It’s hard to figure out where it all went wrong for society, sometimes. I often say it’s social media that will be our eventual downfall, but ultimately it’s the people using the platform, rather than the nefarious people behind them that cause trouble and strife. Yet here we are, in 2018, and Ubisoft has a game where some reprobate may as well be screaming “bodacious”, or “totally tubular” at you while playing. History is cyclical, but if we’re heading down that route again I’m going to live in a cave by the sea.

My own personal preferences aside, I struggle to understand to whom The Crew 2’s kind of raditude appeals to. The entire premise is to get famous by doing cool shit and upping your social reach; the more followers you have, the higher “rank” you are in the world of car, motorbike, boat, and plane racing. This is a game that equates follower count to success. I feel sick.

But look, you don’t really spend all your time listening to a handler spouting absolute drivel and pimping you to every would be sponsor or brand (there’s an awful lot of brands prominently displayed, actually), because this is a driving game, after all. It’s an open-world driving game, in fact, and one which doesn’t really have enough of a hook to pull you deep into it.

There are races, of course, for all manner of disciplines, but most of them don’t even require you to finish first: top three will do it. Can you think of another racing game that does that? A racing game where actually winning a race is equally as important as coming third, because either way you gain more followers? Sorry, I’ll get past this. I promise.

The lack of a hook is a real problem, though. Do a race: get followers. Maybe buy a car if you get some cash, but only if you want to, because there are loads of cars anyway. Finish a race and pick up loot which makes your car, plane, bike, or boat better: slot those coloured loot pickups into place, but to what end? Sure, your vehicles get better, but it’s not a numbers game – not really. 

It’d be forgivable if the map had events littered throughout – similar to the way the first game did – but despite the pretty visuals the world feels strangely barren at times. There’s a photo mode that asks you to take pictures of things like bears, notable landmarks, condors, and I think a moose, probably, but it’s not ideal to be travelling at breakneck speed and be told “QUICK! TAKE A PHOTO OF THAT PIGEON!”. 

But it doesn’t even feel as though Ubisoft wants you to explore the map all that much, either, because every event can be accessed simply by going to the menus and selecting the discipline and picking a race, which will fast-travel you to the location. All you need to do then is drive to the starting grid. I’m all for accessibility, but it feels like a better choice would be to have fast travel locations rather than just letting you jump to any event, anywhere. All that time spent building a believable version of the United States only to make it easier to just jump around via menus. 

It feels as though The Crew 2 is trying to be all things to all people. Accessible yet challenging - it has rubber-banding: spend ages in first place, make one mistake and you’ll be in eighth. Other real-life players appear in your world, but there’s no obvious way to interact with them. Sometimes they’ll just appear as ghostly apparitions you can drive straight through. It’s full of flashy menus and colourful overlays, none of which actually explain simple things.

The handling is all over the place, too. Some vehicles feel superb, like powerful, grunting beasts that turn you into Tim “The Toolman” Taylor - a real man’s-man. You know the type: a massive pair of bollocks that hide a tiny, unsatisfying penis (these guys are all over Twitter, if you still need more examples). Bikes are squirrely and hard to tame, boats feel beefy (like the meat, not former English Cricketer Ian Botham), and planes feel dangerous and hard to master, offering the chance to do loop-de-loops and swing under bridges to gain extra followers.

The cars are the stars, mostly. Races across tight streets are fine, but then they’ll suddenly open up, offering ramps which give multiple paths, taking you into flood canals that call to mind the truck chase scene in Terminator 2. You can ignore racing for a bit, if you choose, and take on your friends by setting speed goals, or just listen out for your radar to ping and hunt down loot, but eventually you’ll just turn into a plane and take to the skies again. That said, it’s hugely refreshing to play a game with cars in it that doesn’t have a racing line all over the track every single time you take control. Here, you drive the course how you see fit: overtake how you will, use your vehicle as a pinball if need be, but you are in control of the racing line.

One of the best mechanics in the game, and The Crew 2’s main trick, is that you can have a favourite vehicle in the three main classes (plane, boat, automobile - perhaps trains will be DLC) and can switch to them on a whim. It’s mostly ace within the early hours where its comedic value is so high. Flying over a body of water and fancy just suddenly turning into a car? That’s fine, you can do that. But the instant you hit the water you’ll get one of the very hip overlays appearing on-screen putting you back somewhere safe. Likewise, fancy just suddenly beaching yourself on the road as a boat? Well that’s something you can do, too. In fact, one of the more enjoyable things to do is fly over a city and try to time the button press just right so you fall as a car onto the top of a high-rise building. 

While it may be fairly barren of content, there’s definitely lots of work gone into creating a real-life-ish version of America, and it’s a lovely looking game to just exist in at times. It’s perhaps unfair to just say “driving games look good anyway”, because this game looks stunning at times. As day turns into night, fluorescent lights will turn simple bridges into attractions for your plane, and the weather effects are terrific, too; droplets of moisture reminding you to concentrate and be wowed by the pretty looking world you’re exploring. You’ll nose-dive towards the water, then pull up, switching to an inverted low-to-the-ground effort, pull away and switch to a boat before hitting a jump and switching to a car to land on solid ground, screeching to a halt in an exhausted mess, all while looking better than Clarkson ever did. The prick.

There’s a good game hiding underneath all the nonsense, and I suspect in 12 months after numerous updates it’ll be far better than it is now. Despite some off-putting pop-in (even on Xbox One X) and some less than exciting races, there’s a core idea that is so fantastic it’d actually be daft not to keep making more of this series. It wants to be Forza Horizon – a game that straddles the “dude” and “gearhead” line beautifully – but its attempt at aping the success of Playground Games’ franchise comes via the filter that gave us Steep, and thus it stumbles and falls. 

Despite the tone, despite the irritants that will stop you giving hours to it at a time, The Crew 2 isn’t a bad game; I can’t stress that enough. Sure, it’s well made, but it’s uninspiring and, too often, just boring, eschewing the Inception-like world bending the pre-release trailers promised for simple street racing, a dull XP system and, honestly, things like drift racing which are mostly done better in other games. What you’re left with is just an average game, and that’s disappointing given how brilliant a game with this idea could be. 

Developer: Ivory Tower

Publisher: Ubisoft

Platforms: Xbox One [reviewed on], PC, PlayStation 4

Release date: June 29, 2018

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