The Crew 2 – hands on impressions

Back when Stephane Beley was a ten-year-old boy, he spent much of his spare time in front of a beige Commodore Amiga playing the likes of Geoff Crammond’s Stunt Car Racer. Back then, he dreamed of making his own racing game – and when he had the chance to pitch The Crew in the late 2000s, he described a game his ten-year-old self would have loved: a recreation of the USA filled with every kind of driving experience.

He went on to serve as Creative Director on The Crew, and when the game finally launched in 2014 it was a mighty achievement.  An open-world, multiplayer representation of the mainland United States, through which players could explore, race and cruise in a wide variety of road vehicles.  In the years since, the game has hosted over 13 million players who, between them, have spent tens of thousands of years driving across the virtual US.

Wild Run, The Crew’s first major expansion, launched the following year – adding monster trucks, drag racing, drift cars and motorbikes. Beley and the team saw how much this additional diversity resonated with the game’s community, and that helped to set the direction for The Crew 2.

“It felt like the moment to create something that pushed boundaries,” he says.  “A game with all motorsport experiences, not just cars – we felt that anything with an engine should be in our game.”  With this in mind, the team set about creating a sequel that aimed far wider – not only expanding on the range of wheeled motorsports, but bringing air and watercraft to the vehicular mix too.

Visiting motornation

In the early stages of development, Beley and the team spent a month in Florida witnessing and participating in as many motorsport experiences as they could. Beley explains that they gained a real appreciation of what set each sport apart, and what aspects they needed to bring to their in-game representations. “All these motorsport experiences are very different and unique,” asserts Beley, “and we wanted to be sure we had the DNA of what’s ‘real’ in what you play.  When you drive a Street Racing car, it’s not the same as an Alpha GP car on a circuit or the experience of Motorcross with the ground a few centimetres away.”

This time, the game’s narrative focuses on the business of racing too – with you competing as yourself on a mission to become the king or queen of motorsport.  You begin by choosing a male or female avatar, then you’re dropped onto the paddock of the game’s first event.

In the game’s world, a fictional camera company named LIVE organise triathlon-like multi-discipline events, pitting amateurs against professionals in the hope of finding the next big motorsports star. The first LIVE event takes place in New York City – beginning at break-neck speed with you roaring through the city in a Porsche GT3RS – echoing down streets and alleyways, hitting jumps and speeding across rooftops.  Then you’re suddenly transferred into a powerboat for the next stage: a sprint through New York’s wide, grey-blue waterways.  Just as you settle into that, you find yourself in a prop-plane over Central Park, flying through checkpoints towards the finish line.

Meet the families

Perform well enough and you’ll attract the attention of the game’s four Families, each of whom celebrate motorsports in their own particular way:  the Street Racers own the cities and transform them into a place of open competition; the Off-roaders are all about going off the beaten track, admiring and taming nature; the Pro Racers are all about perfection, high speed and racing hard; while the Freestylers focus on expressing creativity and pushing the boundaries of what you can do with a vehicle.  These families kindly loan you a vehicle in which to take an audition – and, should you gain their approval, you’ll unlock access to their first few disciplines and events.

The family’s disciplines are tailored to their motorsport approach: the Street Racers host Street Races, Drift contests, Drag Races and Hyper Car events.  The Freestylers present you with Aerobatics, Jetsprint boats and Monster Trucks.  The Pro Racing family bring Power Boat races, Touring Car, Alpha GP and Air Races.  Finally, the Off-Roaders offer Rally Raid, Rally Cross and Motorcross.

The game’s depth of design really shines in the variety and structure of these disciplines. You might think: cars, planes, boats – that’s three play styles.  Bzzzt, wrong.  Take water-craft, for example: try tackling one of the Freestyle family’s Jetsprint races in the same way as you’d approach a Pro-Racing Powerboat event and you won’t get far.  The shallow-water Jetsprint events focus on tight turns and tactical use of boost to power out of corners and scrape across dry land, while the open-water Powerboat races are all about your line, maintaining speed and staying out of the wake of other competitors.

A world of variety

Even within the disciplines, events can differ wildly due to the variety of the game world – a Powerboat race along the relatively flat Mississippi River, for example, presents a very different challenge to one set out at sea, with your craft leaping between enormous waves.

