Ivory Tower is in the running to champion open-world racing by introducing many new ways for you to crown yourself the king of speed. Everything from cars, bikes, boats, planes and hovercrafts are at your fingertips to race around and do tricks with to your heart’s content. There’s definitely an unrivaled number of different ways to stake your claim to fame, but is it enough to be the best open-world racer of its time?
Where and what shall we race today?
First off, the overly serious storyline from the first iteration has taken a back seat to a story of encouragement to become an icon of the racing world. You’ll do so by taking part in various race types introduced to you through the Family racing series. Each family has a set of racing disciplines under their umbrella which you can participate in. The great thing is you can choose to stick to just one family forever, or subscribe to all of them to try out all the vehicles and race types on offer. You start off with the variant we’re used to with street racing, encompassing circuit racing around iconic US cities, drifting around airports and shipyards, drag racing down the Vegas strip, and blasting from coast to coast in hypercars.
The great thing is you can choose to stick to just one family forever, or subscribe to all of them to try out all the vehicles and race types on offer.
After the initial test race, you are invited to the first of four family HQs where you’ll purchase your first ride and unlock your first discipline. There’s also a leaderboard to see where you’re placed amongst all the other The Crew 2 players around the world. Each race you attend and win offers you rewards in the form of fans, in-game currency and performance parts for your ride you’re currently in. Some of these performance upgrades can be equipped to other cars in that specific discipline so you don’t have to switch to another car to upgrade them, but it’s best practice to use all the cars and get even more parts for that specific vehicle. All vehicles get performance upgrades, even the little swamp boat and the Spitfire aerobatics plane can be souped up.
The progression system is pretty straightforward: the more you race, the more followers and street cred gained, the higher the chances of getting to the next level. You start off as a Rookie moving on towards Popular, Famous, Star and Icon. Each level introduces new races with higher stakes and raised difficulty. As you unlock a new tier you’re introduced to the Live Extreme series of races where you’ll swap at most three times between various disciplines during the race. This happens seamlessly while in the race and forces you to adapt on-the-fly. Each Family also has its main rival which you’ll have to beat in order to pin the flag as being the best of the best. The Rival events become available once you’ve completed around 70% of a specific family’s race events. This offers the opportunity to snatch the rival’s ride as well, which can only be obtained by beating them and not accessible to purchase.
You are able to customise your vehicles to a large extent, not as much as what you can in the Forza series although it works similar in ways, but with limited livery items you can add to a car. This means you can create a unique look for your crew before heading out to the street, canyons, sea, river and air. Your character can also be customised at your home with a selection of outfits and gear. As you progress through the Icon tier you gain Icon points which you can use to enhance your driver’s abilities and alter currency and popularity accumulation. Your digs has four levels to it that automatically decorates itself with the vehicles you obtain. It consists of a living quarters housing your favourite vehicles, a hangar for your aircraft, a garage for your cars and a harbour for your aquatic racers.
Shut up and drive
Activities for each discipline are spread out all over the US with many attractions from the big cities popping up. Although it does seem like most of them get the same treatment in terms of little details such as newspaper stands, kiosks and run of the mill background dressing, the thing that does make it a bit more interesting is the dynamic weather system coupled with a day-night cycle. It’s hard to grasp just how Miami and Los Angeles would look covered in snow, but it is a unique sight to behold. Driving through mountainous regions and careening around slaloms with a Harley during an endurance race is satisfying, but it still feels like there’s something missing once you enter urban areas again.
The racing in The Crew 2 has both a natural flow and can sometimes be frustrating with the AI able to take every shortcut on the track leaving you trailing on your first attempt. You can redo the race multiple times in order to learn the track and commit all shortcuts to memory and there’s even an achievement for doing races over and over again. This is especially useful during street race and endurance races that take you from coast to coast where every second counts. Drift events put you in a drift variant of particular cars set up specifically to go sideways. You’re not allowed to use these cars in other events, and you’ll see why. Drifting is both entertaining and challenging, but the mechanic isn’t overwhelming. The idea of being out of control yet in control comes naturally after the first few corners as you slide your tail around twisty tracks with your nose nearly missing the barriers. Drag racing isn’t as simple, requiring you to warm up your tires and execute a launch with sequential perfect gear changes to follow.
Drag racing isn’t as simple, requiring you to warm up your tires and execute a launch with sequential perfect gear changes to follow.
Off-road events are less intense by comparison. It consists of rally raids, motocross and rally cross. The checkpoints are put on the map but it’s up to you as to how you reach them. Take shortcuts through dense forest areas dodging trees and rocks, or stick to the gravel paths in and around your area of play. There are stunt jumps all over that you can take at your discretion, but some of these can slow you down and serve more as a spectacle. Here you have a choice of dirt bikes, off-road trucks, purpose built buggies and rally cars with which you can attack the great outdoors. These race types appeal more to the rogue racers who want to let loose and break all the norms of racing.
