STAFF REVIEW of Crew 2, The (Xbox One)

Thursday, July 12, 2018.
by Brent Roberts

Crew 2, The Box art Racing games have one goal in min: pure enjoyment through a direct adrenaline injection engine that pumps deep in your heart. Tires smoking, RPMs slamming into the red, the back end of the car sliding back and forth so furiously you think the car is trying out for the Olympic slalom event; are all facets of what make a regular driving game into an exhilarating driving game. Instead of track racing though, there's a growing trend for racing games set in realistic environments.

It's been a long road traveled with many pitfalls and accomplishments, but what Ubisoft has done with the Crew 2 is nothing short of amazing. Buckle up because I'm about to tell you why The Crew 2 should have everyone at Playground Games, very, very worried.

As we launch from the lights, it must be noted that The Crew 2 is more of an arcade racer than simulation. You don't really need to worry about tire pressure, the correct racing line, or any of that. What you need to worry about is winning. It has to be said that The Crew 2 is set to go against the Forza Horizon games, and there are a bunch of similarities, but the differences could mean the deciding factor between finishing first and coming in dead last. I also must confess I was not a fan of the original Crew racing game and felt that not only did it lack substance, but it also was smaller than the ambitious marketing lines we were fed. This time around though, Ubisoft has gone to tremendous lengths to remedy that, but if I'm honest, it still has a long way to go.

The Crew 2 centers around you being the focus for what is called the LIVE events. Here you will go through four different disciplines to unlock all the expensive toys to play with. There is the street racing discipline that consists of actions such as drag racing, drifting, street racing and more. Then you have the off-road disciplines (which should be self-explanatory), all the way up to the professional racing discipline which consists of you taking to the skies in planes and hitting the water in some massive powerboat racing events.

All these events will earn you followers and in-game cash for you to purchase your next motorized toy. There is one drawback though, and that is your career is based ONLY on the number of fans that you have acquired, so you will be unable to go straight through any one type of discipline. I understand that Ubisoft developed it this way, so you are forced to experience all of the different styles, but doing this takes away from the freedom of choice that this game was founded upon, which makes it a bit hypocritical. You have the freedom to choose what we give you, not what is offered.

Now should you proceed through all the disciplines, you'll encounter what I'm calling the "boss race event", and each discipline has their own race with their own rewards. One reward is the Aston Martin Vulcan hypercar, and another is a Hovercraft, and so on. While I understand the whole ego behind these boss characters, I wish Ubisoft went a step further and gave them personalities that were as individual as their prizes. One boss came over the radio and said "You're not in the top 10 so you're a nobody. I don't talk to nobodies. See, this is me not talking to you." This head shaking stupidity is something the game can do without, but regrettably, you will find it all throughout the game itself.

Being that The Crew 2 is staged within the United States, you can take your rides and venture from the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles all the way to Miami or New York. This is the ambition that I touched about earlier. While it does take some time to venture from one location to another, I wish that Ubisoft actually did something like allow a realistic drive that took days, not minutes. I could see a company using a service like Google Maps to have the routes preloaded with you and your friends taking 5 days to a week to travel across country and see the lands. Instead though, we have something that can take less than 45 minutes. Now, I understand that games are made with resources, and to accomplish that would be an incredible strain on the game development itself, but Ubisoft has somehow almost perfected the ability to load a massive environment in a seamless transition.

Way back when I reviewed Ubisoft's game Steep, I was astounded at how they loaded this titanic mountain range that allowed smooth transitions between events and the ability to access every inch of the map at any one time. This trend has found its way into The Crew 2, and I couldn't be happier for that. I experimented with fast traveling to locations as well, and I'm very happy to say that the load times are faster in this game than in other AAA game, so you never really feel out of the action, which also includes the multiplayer.

Unfortunately, I have a small gripe about the multiplayer, that being that you can only have a small amount of people in your crew at any point in time. In other racing games you can have a long list if you wish, but in The Crew 2 you're restricted to 4 people or less. So, if you're in a party of 6 people and you all want to be in a crew together, you're s.o.l. and a couple of your friends are going to be left out.

