It started out as an ambitious project to re-capture the hidden magic of Test Drive Unlimited, but the end result was a run-of-the-mill open world racer with no compelling elements, and we’ve now learned through a message board post of all things that this sub-par package has somehow warranted a sequel. Though nobody will place a gun to your head and force you to buy The Crew 2 when it inevitably lands on store shelves for both major console gaming platforms and UbiSoft’s own uPlay service, it’s mere existence is the prime example of developers who refuse to see video games as interactive pieces of art, instead building an uninspiring experience designed solely to tick boxes of key features and distract customers from their own mundane personal lives for a few hours during the course of every evening.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I am obviously not too thrilled about The Crew 2’s existence, but it has nothing to do with blind hate for a product I don’t entirely understand; I feel UbiSoft and Ivory Tower simply aren’t capable of making The Crew as an idea for a video game, into something you’ll be racing home after work to play for hours on end. I’d prefer for them not to waste everyone’s time with a second go.
Open-world driving games, when done right, can be fantastic. Need for Speed: Underground 2 and Rockstar’s Midnight Club Series blew the doors wide open on the sub-genre with stellar releases that allowed you to explore large environments at your own free will, with other developers scurrying around to try and attain some slice of the proverbial pie thanks to just how well gamers had responded to these all-around great offerings.
But there was a science behind the reason Midnight Club and Need for Speed had succeeded in a market dominated by Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and Mario Kart; the driving model was something that could be understood and practiced to perfection by dedicated players, the customization – even now – was unprecedented, the environments were memorable despite their comparatively smaller size due to technological limitations, and the background narrative was just that – a loose story that sort of tied it all together, but wasn’t something the player even needed to pay attention to. That is your formula for a successful open world driving game, and it’s why the offshoot Forza Horizon was able to come out swinging in 2012 and immediately establish itself as one of the greats; Turn 10 paid close attention to the groundwork laid by Need for Speed and Midnight Club, while putting their own spin on it.
Ivory Tower failed to do any of this with The Crew, essentially embarking on one poor design choice after another that indicated the team hadn’t even bothered to understand why people might be drawn open world driving games in the first place. The driving model was often described as floaty and vague by wheel and pad users alike, meaning the core gameplay was something users “put up with” as opposed to learning and mastering, and that’s kind of important when your video game is all about cross-country marathons behind the wheel. Customization and progression had been intertwined with incessantly grinding for experience points – something that driving game enthusiasts have never taken kindly to in the history of the genre – while the giant map made it impossible for the team to ensure every square mile served a purpose; long, empty highways connected select areas of interest. And though there was at least some attempt at a generic Fast & Furious rip-off narrative, the story was just so over-the-top , intrusive, and forced that it worked against the game itself; you wanted it to go away so you could focus on other areas in The Crew, and UbiSoft kept throwing it at you.
It’s just a package that indicated UbiSoft needed a token open world driving game on their roster of products and just sort of shit something out. What’s even more surprising, is that UbiSoft Reflections were once behind the stellar Driver series of the late 1990’s, as well as the phenomenal Stuntman for the PlayStation 2; both entities known quite well for their stellar vehicle physics, so a regression between then and now is quite strange.
It didn’t help that the PlayStation 4 version of The Crew failed to support Logitech’s G29 racing wheel, considering racing games are universally much better experiences when under the command of a traditional car control input method and third party wheels are skyrocketing in popularity. The bugs and shoddy servers also threw a curveball into the mix; for a game that boasted tons of seamless online integration, UbiSoft struggled to ensure a smooth experience for gamers – something that should have been priority numero uno for a game of this scope.
But in my opinion, the most prominent display of UbiSoft’s lack of dedication to ensuring The Crew would be a successful venture, was in their stunning lack of creativity. The game’s first expansion pack,Wild Run, straight up copied the theme of Forza Horizon with a fictional automotive festival taking place in the middle of a vast rural area, while the second, Calling All Units, lifted police pursuit weapons from the 2010 reboot of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
Furthermore, The Crew continues to make use of UbiSoft’s obsessive tendency to place objective towers within the game world as a means of unlocking new tasks or events. This sort of makes sense within the context of a third person adventure game such Assassins Creed, but the fact that it has been shamelessly copy & pasted into a racing game of all things when it clearly does not pertain to the subject matter in the slightest is pure laziness.
All of these little details add up to a racing game that was designed by a team that not only fail to understand what makes an open world racer fun, they are unable to polish the product so key elements work as they should, and shamelessly rip ideas from other teams and shoe-horn in repetitive elements from in-house franchises, regardless of how well those gameplay design choices will benefit the end user experience.
So with The Crew 2 confirmed, it’s hard to be even the least bit excited at what the sequel might bring to the table. UbiSoft were simply not interested in creating a good driving game with the first iteration in the franchise, clearly neglecting to research what constitutes as an enjoyable open world racing game in favor of shitting out a hodgepodge of ideas and design choices that actively worked against each other. This is not the result of impending deadlines and rushed segments of development, but a team actively making poor choice after poor choice when it comes to the creative vision of the game, and it’s a problem that can’t be rectified overnight. Unless there is a drastic re-construction of The Crew’s fundamental makeup, you can write off The Crew 2 before we even see it in action.