Ivory Tower aimed high nearly 4 years ago when they launched the adventurous driving MMO game, The Crew. With its map spanning the whole of the US, albeit without the long haul roads, it tried to set a new standard within the driving game genre and delivered a sizeable map that has to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, despite its impressive scale, The Crew didn’t quite hit the heights that had previously been promised at past E3 shows and it arrived to a very lukewarm reception due to its dull layout, underwhelming attempt at a narrative and undesirable visuals and performance issues. Ongoing development continued and the game got noticeably better and had new expansions added to incorporate alternative modes and vehicles and while it improved overall, it still fell very short, unable to live up to its full potential.
Ivory Tower have looked to improve all of the above and set the record straight by attempting to prove once and for all that they can deliver the ultimate driving game experience. The Crew 2 has been released on Xbox One, loaded with the huge map of the US, a wide selection of cars and most notably and selection of different types of vehicle types. Yes, The Crew 2 has expanded on the original game ten fold and has added, planes, boats and bikes, along with a wealth of race types including Rally, Drag Racing, MX, Touring, Cross country and even formula one plus many more as well as the good old obligatory Street Races. The Crew 2 has so much to do, to see and to explore that it may feel intimidating at first but don’t let that put you off. It is a digital playground that has enough variation that it will keep even hardened driving game veterans busy for a very very long time.
Players have the option to explore the map to its full potential by driving to events or even taking in the sights, but it also adds a quick start option for all event types too which is handy if you want to get straight on with the action. Gone is the bad boy street racer narrative from the first game and is replaced by a more generic racing festival theme similar to what the Forza Horizon series has been known for. It is based more on becoming the best of the best and each territory has different champions and it’s your chance to become king of the streets, of the water and the air. The Crew 2 is trying its hardest to complete with the Forza Horizon series and it’s key to executing that successfully is in its variation on offer compared to Playground Games’ beast of a game. The Crew 2 wins hands down on map size and vehicle choices but does it compete where it matters in the gameplay department?
Gameplay in The Crew 2 is great, I’m going to come straight out with it, but as great as it is, it doesn’t quite hit the heights that it certainly has the potential to hit. Every vehicle type almost hits the finely tuned benchmark but despite that each one is fun to play. It is every bit as fast and frantic as you may expect, especially on the road but speed boats and planes certainly have their moments too. This is quite simply every single racing game genre rolled in to one big and incredibly fun arcade racing experience, but as good as it is to play, it isn’t perfect. While overall gameplay is really good it falls short with its handling slightly and isn’t as finely tuned as maybe it should be.
Certain cars and bikes don’t feel as responsive as you would might expect at times, even after some hefty upgrades being applied and speedboats can feel a little too bouncy, also having a tendency to oversteer too much. Despite these little complaints though, it certainly isn’t enough to stop The Crew 2 being a fun and fast gameplay experience and I stand by what I said earlier, that the gameplay overall is great, but it just doesn’t quite hit the near perfect levels of Forza Horizon. We all know that Ivory Tower are committed to ongoing updates, that is evident by the amount they changed and improved the original game, so I am sure they could fine tune these with on going future updates. A great little addition to The Crew 2 gameplay though is the fact that with a press of the right stick you can change to a different vehicle class seamlessly and almost instantly. Switching from a street car immediately in to a plane is an absolute joy and I had so much fun switching between these. It’s a great little feature that works brilliantly.
It is surprising that with such a huge map that The Crew 2 looks as good as it does and it does look pretty good when you consider everything that is crammed in there. The first game suffered terribly with its visuals and it has most definitely been improved here considerably. There are still certain aspects of its graphics that can look muddy and the streets aren’t populated much at all but it’s to be understood when you consider the sheer size of the overall map size. Vehicles look really good and are a huge improvement over the original game and cities, states and the overall environments are recreated really well. Weather effects are greatly improved from the first game too, especially the rain effects. Speeding around Manhattan while it pours with rain is a joy. The real highlight though is racing through Las Vegas, seeing those puddle filled roads, especially at night under all of those lights really adds great atmosphere to the game, especially in a fast paced and frantic street race.
As good as the visuals are most of the time though, it is clear to see that certain assets have been held back to allow for the size of the overall game and these can look a little dull and muddy in certain areas, spoiling the look of the game a little. I am also disappointed that there is no addition of any kind of racing line. It can hinder race progression without it and is certainly surprising that it hasn’t been added in. Overall though, despite feeling a little empty in terms of the population and being a little inconsistent in terms of texture mapping, The Crew 2 is a pretty good looking game, especially considering the scale of the whole experience and puts the first game to shame in so many ways. Audio is great too with a great and varied soundtrack along with the meaty engine noises of supercars, monster trucks and drag cars. What little voice acting there is can sound a little too unnatural and fairly cheesy at times though, but there is so little of it that it really doesn’t hinder the experience. They have tried to add a little bit of a narrative in there but it’s clear that the sole aim here was to creat a solid racing game experience so little has been done in terms of any major story line.
The Crew 2, much like the original game is an always online title and touted as a sort of MMO. The full multiplayer experience won’t be available until December which is very disappointing considering the first game launched with full online capability from day one. Online co-op is available though so you and your friends can start your Crew and compete with each other for supremacy and I had many a battle with my mates trying to move up above them on leaderboards for fastest times on tracks or pipping them to the finish line. Connection felt pretty seamless in the races and there were no dips in connection quality or any kind of rubber banding. I have to emphasise though that the fact there isn’t a full multiplayer experience at launch is very disappointing and I just hope that when it does launch, it was worth the wait. Only time will tell with that one.
There are upgrades that can be applied to vehicles but these can only be obtained by earning loot after each successful race win. In game currency can be earned to put towards a new vehicle but in order to upgrade your cars, boats and planes, you need to make sure you earn that all important loot. The upgrade system isn’t the deepest you’ll ever come across in a racing game but it does what it sets out to do and that is act as an upgrade system that can be done quickly with ease. There are some tuning options available if you really want to do that side of things but I never felt the need to and always stuck with the quick upgrade option for new parts I had obtained. Overall The Crew 2 is a huge step up from the original game in every way. It’s more ambitious, it plays better, looks better and offers a racing experience so big and varied that there will be hundreds of hours of fun to be had for quite some time. Is it a Forza Horizon beater? No, it isn’t quite there yet because that series is on a different level, but The Crew 2 certainly holds its own and is a great game on its own merit.