As I stated earlier, The Crew 2 is an arcade racer, not a simulation racing game. This is oh so apparent when you are talking about the operating mechanics of any vehicle. Controlling slides that would tear a car apart as you drift around corners, jumping hundreds and hundreds of feet in the air in a boat without crushing it into oblivion, and being able to rapidly invert and fly in increased angles without tearing your plane apart all add to the extreme sensation (especially when you throw in the 'A' button for boost), but take away from the reality. However, in the end, it's about the sensationalism that The Crew 2 has nailed in spades. A few issues I do have to mention are the poor camera angles. While there are only a few choices to select from, the ones that are available don't allow you to truly explore and enjoy the environment around you, and let me say that this is quite a noteable setback, because the only way you can enjoy everything the environment has to offer is through the air and not on the roads.

The reason why I say this is a big deal is because The Crew 2 is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. I'm running it on a top end Samsung 55" 4K TV and it literally is a work of art. The textures from the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forrest and to the streets of New York City are done in such a painstakingly realistic approach that every inch of the map carries with it its own personality and identity, and if you can only view all this beauty from the air, then it detracts from the impact as you feel almost shunned for being in a car rather than a boat or a plane. The graphics play a major role as well, as the seasons change throughout the game. I say seasons because to say a freak snow storm isn't really applicable to the game, but wow does The Crew 2 react to weather.

Imagine driving along a highway and you're approaching a mountain pass. The day started off nice and sunny, but as you approach you witness a fog starting to move in that effects visibility. Your car still handles like a champ but what you can see is dramatically reduced. Instead of playing it safe, you throw caution to the wind, bury your foot in the gas pedal and head for the mountain. Now as you start to climb you watch the first few flakes of snow fall, and before you know it, the entire environment is blanketed in inches of snow. You think that it will pass momentarily, as you keep your foot hard pressed, watching as your tires carve your presence in the fallen snow. Engine screaming, snow flying all around you, and here comes an upcoming hairpin turn. Thinking you can drift around it you smash the 'X' button to start your handbrake turn in epic fashion as you wait for your YouTube moment of glory, only to find out that your tires have absolutely no grip, and you go sliding right off the mountain and begin the insurance paperwork as you start to invent your own flying car upon your descent.

Not only does The Crew 2 react dramatically to the weather, but your car does as well. If you're behind someone and are riding in their tracks you can gain more traction, as the snow has been cleared from the road by their tires; however, if you stray but an inch off the tracks, your driving experience becomes totally different. Oh, and did I mention all the traffic you will experience during this white-knuckle enjoyment? You may think twice about passing if you know that you're going to lose your traction and possibly go head to head with a box delivery truck as you slide wildly out of control. But like I said, while all this is going on it's going to look STUNNING. So, go on and crash and dare to live dangerously because any way you do it, The Crew 2 has you blanketed in incredible graphics.

The Crew 2 allows you to capture the beauty of the game by going into photo mode by hitting right on the d-pad. From here you can go through a recent timeline of your travels and freely move the camera about. Sadly though, The Crew 2 doesn't have as in-depth a system for photos as other games and doesn't provide the same effects either, but that doesn't mean what you take a picture of won't be gorgeous. Nothing like taking a couple of monster trucks in a half pipe and launching them into each other as a rainbow appears in the background to make you appreciate the beauty of The Crew 2. These pictures though do serve a purpose as you can unlock a photo album that grants you cash bonuses for completing certain tasks and taking a picture of it, but to do this you will have to unlock the off-road discipline first.

One aspect that personally holds a great deal of importance to my heart is painting. Having been painting cars since it was possible in another racing game, Ubisoft allows artists to dive into their creative mindset and play with 1000 layers of stickers, layers, and all sorts of graphics. Unfortunately, the artwork is suffering from the same anemic aspect that we find in the photo mode. The shapes are very limited in quantity and quality, and you're also going to miss any sort of gradient colors or patterns. While you can layer multiple shapes and graphics and adjust transparency, the workarounds still can't hold a flame to the painting mechanics found in other titles. One of the biggest drawbacks though is the constant connection issues that can really set you back when it comes to painting.

What I mean by that is I had spent over 3 hours tending to a paintjob on an Aston Martin and loved it. I was feeling hungry, so I left the paint as is with the layers on the bottom and everything. I went to the kitchen and made some food, and while this happened my controller turned off for inactivity. This caused the game to think that I wasn't around or going to play anymore so it reverted me back to the opening screen. I returned to realize that all my work that I had done on the car was erased. So, moral of the story, if you are going to leave any paint job for a few minutes, back out of the paint job so the game will internally save it, otherwise you'll be in the same anger pit I was when it happened.

