I was invited to participate in the most recent closed beta for The Crew 2. I streamed the footage, which you can view here if you’re interested. I wanted to review it to give those who didn’t get a chance to participate some insight into the game in case they were considering picking it up. Let me clarify that I have not played The Crew and in general I don’t buy modern racing games, outside of Mario Kart, but I do have a lot of experience with the genre.
The first thing I’ll say about The Crew 2 is that it’s a nice looking game. It has a wealth of detail in both the landscapes and the vehicles. I was very impressed by how good the water looks, how detailed the character models are, and the level of specifics that went into the vehicle models and paint jobs. While it may not be the nicest, most realistic looking game I’ve ever seen, it’s exactly what I require in a realistic modern racing game to be happy. That being said, there’s a wee bit too much brand placement in this game. I know that makes sense and has to happen because of the way these companies contract to have their vehicles and names in games, but it’s really over the top in this. At the start of every race you get a 3-2-1 countdown that comes off like the vehicle is modeling on a runway. And the brand name placement makes NASCAR look subtle on some of the stuff you’re driving. What’s interesting is that a lot of the branding is fabricated with made up brands to help make the real ones look less obvious but that just clutters the screen more. But overall it’s a nice looking game. One visual issue I did have with the beta, which I’ve had with countless others, is that the edges of the screen cut off. This didn’t affect my racing performance at all but it did prevent me from seeing all the HUD information including some of my stats, even in the pause menu.
I really liked the photo mode in this beta. It allowed me to really make the snapshots I wanted with lots of control while maintaining the integrity of what you actually pulled off. You can choose when and where your pictures are taken from but you can’t alter the reality of them. If you were at point A you can’t shift your vehicle to point B because it would look cooler for the photo. That being said, finding the post event photo ops was not easy. The game claimed there was some kind of radar system but I couldn’t figure out how to use it. And since the photo ops are timed, it really hurt my experience. I was only able to get to one photo op in time and that was in a plane, which seemed to trigger automatically. To be clear, photo ops are an active challenge that leverages photo mode to net you rewards. You can enter normal photo mode whenever you want to take your own pictures.
Gameplay wise, I was very impressed by a number of things in this beta. The first was that my default avatar was African American. I don’t know if this was because Ubisoft knows I’m Black from my user data or if the default for this game is Black or maybe it’s random, but I really appreciated my default avatar representing me/not assuming I was Caucasian from the start. I actually ended up using one of the other characters, also Black, but right away was I pleasantly surprised by this occurrence. The map system works really well and teleporting to your next event is very fast. You can also of course drive to them, which was a big selling point of The Crew, but I never did that. The one thing I didn’t like about the map system was that at full view it didn’t show all the smaller events. You had to zoom into certain regions to see many of the events. The full view only shows you the main attractions. You can use the filters to show certain smaller events on the large view, but I wasn’t able to have everything showing at the same time. This may look cleaner but it doesn’t help the player as much when it comes to actually playing the game.
I really liked how the map is instantly dynamic, allowing you to go from your local surroundings map at vehicle view all the way out to the full map view just by adjusting your zoom in real time with the shoulder buttons. No having to scroll between multiple map menus to see where you want to go next. You can just zoom in or out to whatever level of the map you want. At vehicle view you can even see the path you’ve driven for the last 10 minutes and rewind through it to recap where you’ve been and what you did. Great for capturing those awesome moments that took place when you weren’t recording. I also liked that you could pause during events without it affecting your progress. I didn’t try any races with other real players though so I can’t speak to how/if that works in a multiplayer scenario.
