[Ed’s note: This hands-on was written by Paul Davies, who went to the event in the UK for us.]
When we first heard talk of a motor-racing MMO back in 2014, the idea seemed kinda crazy. Yet here we all are, on the edge of our seats, waiting for the follow-up to Ubisoft’s The Crew – though you’d better buckle up because this isn’t the ride that many of us were expecting!
SA Gamer was invited to play The Crew 2 for several hours at the Mercedes-Benz World facility located in Weybridge, UK. Pretty much the last things we thought we’d see running on the monitors upon arrival were power-boats and stunt aircraft, and likely this isn’t what you came here to read about either. So, let’s make this clear from the very top:
The Crew 2 has little in common with The Crew that more than 13 million players grew to know and love. Nothing crucial to the experience is taken away, rather so much more has been added. On top of the street racing excitement that characterised Ivory Tower’s first motor-racing MMO for Ubisoft, there’s now acrobatic flying and high-speed water racing. You can freely, instantaneously, switch between all types of vehicle that you come to own, following your heart’s desire depending on the most thrilling opportunities within the area.
One element that remains exactly the same, although greatly enhanced, is the open-world presentation of the USA. Famous locations that include national parks and major cities are accessible from a map, visited directly from the highlighted selection or, if you wish, via the mother of all road trips across the 50 states. Although they are not inch-for-inch authentic, the landmark buildings, monuments and wonders of nature are recreated. Owing to the nature of the game, these memorable places are explored (or exploited) by making waves along the rivers, hurtling over the rugged landscape, or flying low above the treetops.
The Crew 2 is not just about the open road, you now have the land, air and lakes to tame. Also, The Crew 2 is no longer about Alex Taylor and the FBI infiltrating street racing gangs, the story is yours to create, as you build a following to become the Champion of the USA, wowing the crowds and garnering followers via the ‘LIVE Media’ broadcasting network.
It’s remarkable how well the MMO structure supports a game that might otherwise have been served as a series of stand-alone evets. That’s not just with respect to the freedom to head off in any direction, in any vehicle, under any weather conditions at any time of day – what we mean to say is, reputation forged through performances for the camera is entirely directed by your attitude toward the opportunities available. You may wish to specialise for a while in one discipline such as aerobatics, literally reaching for the sky; or devote time to mastering a broader range of vehicles, meet different kinds of people, get into their groove.
When researching The Crew 2, the team at Ivory Tower spent time with real-world racers whose passion for their sport led to hopes for recognition as legitimate and law abiding. Consequently, the edginess of Alex Taylor is no longer present. The various disciplines are introduced instead by team leaders of clubs, whose notoriety can be raised by your skills.
Popularity is the most valuable currency, to ensure that LIVE Media’s audience is treated to the most breathtaking, entertaining vehicular showcases imaginable. The more followers you have determines the level of competition that becomes available. Cash is important too, of course, which is earned through the events. However, it is possible to test drive the most desirable specimens in the club garage, boathouse or hangar if you simply want to get a feel for the ultimate rides. The arcade-style adopted by the series since the beginning transitions extremely well to the mechanics of all vehicles, they feel intuitive across the board.
Since the game handles so well – whether you’re looping-the-loop, drifting or wave hopping – you’ll probably find that your competitive streak proves increasingly hard to resist. Also, the only way to claim precious loot for customisation is by laying your skills on the line.
Again, if you’ve been a loyal fan of The Crew and simply want to race cars, on- or off-road, this is always a fall-back option. But we genuinely sense that Ivory Tower is onto something big with the broader appeal of The Crew 2, which lends itself just as comfortably to casual meetings with online friends as it does to the End Game mentality that some of us enjoy pushing to the absolute limit. The UI is impressively slick, allowing for swift access to specific activities on the map. Down on the ground (or on the water, or in the sky!) there are many more ad-hoc, player-created challenges to cause a distraction – longest jumps, fastest speeds and lowest-level altitude achieved. Our four hours with The Crew 2 flew by, purely because there is so much to do.
The Crew 2 is released for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on June 29, 2018.