In The Crew 2, you and up to three online friends are free to journey across a make-believe America, switching between boats, planes and cars with a swish of the right analog stick. Happily, there’s no need to worry about real-life road-trip concerns such as the laws of physics or LA’s perpetual traffic congestion, and should you wish to somehow drive a Motocross bike to the top of Mount Rushmore to perform a front flip from its peak, you need no written permission.
Within the open-world map lurks a swathe of by-the-numbers events from the Need for Speed mould. There are urban checkpoint races; three-minute supercar scrambles in which the throng of opponents never seems more than a few feet behind; and more adventurous events like powerboat races, motocross trials and aerial freestyle stunt challenges. As a rookie driver competing in a preposterous America-wide motorsport festival, you’re out to make a name for yourself by winning races and pulling off feats of lunatic daring. Veterans of the Forza Horizon games will recognise the setup and the exuberant voiceovers, if not the low-rent execution.
The handling of The Crew 2’s many means of transport is forgiving to the point of being neutered. Cars are prone to understeer, bikes play fast and loose with the laws of physics once they hit a ramp and planes are a little too easily manoeuvred to be truly satisfying.
The scenery raises your spirits. Belting through the Louisiana Bayou at dusk in a pickup truck; looping and divebombing a stunt plane above Mount Rushmore like you’re expecting the four founding fathers to hold up score cards; a hypercar drag race along the gaudy surrealism of the Las Vegas strip – these are moments when there’s a sense of place and purpose. Multi-vehicle spectacles like the Manhattan race that opens the game – during which the horizon folds in on itself mid-race in homage to Inception – are sadly quite rare. But they are a clear expression of The Crew 2’s purpose: a cartoonish trans-American road trip.
The game is an opportunity for some simple virtual tourism. You can while away 45 minutes driving from New York to LA in your dream car, watching skyscrapers give way to forests, the Rocky Mountains and Death Valley, or cruise every twist of the Mississippi River on your way down the the Florida Keys. The problem is that it’s hard not to crave something more than a raft of hit-and-miss solo events veering from the endearingly absurd (jumping speedboats off the Hoover Dam) to the instantly forgettable (repetitive aerobatics stunts and checkpoint races along anonymous highways).
Why, for example, are there other players occupying the world map, but no way to race against them? If forming a crew of four is so central to the experience, why isn’t there more to do when you join one? All you can do is take part in the same racing events as a group, or just prowl the world map. It makes the title’s premise feel rather flimsy.
It is bizarre for a supposedly social driving game not to feature competitive multiplayer racing. Ubisoft promises that is coming this winter, but you wonder how many diehard players will stick around until then. The Crew 2 has the whiff of a game that might become something wonderful in a year’s time, after numerous patches and additions. But right here, at the beginning, it doesn’t do enough.