There is one golden ticket that has The Crew 2 standing heads and shoulders above the rest, and that is involving the different types of vehicles found in the game. While other sandbox racing games that rhyme with Verizon have you drive around in just different types of automotive vehicles, The Crew 2 sends you off in planes and boats as well. You may be thinking that this is just a novelty, but you would be completely wrong. Thanks to the ingenious loading of all the vehicles in your disposal ahead of time, Ubisoft has allowed you to take to the skies or seas with the press of the Right Stick. Press it and you can see your other options for travel and move the stick to the vehicle you want, hold it for a few seconds and wham, you're now controlling your preferred mode of transportation. Let me give you an example.

Let's say you're tearing up the streets of Miami in your favorite exotic and you are about to hit a massive jump that will send you and your car hurdling through the air. You hit the jump and start to take flight, and while you're in the air you hit the Right Stick and select your plane. As your car is in the air you transform into your airplane and start traveling amongst the clouds. Turning to the Gulf of Mexico, you see the opening for the Mississippi River, and while in flight you press in your Right Stick again and select your boat. Then like a falling meteor you morph into your boat vehicle, free fall into the water, and start blasting your way up the mighty Mississippi. No other race game on any platform can do this. None. This type of freedom is the quintessential core of what these types of games should be about, and it goes without saying that Ubisoft has absolutely demolished any and all competitors in the arcade racing genre.

Sure, this type of freedom is incredible, but so are the upgrade features. With each vehicle comes a range of upgradable components. Each of these upgrades come in one of three ranges. Green components offer no additional benefit, blue components offer 1 additional benefit, and pink components offer 2 additional benefits. These benefits range from such things as increase boost replenishment while drifting to increased follower percentage and much, much more. Each of these components are also tailored to specific vehicles as well, so what you get for boats will differ from planes and cars. You can earn these upgrades by winning races or you can find them through hidden loot boxes.

The loot boxes are well off the beaten path, and when you are within range of one your mini-map will start to beep and pulse on the outside ring. As you get closer the beeps and pulses will get more frequent and soon you will have turned your car into a roaming metal detector. If you don't want to pick up the upgrade though by car, you can switch to your plane or boat and open up the box by holding the 'A' button, then the upgrade you get will apply to that particular style of vehicle. Be careful though, because depending on the type of car and class will result on what upgrades are shared between the other vehicles.

For example, if you have a street racing car that you have an upgrade for, any other street racing cars can also utilize that upgrade, but not a hypercar, or off-road car, etc. So, make sure you find what class of vehicle you want to upgrade before you start packing on the upgrades. I should also note that you can only hold so many upgrades, so make sure you destroy the older upgrades to make room for new ones, so you can continue to improve your vehicle.

While the graphics are close to masterpieces, The Crew 2 has tried to instill the same attention to detail when it comes to the sounds of the game as well. The soundtrack to The Crew 2 is undoubtedly large and provides with it a colossal list of tunes to listen to that cover a wide swath of audio elegance. Sadly though, not all of the tracks are enjoyable, and some are straight up headache inducing. To solve this, you have to do probably the most annoying thing in the game, and that's access your "tool box" by pressing the 'Y' button. Doing this will bring up a popup menu in the game where you then use the Right Stick to move up to the radio station and press the 'A' button to change the song till you find something you like to listen to, and then press the 'B' button to close the menu. And you're supposed to be able to do all of this while driving a car or boat or flying a plane? Right, that will end well. This is the most annoying aspect of The Crew 2 by a mile.

If Ubisoft allowed you to load a custom soundtrack that you could take from a Spotify playlist and didn't force you to detach yourself from the racing experience to switch music so you don't get a headache, then this would be a shining beacon of which other companies should take note of how to perform. But they didn't, so you have one of two choices. You can either listen to the ear bleeding noise or you can switch your music out which takes at least 5 seconds, and in doing so, taking you out of your driving experience for that amount of time. I can't begin to describe my level of hatred for the tool box, so going forward I hope that Ubisoft takes a long hard look at how to improve that feature and figure out a way to make things more streamlined and integrated.

I'll be the first to admit that I was not a fan of the original Crew racing game, but Ubisoft's team went to work and developed a racing game that is so addictive that it should be considered a controlled substance. Despite some flaws and hiccups along the way, The Crew 2 is poised to cement itself as the definitive arcade racing experience on any platform. As a person that has 10w30 pumping through my veins and a heart tied to a supercharger, The Crew 2 offers an unparalleled arcade racing experience that should be considered a must have purchase for anyone that loves an adrenaline rush brought upon by racing. Welcome to the best arcade racing game on the Xbox platform at this time, in my opinion, welcome to The Crew 2.

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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