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 measuring 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.

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