If first impressions are the most important, then The Crew 2 doesn't exactly get off to the best of starts. Within the space of two tutorials, the arcade inspired land/sea/air racer had crashed back to the dashboard twice - once in a particularly weird crash that forced us to log out of the PS4, too. Hardly the most encouraging of signs for a game that Ubisoft are hoping will keep people coming back for more for months, if not years to come.
Unfortunately, The Crew 2 isn't exactly in a rush to make things better. For starters, for reasons known only to Ubisoft, the game requires an internet connection 100% of the time in order to run. Despite the fact that this is actually mostly a single player game, despite the fact that only a whopping eight players can even share a world together anyway, and despite the fact that other player's presence adds precisely nothing to the game (and it's nigh on impossible to interact with them, too), you have to be online at all times - with all the stupid baggage that comes with it. That means that if you're halfway through a single player race, and you lose your internet connection, you'll lose your progress with it. If you need to rush off to deal with your kid, answer to the door, or help with something else around the house, by the time you come back, you'll have been disconnected mid-race, and booted to the main menu. Why? We'll be damned if we know - but it's the same stupidity that was the weight around Steep's ankles too.
So, it's fair to say that The Crew 2 doesn't exactly get off to the best of starts. And that's a damn shame, because there's enough fun stuff under the surface here to see that this clearly had real potential. Throwing realism out the window, The Crew 2 is a racing game that crosses disciplines, letting you burn rubber round the city streets, throw up the spray on the ocean, or take to the sky in either a series of air races, or some fancy aerobatic events. With some genuinely stunning visuals, a "realistic enough" style handling to at least the boats and planes, and the whole of the United States of America (OK, maybe not Alaska and Hawaii) to race across, including Project Gotham Racing favourites New York and Las Vegas, the races here can be a lot of fun (when the game's not crashing). It's just clear the developer's priorities, for the most part, have been in totally the wrong places.
Still, let's focus on the positives for a while. With three completely different types of vehicle on offer here - and with cars themselves divided up into several different sub-classes - there's a lot of variety to the game, with each event feeling completely different to the last. In the sky, it's actually the aerobatic events that'll provide the meat of the game, with air races being unlocked quite a bit later on. In these fancy flying events, you'll be given a number of manoeuvres to perform (along with a handy bit of text telling you how to do them) - for example, having to do a loop, two rolls, and then fly at low altitude for 500ft - before being given the freedom to show off in a freestyle section, and rack up even more points. Though this is fun, the game can also be a little bit dodgy when it comes to actually recognising the manoeuvres you're pulling off - and it's also home to one of the worst translations we've seen in a game. Any guessing what "Do a maximum of figures in 20 seconds" means? Us neither.
Over on the water, there may not be as much variety, but it's the handling that makes these races fun. Powering along against half a dozen other jet boats, you'll speed through courses packed with jumps, ramps, and obstacles to avoid, with some gorgeous water effects doing their best to distract you from the action. Though there are technically two different types of boat event - Jetsprint and Power Boat, there doesn't actually seem to be all that much difference between the two.
As you'd likely expect, though, it's the cars that provide the greatest diversity of challenge, with a huge range of different events on offer. From skidding through drifting events, to smashing up street furniture (and leaping over multi storey car parks) on street races; burning rubber in drag races; treading tracks through fields off-road events like Rallycross (here's a marker, and a wide open space - use whatever route you want to get there as quick as you can), there's a really impressive variety to both the events, and the cars - there's even a Fiat 500 Monster Truck waiting to be unlocked. While the handling may be a bit too much like a scalextric car for our liking (it's nowhere near easy enough to spin your opponents - or, er, so our friend tells us...), the racing is fun enough, much like the boats and the planes - it's just the bits in between the races that are the problem.
One of the biggest issues here is that, even if the game's world is on a much smaller scale than the real USA (the game world has a width of 66 miles, compared to 2,600~ in real life), open world America doesn't half feel a bit... empty. OK, we know, Ubisoft have a fetish for open world games - but does the Crew 2 really need to feature huge, open deserts with literally nothing as far as the eye can see? While there's a fair amount of bonus events outside of the vanilla races - think low flying challenges, speed traps, and slalom routes - you can still drive for a heck of a long time without finding anything to do. Instead, rather than driving for ages in between each event, you'll find yourself constantly bringing up the world map, and choosing the event you want directly instead, essentially rendering the whole open world obsolete.
And then there's the multiplayer weirdness. You see, while it's irritating enough that the Crew 2 is online only, it might, might be slightly justifiable if it had an incredible spread of multiplayer modes, where dozens, or hundreds of people could be in your game, and every last one of your friends could take part in races with. So, how big do you think parties are in The Crew 2? That's right - four people. Four. You can have eight players in your session, but only four can join your party and come into races with you. So all the online only restrictions, and all the irritations that come with it were to make a game so just four people can play together. GG Ubisoft.
And really, since when has it been easier to choose events from a world map rather than from a list? If you're playing your friends, you might want to have a private game, or set up a few rounds on one of your favourite circuits. But you can't. And if you were hoping there might be anything resembling something like Project Gotham Racing's legendary bulldog mode, well, guess again. The Crew 2 is just straight out races from start to finish - and even then, there's nothing keeping track of your performance over several races, or anything like that. It's all a horrendous disappointment.
Though it may have promised the world, The Crew 2 only ended up delivering a muddled, confused, and at times deliberately frustrating game, where the single player modes are much better than the online ones, and the whole thing is hampered by its ridiculous "always online" requirements. If you're looking for a game to play with friends online, this most certainly isn't it. If, however, you fancy a good looking racer, with some decent single player races, and a pretty nice selection of air and water events (and, of course, the infamous Fiat 500 Monster Truck), then The Crew 2 might be worth a look. Just know that this isn't the game it makes itself out to be.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4