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Players roam America freely in Ubisoft’s open-world racer ‘The Crew 2’

"The Crew 2" includes off-road racing as well as the ability to pilot planes and steer boats seamlessly.

UBISOFT/TNS

By GIESON CACHO | The (San Jose, Calif.) Mercury News | Published: July 27, 2018

Everything is bigger in America. The cars and the fast food come super-sized. Its mountain ranges dwarf the peaks of most countries. The lakes are great and the canyons are grand.

So when making an open-world racing game that lets players freely roam the United States, expectations are high. With “The Crew,” Ivory Tower Ubisoft succeeded in creating an approximate replica of the country. It was an abridged America, but one that still retained several sprawling cities, varied coastline and distinct regions.

The problem was that while “The Crew” reflected the vastness of America, it was a game that felt bland, empty and lifeless. By re-creating the size of the U.S., the original created a world that was impressively huge but boring to explore. “The Crew 2” fixes that major flaw by expanding the project’s main concept beyond racing.

“The Crew 2” is a different animal and that leaps out at players from the start as they jump from different modes of transportation. The game shifts from driving on land to boating at sea to flying around the Manhattan skyline.

While the original felt limited on the ground, the move to venturing on sea and air gives the game unrivaled freedom and opportunities for exploration. Players can seamlessly switch from driving to boating to flying as they cross the huge map. By plane, it took me nearly 30 minutes to go coast to coast.

It makes getting around America much more compelling as players either speed to different headquarters or events around the country, or even fly there. For those who just want to tackle events, they can go to the activities menu and pick from several options.

The change in approach even extends to the story. “The Crew 2” veers away from the “Fast and Furious”-style narrative and takes a slant similar to the “Forza Horizon” franchise. It has a festival vibe as players compete in five different categories of events: street racing, off-road, freestyle, pro racing and the Live Xtreme Series.

Within each category are several disciplines centered on a type of vehicle. Street racing has disciplines focused on drifting and drag racing, while off-road features motocross and rally cars. Freestyle includes aerial acrobats via stunt planes and monster truck arenas, while pro racing focuses on F1-type vehicles and powerboats. Lastly, the Live Xtreme Series are long races that combine disciplines, forcing players to switch between different forms and styles of transportation.

Although the variety is enticing, “The Crew 2’s” gameplay doesn’t particularly stand out. But Ivory Tower Ubisoft does a serviceable job of making players feel as though they’re drifting for points or following the right line around a racetrack. The developers create gameplay wrinkles that require competitors to learn techniques.

For boating, players can pull the left stick back to gain speed at the cost of control. It’s a different element from the nitro boost that all vehicles have. For cars and motorcycles, there’s a handbrake that lets players negotiate 90-degree and hairpin turns. Flying has an extreme mode that makes aircraft control more sensitive so that players can pull off more hair-raising stunts.

Couple the broad array of vehicles with inventive racetracks, events and missions and there’s a lot to love about “The Crew 2.” Because it caters to so many tastes, players will find something they’ll love or they’ll be exposed to types of racing they never realized they liked. For players who don’t want to compete and just want to explore, they’ll find a good photo mode with missions designed to reward those who venture off the beaten path.

Like the original, “The Crew 2” has a day-night cycle so races and events can occur during afternoon and twilight, which presents players new challenges. In flights, performing loops and barrel rolls in darkness is more difficult without a clear view of the horizon. What’s more interesting, though, is dynamic weather that changes racing conditions making roads slippery.

Unfortunately, the weather isn’t realistic. If one part of the map has snow, the rest of the map is a winter wonderland, which doesn’t often happen in places such as Miami. It throws off the immersion of the game.

The other two issues with the game is that the story mode isn’t that compelling. “The Crew 2” does have surprising moments during races, but players shouldn’t expect to find friends or villains worth caring about. The other problem is that race navigation is confusing. Some races, especially the longer ones, are so sprawling that it’s easy to miss a turn or go off the track. It forces a trial and error when learning events.

But that shouldn’t diminish “The Crew 2” too much. Ivory Tower Ubisoft finally matches the games’ epic scope with content that takes advantage of the diversity and breadth of the great American landscape.

Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC
Online: thecrew-game.ubisoft.com

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