew 2, you can still do that, but while instantly switching between a car, a boat, and a plane with the press of a button. It’s extremely excessive and I condone it with my entire heart.
During a hands-on preview event, I got to play the PC version of The Crew 2 and freely explore the open environment surrounding New York City. Much like the first game, the scale of The Crew 2 is immediate, emphasized by the slick map interface that simply zooms the camera out without cutting to a menu, positioning the 3D world below you from a very talented bird’s eye perspective. I could see the NYC skyline fade into smaller buildings, and then into rolling hills of pine, all scribbled through with roads, rivers, and racetracks. It’s seriously impressive, but I hope the track design keeps up with all the space it has to cover.
It’s possible to teleport to any event unlocked on the map, but my preferred method of travel was driving off a ramp (and there are a lot in NYC, a civic hazard) then transforming into a plane at the peak of my arc and barrel-rolling to wherever my heart took me. Often, my heart took me to hundreds of feet above a body of water, where I transformed into a boat and plummeted into the drink at terminal velocity. It’s absurd fun, and I can imagine it’ll be better with friends.
But it all stood in stark contrast to the events I tried out. Between steering a nimble boat through a swamp and drifting a streetcar through a park in NYC, there’s a ton of diversity in vehicle types and handling, but none I played took advantage of the instant vehicle switching system. I raced a dirt bike on a dirt bike track, steered a bi-plane in an obstacle course set between tall city buildings, and tore through the trees in an offroad truck in a freeform race to reach a point in the distance—but The Crew 2’s version of these events could have been from any somewhat open world racer from the last five years.
The vanilla vehicle events are diverse and competent enough to sit comfortably among the rest of the genre, but with so much potential for vehicle switching cross country races and surreal stunt challenges right at your fingertips, it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for hitting every routine rally car race across an abridged USA. I’d rather Ubisoft went all in on its wild ideas and built a world that took clear advantage of the vehicle switching. The novelty of such a huge play space with areas so far clearly divided by event types—cities are for street races, mountains for off-roading, water for boat stuff—makes far less sense to me than a smaller space or curated tracks that highlight the fun aspects of driving each vehicle and the somewhat improvisational thrill of switching between them.
Without a playful enough approach, I fear The Crew 2 will be reduced to an arcade racer variety show with an entertaining way to get around. Either way, it’s still strange enough to keep me interested. By trading in brand name vehicle lust for the fantasies they provide and careful track curation for scale and variety, The Crew 2 will definitely be different from the rest, though not necessarily better.