The Pro racing events cater more to the circuit hounds who like a more precise and restricted field of play, taking on racing circuits around the country and proving your pro racing abilities. Here you’re introduced to powerboats with which you cut up the rapids in a high speed race to the finish, accompanied by some jumps. You’ll also get a taste of competitive flying in air races where you’ll need to go through each checkpoint at a specific angle, either vertical or horizontal, in order to shave off seconds of your time. This is by no means an easy feat as you’ll require a couple of rounds to get used to the flying mechanic. Once you’ve mastered it though, you’ll be barrel rolling your way to a win in no time.
This is also where you will find the touring car and Alpha Grand Prix series. Touring car racing puts you in the most highly modified version of cars available in The Crew 2 in sleek circuit settings here you battle it out in traditional racing fashion. The Alpha Grand Prix puts you in the fastest purpose built track machines in the game. This is the most formidable discipline of the Motornation where you race at blistering speeds and requires complete focus and intricate knowledge of the track you race on. There’s no lack of pace here and the race can be over before you know it, that’s how fast it is. Pure exhilaration.
The Freestyle series is a smorgasbord of out-of-the-box events where the main goal is to get high scores. Everything from monster truck races and stunt events to jet boat sprints through swamps and boat yards. The aerobatics events are fun and you’re able to learn the characteristics of your aircraft quickly as you do nosedives, loops and down and ups to get points.
What I found a bit odd was that there aren’t introductory pieces where you learn the mechanics of each discipline. Yes, you could just get in a vehicle and figure it out for yourself, but if you’ve never played The Crew before you wouldn’t know that holding down on the left analogue stick while in a speed boat would make you go even faster in a straight line. The same goes for the drag race mechanic where you’re just thrown into a 1000+ horsepower car and not know which button lets you shift up or how to perform a perfect launch. It took about four tries for me to get the hang of it, but a tutorial would have been more than welcome.
I believe I can fly
If I could sum up the driving mechanics of The Crew 2 in a few words it would be arcade sim. The cars feel responsive but not overly arcade or simulated, so you can power-slide every corner you enter as you wish. The boats feel like it’s actually pushing through water with the powerboats weighted turning and the more nimble jet boats turning on a dime. The same goes for aeroplanes where the stunt planes have greater manoeuvrability than the faster and bigger air race compatriots. Bikes also feel relatively good with the dirt-bikes able to take a pounding around an obstacle course, super bikes and road hogs feel free of restrictions on the long roads and nippy as hell.
The city and urban areas which you’ll blast through leaves you with visual dissonance. The surroundings sometimes have enough to make you look twice, whereas other times you expected a bit more detail especially in what you’d consider highly populated areas. It’s like driving through a movie set of a popular city at times with some iconic features standing out amongst a mediocre background. It’s definitely a step up from the previous game, but somehow I expected a bit more attention to detail.
The dynamic weather can wreak havoc on your race as the snow effect covers everything in a white blanket and it’s hard to determine where the road is. This doesn’t make it look less pleasing though as it does change up everything. The wet weather is great with the colourful surroundings bouncing off of the wet and puddle laden tarmac. A view from the top in an aeroplane while these weather changes happen are also a sight to behold. This is achievable by hot swapping from a car, boat or aeroplane at any given time while in free-roam mode. This also allows you to achieve certain objectives which incorporates the photo mode where you’re tasked to take pictures of wildlife and certain attractions all over the map.
You can do the hard grind and take on every event by yourself in your chase for stardom, but the best way to do it is with a crew. Say you’re a more avid drifter and can’t wrap your head around air races or stunt flight, you could get another crew member to participate in an event that’s more adept at it. Whoever wins the race in the crew has the whole crew winning the event. I somehow feel that this is how the game was meant to be played overall as you set off with your mates to dominate the racing world of The Crew 2. Setting up a crew and getting into races are fairly simple and straight to the point.
Unfortunately you can only try and topple your friends’ best times on events and not race them head-on as the PvP mechanic is missing. This should be fixed by the end of the year though when Ubisoft look to release free DLC that includes PvP events. And that’s one of the great things about The Crew 2: free content schedules.
In the bigger picture, The Crew 2 took a bold new direction with this game. With the improvements here and there and new ways of racing, it appears to be a new game on its own, but the forgettable storyline and lack of detail in urban areas makes it feel more like an upgraded version of the previous run. It’s still a fun way to race, and now fly, around the compact map of the US with many events for you and your crew to explore for some time to come.