The Crew 2 is a real surprise. Not at all what I expected. It’s actually astonishing. Maybe even breathtaking. It seems completely, utterly, stupendously, jaw-droppingly unaware of why I played The Crew. It flagrantly violates the conventional wisdom that videogame sequels are better because game design is an iterative process. Design something, improve on it for the sequel, repeat. But The Crew 2 doesn’t feel the least bit iterative. It simply can’t compare to The Crew. It’s as if it never even heard of it. It’s not just one step forward, two steps back. It’s not even no steps forward, two steps back. It’s popping the clutch when you didn’t know the car was in reverse and plunging over a cliff. It is one of the worst open-world games I’ve played, and easily the worst caRPG I’ve ever played.
Here’s a superficial but telling example of The Crew 2’s astonishing cluelessness. The first Crew knew that if you set a waypoint or if you were driving a race, it wasn’t enough to simply highlight the route on the minimap in the corner of the screen. It knew you didn’t want to keep glancing to the lower right to see where you were going. It knew that it sprawled across an open world latticed with roads and you could drive on every one of them. It knew your attention should be focused on the roads instead of constantly drawn to a map off to one corner.
So a blue floating line wormed its way across the terrain showing you where to go, like the CG tentacle in The Abyss. It was even color-coded based on how much grip you could expect around any given turn at any given speed. This wasn’t something The Crew dreamed up. Lots of games do this. It was something open-world games had learned to do so you could look out at the world instead of down at a minimap. It was common sense. The Crew knew it was a good idea.
The Crew 2 doesn’t know this. There is no floating blue line. I’m in the middle of a nearly hour-long race from New York to Seattle at 200mph and, oops, I was supposed to take a hard right at that last intersection? How was I supposed to know that? By constantly glancing at the corner of the screen, at which point I’ve taken my eyes off the road and rear-ended a nondescript sedan, so now I’m in last place?
The Crew 2 consists almost entirely of these kinds of oversights. It’s a big ball of mistakes and poor decisions. It doesn’t just forget what made The Crew great. It forgets the basic tenets of good caRPGs, good driving games, good open worlds, and even good game design. It even mistakes mistakes for selling points.
For instance, The Crew 2 adds airplanes and boats. To a game about cars? It thinks I want to play an airplane game. It thinks I want to upgrade a boat’s rudder. It thinks I want to turn sideways to fly between two pylons it put there for an airplane race. It thinks I think boat ramps are cool. It thinks I’m delighted with arcade airplanes and just because boats in the same way I’m delighted with cars. It thinks I want to live in a warehouse with a kitchenette and bed area off to one side and several of the cars I never use parked all over the rest of the house in front of giant placards as if they were works of art. It thinks I care about this speedboat in the foyer, which looks pretty much exactly like any of the other boats I had to buy to play the boat events. A big screen TV on one wall plays The Crew 2 cutscenes on a loop.
The Crew 2 thinks I want to play a character whose only hat is a trucker cap with an America on it. I can change my pants, shoes, and gloves. I can pick from different T-shirts. But I have to wear a trucker cap that looks like something you’d see in a gas station and wonder who would ever buy such a thing. My avatar walks around stiffly looking at other cars and planes and boats, all in the same showroom, when it’s time to buy a new one for an event I’ve just unlocked. I’m looking out from a first-person view, but I know I’m walking around stiffly because I see other player avatars walking around stiffly. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved. We try not to make eye contact.
The Crew 2 thinks I want a license plate that says The Crew 2. As I drive, I’m subjected to the external view of the ass end of a car with a Crew 2 license plate. THE CREW 2. It doesn’t remember that I spent a lot of time unlocking, collecting, and affixing license plates in the last game by working my way through checklists of varied activities scattered around the open world like colorful Easter eggs in a wondrous backyard. It doesn’t remember how gratifying it was to finally get my HOLYWOOD plates, which said HOLYWOOD and not HOLLYWOOD because license plates only have so much space. The Crew 2 thinks 10 spaces is about right for a license plate because that’s how many spaces it takes to rub my nose in THE CREW 2 while I’m driving.
The Crew 2 thinks I was confused by the breadth of things to do in the first game. It thinks I was overwhelmed by the faction stuff and the daily rewards and the short-term, medium-term, and long-term challenges and the achievements and the types of tests with leaderboards and medals. It thinks driving around and discovering events and collectibles and landmarks was a chore I should be spared. It thinks it’s better to just give me a list of events with no reason whatsoever to actually drive to them, much less any reason to drive around in the open world. It thinks I didn’t like noticing a landmark on the map and driving over to it to see a cutscene and read a sly (French?) comment about something in America. The Crew 2 avoids its open world, as if it’s hiding it. As if it’s ashamed of it. It should be. It thinks open worlds can be sparsely detailed. It thinks large swathes of terrain can be featureless and devoid of content. It might even think it doesn’t look flat and dead. It thinks it doesn’t remind me of how games used to look when the developers were simultaneously developing a version for the Playstation 2.
The Crew 2 thinks the first game’s geographical progression across regions is old and busted. It thinks geography rendered meaningless is the new hotness. It thinks I didn’t like how I started the first game in Detroit, went to New York, looped down to Florida, swung by New Orleans, crossed the desert in the American Southwest and at last came to Los Angeles. The Crew 2 hasn’t seen those road movies when the travelers at last reach the calm vast blue of the Pacific Ocean, usually at Santa Monica or Malibu, although the Bay Area is good, too. The Crew 2 thinks there’s no reason to drive anywhere. The Crew 2 thinks I just want to fast travel to all the events, which also lets me fast travel to all the locations. Anyplace is as good as any other place. No place means anything. No where is anything and everywhere is nothing. The Crew 2 thinks exploration is anathema to driving.
