“So close but so far” defines pretty much everything about The Crew 2. It’s that most frustrating brand of sequel where all the right ideas and elements are in place but never seem to coalesce. In lieu of the tedious Fast and the Furious-lite framework of its predecessor, the game has you play as an anonymous racer looking to become the next big extreme-sports star—and by setting off on a nationwide spree of wild, semi-legal races and tests of automotive skill spanning the gamut of motorsports. Fairly standard vehicles such as cars and motocross bikes are joined by less conventional options like speedboats, stunt planes, and monster trucks. But what should have been a fairly straightforward jump-in-jump-out kind of racing experience is squandered at almost every turn by needless bells and whistles.
In the case of the narrative, every extreme-sports discipline here has a guru of sorts, and a snotty king of the hill needing to be toppled. Before hitting the starting line, you have to hear one or the other—sometimes both—ramble on about the glory waiting for you at the top, or how you don’t have what it takes to be number one—a long list of eye-rolling motivational-speak that doesn’t connect in any meaningful way to the gameplay. The rival waiting to challenge you when all the events in a particular category have been completed are ciphers, and victory doesn’t really reward you with more character detail.
Something the game isn’t lacking in is new-agey cutscene ruminations on the deeper spiritual meanings of the sport as you advance. Ubisoft’s Steep was guilty of this as well, and it’s hard to say who these colorful cutscenes are meant to speak to. It’s a safe assumption, though, that the same audience impressed by all the product sponsorship allowing well-known auto manufacturers to show off their wares in-game doesn’t need a zen treatise on the tao of racing Red Bull-branded 4x4s through Louisiana swamplands.
Just like the first game, The Crew 2’s best feature is its map, with thousands of miles of highways, city streets, and dangerous backcountry for the player to speed through. The environments aren’t elaborately detailed and don’t have to be considering you’ll see most of the game’s sights going over 100mph most of the time, though they’re detailed enough to get the general vibe of the approximated area of the country you’re currently in.
This time around, though, there’s far less reason to be in those areas outside of a race. In The Crew, in order to get to different areas of the country, players have to drive out to them, and even though the game’s map is a pared-down facsimile of the continental United States, getting from, say, Miami to New York is still a 20-minute drive, during which time you might, say, run into other players, have an impromptu race, get off at an exit and drive around a little dirt town for a bit, or find weird little landmarks to do stunts off of. Conversely, The Crew 2 has a fast-travel option, allowing players to skip much of the stilted cutscene/story/travel rigmarole that the first game used to shuffle players to and from races, and yet, that’s less of a positive than it seems.
The game makes every event you qualify for instantly accessible, thus rendering much of the alluring connective tissue between towns almost useless. Only a scant few events truly let players take advantage of having an entire country to speed around in, the best of which is a Harley-Davidson-sponsored race that takes players from the Las Vegas Strip to the heart of Yosemite National Park. It’s a picturesque, almost leisurely jaunt, a highlight in a vast menagerie of sadly cloistered racetracks that never fully inhabit the world that developer Ivory Tower ostensibly built to contain them.
On paper, The Crew 2 sports an impressive variety of vehicle-based activities. For what it’s worth, the no-frills street racing is a major improvement over that of the first game. The cars themselves all have a weight and heft to them without being as clumsy and unwieldy to handle as they were before, and hitting just the right stretch of road to open up and hit your top speed feels incredible. The more extreme motorsport competitions utilizing speedboats, planes, and the like come from a good conceptual place. And to The Crew 2’s credit, the best event here is a sort of motorsport triathlon which has players switching between three different vehicles every few minutes.
But here’s the rub: No one mode is polished enough to stand out, and each one has its share of problems that leech the natural joy out of each of your goals, whether it’s just a straight-up race across rough, off-road terrain or more esoteric competitions like using drag race cars to set a speed record, or performing aerial stunts. The most common issue stems from opponent A.I. swinging wildly from one extreme to the other. One moment, your rival CPU racers are seven uncompromising cyborgs who will leave you miles in the dust over a single mistake, and the next they’re inept cretins who haven’t yet figured out which button makes the vehicle go zoom.
Even the events that have you race against the clock or try to achieve a certain number of points all have their problems beyond the conceptual stage. The most interesting event you’ll discover is the Drift Discipline, on-the-ground labyrinths of twists and turns where you have to string together as many drift stunts as possible without hitting an obstacle. It’s trickier than it sounds, made all the trickier by the fact that The Crew 2 never tells you how this event even works or even how to perform drifts. This is the case for nearly every aspect of the game, from the HQs, where you purchase new vehicles, to the multiplayer, which isn’t just obtuse, but also functionally useless. There’s a way to do co-op for the game’s events, and a worldwide scoreboard for certain stats, but there’s no tangible benefits to either.
The Crew 2 is stuck being merely a tangible—and welcome—jump in quality over its limp predecessor. This sequel corrects a few of The Crew’s mistakes, displaying competence when it comes to the fundamentals of what a racing game could and should be in this day and age, but mere competence can’t help but come off as disappointing in a game this ambitious.