Fast & Furious: The After-School Special.

Title: The Crew 2
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Ivory Tower
Publisher: Ubisoft
Price: £50/$60 (across all platforms)
Release Date: Out now
TL;DR: Puts a new spin on the arcade racer, but drags the same old problems along.
Family Focus?: Click here for more information

After a 2017 that seemed to have a particular focus on the technical side of the driver game, 2018 has seen the spirited return of the arcade driver, already bestowing bounty upon bounty for us in the Burnout Paradise Remaster, Grip, and OnRush, to name just a few. Joining that lineup is the return of Ubisoft’s CaRPG – The Crew 2, which opens up the whole of America to you; tear through the cities, speed past the wilderness, zip across the coastlines, and spin out of control over the city’s skylines, in a game that might offer a lot of razzmatazz, but is let down by the simple things.

So, why does the game fall flat in some ways? Well, let’s start with the premise behind it. Gone – apparently – are the traditional ideas of grasping for success or getting revenge on some jumped up arse-face who screwed you over at the start of the game. Instead, The Crew 2 boils everything down to what, sadly, Ubisoft sees as our society – that being popular is your success. And this is why the game is based on how many followers you have. When you win races, you gain more followers – or just when you’re driving around outside of races, you’ll still gain followers. The more followers you have unlocks more races; it’s a simple feature – and one that does fit in with the tone of the game, but it’s one that seems to blunt successes and has a strange impact on the gameplay.

Because of course, being a racing game, races are to be found all over the country, offering up some crazed whistle-stop tours of the cities and the countryside. The only issue is that, because The Crew 2’s success is based on popularity, you only have to finish in the top three. It’s a decision that might seem like it’s pushing a “just taking part is winning!” philosophy, but in reality, it’s one that’s in place to hide a serious rubber-banding issue in the game.

It’s barely evident in early races, as you speed ahead without a care in the world, but once you begin to climb the ranks, the impact a bad corner can have are unmissable. So much so, that it’s commonplace to see your first place lead ripped away from you after a dodgy turn during a final lap through Detroit. It’s a shame to still see such an outdated mechanic still running rampant – especially because The Crew 2 does offer some fairly good ideas, but to have the core gameplay hampered so blatantly is a letdown.

But the good news is that you won’t just be racing cars. Whilst the boat races are fairly monotonous, feeling like laboured trudges through the water that – I swear – managed to make me feel a little bit seasick, the flying sections do inject a little variety into the gameplay. Acting as a kind of mid-air playground, the entire aeroplane campaign is there to test your skill. The sections all have you performing tricks to break a points barrier, with the environment you play in changing the different tricks you can pull off a little bit, but this really only goes so far as: is there a bridge? If there is, then I’ll fly under it! That said, the huge, uninhibited open spaces that you’ll get to bound around in are an absolute treat that shows off just how good looking the game is.

Because rather strangely, the thing that The Crew 2 does better than anything is the world. And with the whole of America for you to explore, there’s quite a bit to take in, from the sprawling cities that – possibly due to the game’s size – can look a little basic at times, but you’ll be taken in by the glow of Las Vegas in the middle of the night or the sprawling skyline of New York. But where the game’s real beauty lies is in the countryside; take a trip down Mississippi way or flying through the Grand Canyon, and you’ll see the detail that’s gone into some parts of the game.

This is what had me confused about The Crew 2. Taking in the little slice of Americana was far more entertaining than the actual races. Whether it was flying as high as I could and then switching to my car to watch it fall or try to land on something was far more fun than the boat races. Speeding through the highway listening to playlists full of modern alt-rock and pop songs that – whilst not my go-to genres, create an excellent soundtrack that felt like taking part in one of those classic road trips you hear so much about. And it’s this clash of tones that makes the game such a difficult thing to nail down as just good or bad.

Though one thing is clear; the game’s NPC’s do zero favours for making the game look good. In fact, apart from your chosen avatar, who’s really nothing more than a lifeless husk in a driver’s seat, the surrounding cast of the game come across as if they’ve been ripped straight from an uplifting teen film. No matter who it is talking at you, they all pretty much say the same thing; “We’re creative,” “We’re here to win,” and of course “We’re a family.”

Given the potent levels of cheese spewing from these characters, I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of them was planning to make me win a race to save their local community centre. And whilst the voice acting is done well, the character models are nice, and they do add some life to the game, they also just seem like forced stereotypes: the grouchy old man with a good heart, the aristocratic pro-racer who doesn’t want anything to change, the cast become parodies of believable characters that are simply irritating at times… deep breaths.

The Crew 2 isn’t a bad game, it’s just not a great one. It smacks of what Ubisoft has done so many times in the past; creating big, beautiful open worlds and then cheaping out when it comes to the gameplay and substance. Some will say the rubber-banding issue isn’t a big deal, that it adds more of a challenge, but I’d say the real strength of the game is the adventure you create yourself – oh no, I’m beginning to sound like the characters.

The Good:

  • Beautiful recreation of the USA
  • Amazing soundtrack
  • Whilst the game might be light on things to do when you explore, travelling around the country is a lot of fun

The Bad:

  • Rubber-banding issues with the street races are just awful
  • The surrounding cast of characters are terrible ambassadors of humanity
  • The boat races are just boring

Family Focus

The Crew 2 is rated 12 in the UK and “T,” for Tenn in the US. Honestly, getting your kids to listen to the ramblings of the game’s cast will probably make them behave themselves more.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purpose of this review.