Make no mistake: The Crew 2 is not a fun time. It can’t decide if it wants to play like a simulation racer or an arcade-y ram jam, the races are flavorless obligations, and there’s nothing compelling you to stick with any of it. But none of that can shake the feeling that there might be something to this game.
It’s odd to consider the history of Ubisoft. In the modern era, they established, perfected, and then iterated on the open world formula until seeing a map sprout mission icons like a time-lapse video of fungal growth was enough to make you irrationally angry. And seemingly, all of their resources were dumped into this endeavour to the point where they consistently released broken games—one of which was a defining landmark of its year.
But that didn’t stop Vivendi, a French media conglomerate with a penchant for aggressive/hostile takeovers, from trying to jump in the driver’s seat. Clearly they saw something in the tremendous franchises the French publisher held so dearly but not much else because, well, there wasn’t much else. Assassin’s Creed, Just Dance, and Far Cry. What more could you possibly want to rip away from Guillemots?
Strangely, though, this was also the time when Ubisoft was slowly trying some new things. Child of Light and Valiant Hearts: The Great Warcame from 2014 and Grow Home in 2015 showed their indie bent while they tried to shake up longstanding series with Far Cry Primal and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. And somehow, against all odds and industry trends, they figured out how to support and grow games post-release.
The Division released in 2016 to moderate reception. Last year had For Honor, a surprise historical brawler that also had a middling reception. The same goes for Ghost Recon Wildlands, releasing with solid hype but quickly succumbing to the reality of a decent but bland game. But those three games also have something in common: rapid support that turned them into pretty good/mighty fine titles.
And that, for the most part, is what makes The Crew 2 an interesting proposition. The sort of feeling you get from playing it now is the same feeling you would have gotten from playing those three games when they first came out. They weren’t broken, propped up by a workable premise, but suffered from a gutted sense of incompleteness. They found one something to get it going but failed to find another something to make it all work. (Aside from the Ubisoft tradition of having a weird interpretation of America.)
The most apt comparison I’ve heard is that The Crew 2, at best, feels like a child playing with their toys on the floor. Why not turn this car into a plane? Why would you care about colliding into the side of a building if that means stopping the action? Why wouldn’t you also cross a street and go from Los Angeles to Miami while you come crashing in from the sky as a boat?
And viewed through that lens, it’s an infinitely more promising setup. This game works best when you aren’t playing it the way it’d want you to play. If you just explore and enjoy the experience of dive bombing the rooftops of an urban cityscape with a muscle car, you don’t even need to bother with the mindlessly dull races and campaign. The Crew 2 works best when you don’t play it—try playing with it.
The problem, of course, is that there is so much of what the game wants and needs you to play. To unlock the best vehicles, for example, you’ll have to actually race and whatnot. And all you can think about while this is droning on is what if Ivory Tower realized that this wasn’t what the game should be.
And that’s a realization that can happen! Post-release, any number of things could happen. Massive Entertainment worked to turn The Division into something worth playing and even garnered some interest with the impending sequel. Hell, if Destiny can turn it around, then so can The Crew 2. (Admittedly, Destiny did it by almost completely reworking everything it does, but whatever.)
This isn’t a long-winded way of saying The Crew 2 is bad; we started off with that. This is instead tackling the idea that there’s something worth honing in these coming months. It’s a blunt, messy, clumsy thing that has the potential to be hewn into a sharp, fine point. And maybe one day we’ll get there.