Another example of in-discipline variety comes from one of my favourite events so far:  The Harley Davidson Red Rock Run.  While many of the game’s Street Races are set in cities and their surrounds, some venture further.  The Red Rock Run begins on the Las Vegas strip, with you astride a loaned Harley Davidson Street Glide. From there you work your way out of the city and onto wide, the straight freeways stretching north across the plains – with just the thrum of the Harley engine for company.  After a while, you pull off the freeway and cross the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats as you head west towards the High Sierra mountain range.  You barrel through beautiful green forests and up mountain passes until you eventually begin your descent with Sacramento just visible in the distance.  The Red Rock Run is a long, fun, varied ride that feels like a real journey.

The 130+ events in the games main path allow you to build up your social media follower count – the game’s equivalent of XP.  The more followers you have, the more you level up and the more races and disciplines you unlock.  You can also add to your follower count as you roam the open world: when exploring by plane, for example, you can gain followers by performing social media-friendly tricks like flying under bridges, near misses, loops, rolls, inverts, low flying and so on.

Over 140 smaller skill challenges dotted around the map (slaloms, speed cameras, escapes, and so on) also give you a chance to increase your social media following.  Like and Subscribe!

Events and skill challenges also earn you loot (parts to improve the performance of your vehicles) and money to buy more planes, boats, cars, trucks and bikes from the games licensed roster of over 200.  These include the usual favourites, along with a few classic surprises – all lovingly re-created inside and out, and all fully explorable in your virtual “home” space (which itself evolves as you progress through the game.)

Family stories

Each racing family has its own story, told through in-event voice-overs and unobtrusive cut-scenes.  The family leaders are all based on the types of characters the team met while on their US motorsports research odyssey – with Beley explaining that it was important for them to be more than just caricatures.

Latrell from the Street Racing family relates the struggle to move from their illegal roots into something more legitimate – while Pro Racer Alexis juggles tradition with the need for her sport to evolve in order to bring in spectators and sponsors.  Each family also seems to feature a rival of sorts – someone whose ego you may bruise should you perform well enough.  Given the game’s open nature, you can dip in and out of these stories at will – powering through one family’s narrative, or switching around as you see fit.

The Crew 2’s world is a stunning thing to behold.  The addition of planes, boats and other new disciplines meant the team had to rethink the game’s entire map. City layouts were rebuilt to make them fun to fly through; shortcuts, ramps and rooftops were constructed to allow for more elaborate street races; and the expansive system of waterways was built from scratch.  It all makes for a cohesive, consistent and beautiful world – and with the game’s full day/night cycle, elaborate real-time weather system, and spectacular draw distance, you’re rarely moments away from a spectacular vista.

Fortunately, the game features a built-in app allowing you to capture and edit moments for posterity.  You’ll also be able to share them directly to real-world social media – a chance to bump up your real-life follower count, perhaps?  We’ll have more on these features in the coming weeks.

13 million game designers

The social-media aspect of the game is somewhat reflected in the way The Crew 2 has been developed by the team at Ivory Tower in Lyon, France. Beley explains, “The Crew has 13 million players – so that’s 13 million game designers, and their feedback has helped us to craft The Crew 2.”

“I love these moments of exchange with the community – their honesty. Throughout development, we have had thousands of players experiencing the game every month on our private server. They play the latest work-in-progress version and give us their feedback – on the progression, the generosity and rewards, the handling, the range of disciplines … everything.”

What was Beley’s biggest lesson from the community?  “I’ve learnt that we’re all different – some players are competitors, some are explorers, some collaborators, some achievers – everybody wants to enjoy the game in their own way.  We hope that The Crew 2 is the perfect place to do that – we’ve tried to give players all the tools they need to enjoy the game in exactly the way they want.”

Final call for the closed beta

If you’d like a chance to join those feeding back on the game, The Crew 2 closed beta starts later this month, running from May 31st till June 4th. Make sure to register your interest over here!

The Crew 2 is due for release on Xbox One, PS4 and PC on June 29th.  For more on the game, check out our previous coverage.

The Author

Phil is so incredibly old that his earliest gaming memories involve those late-70s TV Pong clone machines made by Binatone, typing BASIC games into the one-piece keyboard of a Sinclair ZX80 from magazine listings, and the static burble of Commodore 64 tape loading. He does Marketing things in Ubisoft's Guildford office. He's been at the company for 20 years. The numpty.