The Crew 2 puts a list of photographs I can take at the very end of the list of races I can drive. This is its only claim to collectibles or checklists or interesting activities. Keep going down the menu, all the way to the right, and you’ll find it. Keep going. My reward for these photographs is the same reward I get for races, except less.
The Crew 2 thinks I want all progression funneled into a single resource. It thinks I want to measure my progress in followers. It thinks I want to be an influencer. It tells me I got 16 new followers because I skidded a little during a left turn. DRIFT +16 it says. That means 16 people somehow managed to see that and then they thought, “This guy can really drift! I’m going to click follow!” It thinks that it doesn’t occur to me to wonder, wait, how did those people see that drift? Are these the poorly rendered pedestrians? Because there sure aren’t 16 of them. Is it the people in other cars? There aren’t 16 of those either. How is it that 16 people witnessed me when the world is so empty? Am I being constantly surveilled? Or are these really just experience points and Ubisoft can’t be bothered to follow through with the concept of followers? 10 people just followed me because my tires caught a little air while going over a railroad crossing somewhere in the middle of rural Ohio-ish. “That guy can really catch a foot of air! He’s someone I want to follow! Where can I get one of those trucker caps with an America on it?” Tens of thousands of followers from now, I’ll go up a level which will unlock more events I don’t care to do, as well as tuning options that make no difference whatsoever. The Crew 2 thinks someone will want to set brake balance and gear length.
The Crew 2 doesn’t realize that the progression of bland numbers in broad categories only works when a game is already good. It thinks I might agonize over the choice between a 198 gearbox that will raise my car’s power level to 204 as opposed to a 191 gearbox that will only raise my power level to 203 but because it’s epic rarity, it will give me +1.4% avoid tolerance. It also thinks it doesn’t need to bother telling me what avoid tolerance is.
The Crew 2 didn’t notice that loot crates are bad optics these days. The Crew 2 thinks I like opening loot chests with random junk inside. I mean treasure. Loot chests with random treasure inside. Like a side mirror for my Porsche 911 that now I don’t have to buy for 150 bucks out of my 350,000 bucks. I got that side mirror for free because it was in a loot box. What a steal. The Crew 2 thinks that I will be excited to follow sonar pings that lead to the same loot crates I would have gotten if I’d just driven a race. It thinks this is a viable replacement for gathering the parts for each region’s special secret car in the last game.
The Crew 2 thinks I never played the multiplayer races in The Crew. It thinks I won’t notice if there’s no interaction with other players. None. They are only ghosts doing the same challenges I’m doing. We pass through each other. We ignore each other. The Crew 2 thinks we might care about the “formation” bonus we get when we stay close to each other. We don’t. It’s a trivial sum. We are sometimes literally ships passing in the night. The Crew 2 will not let me race against you. It will not let us play different kinds of events. It can’t even be bothered to give us any excuse for being online. I’m dropped from the server for lack of activity because I had alt-tabbed out to type this paragraph.
The Crew 2 thinks I want a game comprised of sponsored events with announcers, and with various characters inexplicably talking in my ear. The Crew had an undercover cop story that waited patiently in the back seat until I was ready to do a story mission. “Oh, am I on now?” it asked, sitting up in the back seat where it had been quietly dozing. “Okay, here’s a cut scene that you can skip and then you have to escape from these four cop cars chasing you. Wake me when you’re ready for the next one.” The Crew 2 doesn’t even have chase missions. It doesn’t even have cop cars. There is nothing alive in the open world except the frequently spawned animals that keep showing up expecting me to take a picture that will earn me 50 followers. “Did you see the picture of the coyote that guy took? I’m going to follow him!” 50 people thought that.
The Crew 2 thinks a replay feature is great in and of itself. It doesn’t understand that a replay feature can only be as good as the game it replays. I’ve gone nuts with the replay feature in Wreckfest. I would have gone nuts with a replay feature in the first Crew. I couldn’t care less about the replay feature in The Crew 2.
The Crew 2 thinks I want different sets of cars for different events. This is the set of cars I can only use when I do track races. This is the set of cars I can only use when I do dirt races. This is the set of cars I can only use when I don’t do the drift events because drift events never don’t suck. The Crew 2 doesn’t remember how invested I was in individual cars in the first Crew. It doesn’t remember how it really put the R in caRPG by letting me adapt my favorite cars to my favorite events. My boring ol’ starter Nissan 370Z wasn’t just a boring ol’ starter Nissan 370Z. It was also a heavily modified street racer. It was also a dirt racer with a badass row of headlights mounted on the hood, knobby tires, and hefty fenders. It was also an overland raid vehicle with even knobbier tires and heftier fenders. It was also a high performance car with a spoiler on the back that it actually needed because the upgraded engine was so powerful. It was all of these things as I found upgrade kits, which were a real cause for celebration because of the differences they introduced. My boring ol’ Nissan 370Z will one day be a monster truck with absurdly large tires and I will bounce and roll and tumble it across goofy obstacle courses. It might even be a drag racer, but probably not. My Mini Cooper is already a drag racer, as is my Dodge Viper. I don’t need another drag racer yet. The Crew 2 thinks I care enough about drag racing to buy a car that’s only ever a drag racer.
As I played The Crew 2, desperate for something to latch on to, some element of the caRPG to care about somewhat, no matter how little, I idly considered checking out one of the latest Forza Horizons. It’s quite the game that makes me consider moseying onto the Microsoft Store. I didn’t, of course. I just reinstalled The Crew and marvelled all over again what a great caRPG Ubisoft has made. What a wondrous open world they’ve created. What a generous playground they’ve given me. Perhaps the definitive driving game. Thanks, Ubisoft, for making me appreciate all over again your 2014 masterpiece. If that was the secret goal of The Crew 2, mission accomplished.