The Crew 2 hands-on preview: Virtual tourism by land, sea, and air

The Crew 2

I still feel nostalgic for The Crew. It’s not that it was an excellent racing game—it wasn’t. Not by any means. The early hours were a grind, trying to get your car to handle like a car instead of a super-powered tractor, and even once you’d leveled up enough to drive halfway decent it still never felt as solid as a Need for Speed or a Forza game.

But the map. That incredible, America-spanning map with its theme park representations of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, New York City, Miami, and everything in between. In my review back in 2014 I referred to The Crew as “stellar virtual tourism,” and “a tribute to American car culture.” It was both. It was a game about discovery, a history of America told through landmarks both natural and man-made. It was Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” crackling through a racing-striped Charger.

It was a mediocre “game” maybe, but still something special. Special enough that, despite giving it a middling score, I still remember my experience with The Crew better than many games from 2014 I actually did enjoy.

A sequel? Yeah, I’m interested.

Off to look for America…again

The Crew 2 gameplay trailer

Not that I have much to go on, yet. Ubisoft’s E3 demo was either maddening or tantalizing, depending on how charitable I’m feeling. I spent 20 or 30 minutes with The Crew 2 ($60 preorder on Amazon), finished four or five races, but at no point was I allowed to just pick a direction and drive.

And that’s a shame. Like the original, I fully expect The Crew 2’s map to be its strongest feature. I got to tool around Manhattan in a sports car for a bit, and a few races took place in the Vermont/New Hampshire/Maine area, but I would’ve honestly preferred just driving down a dark highway through Colorado towards Las Vegas or whatever. Just something…scenic.

It also remains to be seen how much The Crew 2’s America has been reworked. I did confirm with Ubisoft that some bits have been tweaked, and looking at the map in the menu I think the cities look bigger here and there. More fleshed out.

The foundation is the same though, as far as I know. The developer talking me through the demo seemed adamant the map wasn’t rebuilt from scratch. Take from that what you will.

Changes most likely had to be made to accommodate The Crew 2’s new features—namely, boats and planes. Whereas The Crew had you simply riding around in your car for hours on end, The Crew 2 adds skies and waterways to your available excursions.