The Crew 2
Driving in games has always been meant to feel freeing, giving players the opportunity to cast off the bonds of traffic and speed limits and roads for complete feeling up until the nearest body of water or wall or extremely off-road terrain. Racing games thus design around these issues, giving you inaccessible terrain to keep you on the course. Where Ubisoft's newest stab at open world racing wants to differentiate itself is how quickly it allows you to circumvent these designs.
With a push of the button, players can change their vehicle in The Crew 2, switching between planes, boats, and automobiles with the same speed as changing weapons in Assassin's Creed. This does, of course, mean that you're taking ramps from the highway and switching to a boat in midair to land in a river and continue up that way. You can also switch to a plane, fly all the way to the top of your vertical limit, turn into a car, and aim for the road.
This switching speaks to a playground mentality of The Crew 2 that differentiates it from the first game. Developer Ivory Tower is crafting a much more playful atmosphere from the underlying mechanics all the way to the story. Gone is the morose crime family story of the previous game, replacing avenging the murder of a family member with getting more social media followers by winning more races and doing more tricks.
This makes The Crew 2 a decidedly lighter narrative and on the whole more narrative-light. Progress is determined by endearing yourself to multiple families who obsess over disciplines in plane tricks, car driving, and boat racing of different stripes. As a rising superstar, the player unlocks new vehicles and further competitions like street racing and off-roading by spending the requisite money.
Once the player earns enough followers with each family, there's a multi-vehicle race event held by an extreme sports organization. Players go from racing speedboats, to navigating shipyards on a BMX bike, to racing through the city in quick succession and changes for each event. These races are thrilling and fun and I hope are more common than they seem.
This illustrates a line in The Crew 2 where the game can be separated between its designed races, segments where you're pushing around competitors to shave off a second from your total time, and a genuine sense of relaxing and almost meditative calm from doing literally anything else. Flying over a peaceful countryside, boating along an idyllic lake, inviting a friend and watching them do donuts in the desert, The Crew 2 occasionally feels like an experience to which you can measure your resting heart rate.
There are still some concerns, however. Though the story of the first game felt laughable in its seriousness, the lack of narrative hooks to the sequel feel mildly demotivating at the same time. I'm unsure what the sweet spot is for story in a game like this, but I don't feel like Ivory Tower and Ubisoft have cracked the code yet. While I enjoyed flying around in the plane, it also changed the least of any of vehicles, and I felt like I was just doing the same trick events over and over.
Despite that, I am excited to play more of The Crew 2. There is a spark here that the original game did not possess and I can't wait to explore more of it when the game releases on June 29 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.