Since this is a racing game, let’s finally talk about actual racing gameplay. Probably the most noteworthy thing I can say about The Crew 2 is that your vehicle matters. In the 90 minutes that I played the beta, I drove off road vehicles, street racing cars, speed boats, planes, an F1 racecar, and an off-road motorcycle. Each of these vehicles handles differently. I don’t mean that the controls are different, because other than for a few subtleties they don’t. What I mean is that they genuinely feel different. Driving the speedboats is nothing like driving the planes. Even just driving the off road cars feels totally different at a control level than the street racing cars. Things like resistance, handling, vibrations in the controller when gears shift, and so on all feel very specific to the type of vehicle you’re driving. The specific vehicles in each category feel slightly different from each other as well, but it’s not as pronounced until you compare base level vehicles to much higher end stuff. This creates a very personal and dynamic experience for the player because you tend to do the events and vehicle types you’re better at. So for me that meant mostly ignoring street racing, which I suck at, and leaning heavily on off road and plane events. Your vehicle progression matters too.
You can upgrade seven different internal aspects of your vehicles, like the gearbox, axel, and tires in the case of cars, to improve things like top speed, acceleration, and handling. But you don’t get these upgrades by paying for them with in game currency. You have to win the upgrades by completing events and then picking up loot. The amount and quality of loot you get appears to be dependent on the type of event you do, your performance in it, and some form of RNG. Loot comes in the form of specific parts in one of those seven aspects and can range in quality level from normal to rare from what I saw. And you can get up to 15 types of the same part, improved with each iteration of that loot drop. I actually really liked this system but it also felt limiting because you don’t necessarily get the upgrades you want when you want them. Say your car handles really well but the top speed is too slow. I couldn’t see any way to influence the type of loot you get for a specific vehicle so it’s possible, depending on how the algorithm works, to keep improving handling and not be getting the speed improvements you want early on. And these aspects matter a lot. I did a speed boat race where I drove the course perfectly with no errors but I got blown away by all seven NPCs because their boats were simply way faster than mine. I have no doubt that I could have returned to and won that race later after getting some upgrades but who knows how long it would have taken to get the upgrades I required to match their top speeds? To the best of my knowledge, there is no way to purchase performance upgrades for vehicles.
You win money by completing events of various types. Money seemed to be distributed fairly enough, but you will still have to put the time in to get the nice vehicles you really want, which I don’t consider a bad thing. I appreciated being able to test drive the nicer stuff without being able to afford it because it motivated me to want to earn enough to unlock those vehicles. Money is used to buy new vehicles, but not performance upgrades for them. Every vehicle you buy requires time on the track and victories to upgrade them via loot drops. Some vehicles also can’t be purchased, but have to be won by completing challenges. The most common challenge I saw was “defeat your rival” but the beta didn’t let me get far enough to get a rival so I could beat them. The Crew 2 allows you to create the experience you want. It can be single player, multiplayer, or in the middle ground as a shared world that allows you to isolate yourself from other players while interacting with them indirectly. World records are a key component of this. There are countless challenges scattered throughout the map that have already been completed by others. The game shows you the current world record and allows you to attempt to beat it. It also records your accomplishments and adds them to the map for other people to try to beat. You can have an active crew of up to four players, a friends list, and up to seven friends in any one session/lobby at the same time. My only complaint about the gameplay was that it didn’t have enough tutorial resources for specialized events/occurrences. For example, one world record I attempted was a water drift in the speed boat. While it did show me the ghost image of the record being broken, I couldn’t figure out how to initiate it or what constituted a valid record attempt. Eventually I just gave up and moved on to something else. Some sort of tutorial or manual in game that was easily referenced would make the experience a lot more accessible in many such occasions.
While I found the gameplay to be very good overall, I did have a few complaints and glitches occur. As I previously stated, the game assumes too much knowledge on the player’s part. I had to replay some events after a failure not because I wasn’t good enough to complete them but simply because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be attempting to do. It’s not always as simple as win the race. A top land speed challenge was one such example of this. I went through it not sure what I was supposed to do the first time. It was only after I failed it that it explained to me what I was trying to accomplish. I completed it successfully the following try. I should have had this information before my first attempt. Along with this, there doesn’t appear to be any way to restart events mid-attempt. Meaning if you’re attempting a record and you know you failed, you still have to finish the race/event before you can try again. This gets old really fast with longer races. It’s sensible in a multiplayer scenario, but when you’re playing solo or only with NPCs, you should be able to restart mid-event. I couldn’t figure out how to logout of the game or return to the main menu. It auto logged me out after being inactive for a period of time, but when I tried to quit the game I couldn’t figure out how so I just exited the application with the PS button. I experienced a small number of glitches, which is fine for a beta. The beta froze one time, but it didn’t freeze my PS4. I simply had to close and restart the application. There was also one time where the game didn’t automatically change my vehicle for the event I was traveling to. This just happened to be when I was going from a boat event to a car event so it ended up tossing me onto a highway in a speedboat. Changing your vehicle is easy to do from the pause menu so it wasn’t a serious issue, but every other event I traveled to initiated an automatic vehicle change.
One thing I really liked about this beta was the writing. The game has a plot of sorts, but not a set in stone story. Yet it comes off like you’re playing a game with a story. You are a new and upcoming racer trying to make it to the big time. You do this by joining racing crews, each led by a different and very realistic character who gives you a chance to join their crew. Each crew is different, focusing on different types of events, vehicles, and career choices/ideals. You can join all crews concurrently, so that’s a non-issue. I liked that each of these crew leaders came off as real people and you felt pressure to try to impress them so they would let you join their crew. And you feel the need to get into their crews so you can jumpstart your career. They even give you free vehicles when you get in but tell you it’s an investment in their own success through you, which is a nice realistic narrative touch. You even have a manager/mechanic who you have a seemingly close relationship with. While playing it, I really felt like I was my character because of the dialog, even though your character doesn’t actually say anything. But you see him in all these interactions and in the various vehicles while driving, which is an important touch.
The thing I both loved and hated the most about the driving, no pun intended, narrative and tied in gameplay mechanic was the follower count. The game has a social media mechanic where you have to collect followers. You do this by winning/completing events, doing stunts, setting records, and other such achievements. The amount of followers you gain for any specific accomplishment is based on the difficulty and popularity of what it is. You can gain a few for pulling off a random stunt. You can gain more than 1000 for winning certain races. Followers aren’t just for show. They are the limiting factor of your career. Money can buy you new vehicles, but followers buy you popularity which translates into access. The logic being that companies won’t sponsor you for races if they don’t think people will take the time to tune in and watch you participate. Your player ranking isn’t based on performance or experience. It’s based on follower count. When you start the game, you’re a “Rookie”. This lets you participate in level 1 events. You have to amass enough followers to reach the “Popular” rank to unlock more events. You can level up all the way to “Icon” but the beta stops you from getting past Rookie.
Followers stand in place of experience. They do pretty much the same thing. I don’t know if real players can follow other ones to add to their follower count, but I could see that happening in The Crew 3 if not in this game. I think this is a really realistic mechanic that emulates the current real world of racing and entertainment in general. Followers mean everything today. So kudos to Ubisoft for realizing that could work effectively in a game. At the same time, this is exactly the type of thing I personally hate about the modern era and I don’t want to see my games affected by social media popularity any more than they already are. Imagine a world where follower count is tied to your actual social media following or even just in game following and you can’t access certain content until you’ve amassed enough real world followers. That’s a scary thought.
The sound was good. I feel like music is lacking in this game, but that also adds to the realism so maybe it’s not a bad thing. It’s crucial to a game like GTA, but this isn’t that sort of RPG style character role so maybe it’s not necessary. The effects sound exactly how I expect and want them to in a racing game. No complaints there.
This was a good beta. The Crew 2 is a good racing game. I know I won’t personally buy it because it’s not really my genre, but I can very much appreciate that this is a high quality, ultra-realistic racing game that remains accessible to an audience of gamers that don’t know much about actual vehicles. Yet it still makes you at least start to think about internal parts and upgrades. It walks the line very well and plays in a way that all racing game enthusiasts can enjoy. If racing games are your thing, I can definitely recommend this game based on what I played. It has a ton of replay value, a seemingly lengthy progression system that retains balance, and long term goals with realistic achievement rates. Other than the lack of defined end game, I can definitely endorse purchasing The Crew 2 from what I’ve seen and experienced in this beta.