The Crew was a driving game made with the “typical Ubisoft” formula. That was an easy way to explain the thinking behind the game’s aesthetic, the use of beacons to explore the world map, and the amount of cross-map travelling players typically did as they worked their way up to becoming a *cough* V8 *cough*. Sorry, I cough when referring to people as engine types for some reason. In any case, The Crew was a decent, if forgettable racer in a few ways, and it was slowly turned into a surprisingly good and well-featured MORPG with cars thanks to extra DLC and more care from Ivory Tower than I’ve seen for any racing game recently.

Given my experience at rAge with the demo at Megarom’s stand, I don’t know if The Crew 2 will stand as tall as its predecessor, but the potential is all there.

To be fair, my impressions of Ubisoft’s sequel in the series come from a very tightly crafted demo that I only had a few tries at. To start, players are slammed straight into a street race driving a Porsche 911 GTS, in third-person view, and the only goal you have is to finish the lap. The driving experience is nearly identical to The Crew. The cars feel unsubstantial, there’s no discernable weight to it, and the cars are more arcade-like in their handling this time around. It retains the same slippery-ness as the original, and drifts are easy to initiate, so the driving action always keeps you on your toes.

This was the same criticism I leveled at The Crew in my review, and it got slightly better once I was able to turn off assists and set up the game to make the handling more realistic (suspension mods also went a long way to returning some kind of feeling to the cars). This kind of thing needs to be addressed if Ubisoft wants to avoid a repeat of complaints that players had with the original game. The balance needs to be between arcade-like and simulation, but off-set a little from centre to add some realism into the game.

Once you complete the lap, there’s an Inception-inspired warping of the world in on itself, and the screen whiteouts to a boat race. I wasn’t expecting the switch, because for a moment I had forgotten that Ubisoft revealed that The Crew 2 would have boat and air races. You can see in the video embed above, with footage taken from another expo, the Firstlook Festival in the Netherlands, how the demo switched between the vehicle types.

My surprise over, I found that the boat handling was decent, but not perfect. It’s not as good as Grand Theft Auto V, but it gets the job done, although there’s a lack of response from the controller that makes turning and aiming for ramps much harder. You need to be sure of your jump to stick the landing, because there’s also no way to control the boat in the air. Mistakes were difficult to recover from, but with more time I could have gotten to grips with the controls and checkpoint layout.

The world-warping took place again as I finished the lap, and I was led into an air race. By now I wasn’t surprised, but there it is again – the lack of response. The planes are controlled by the left analogue stick which functions as a joystick, while the rudder is controlled by the L1 and R1 triggers. The pitch and yaw control suffers a little because of the muted controller response, and I wasn’t able to aim for my targets properly. The demo ends with a whiteout as you cross the final checkpoint or if you run out of time, and it goes through a short video while the demo resets.

With more time, I could also have tried some controller tweaks to make the game more responsive. I think that keeping the defaults might not show it in the best light, and some people may have left the demo that weekend feeling less enthusiastic about the game than before.

Now, a few things to keep in mind. One is that The Crew 2 launches in March 2018. There is a lot of time left for the dev teams to polish up the game and fix some of the control and controller response issues leading up to the launch. Maybe there’s even enough time to tweak the behaviour of the cars so it doesn’t feel like I’m playing Ridge Racer Type 4 again. The structured, on-the-rails nature of the demo takes a lot away from the experience, so I also feel the need to point out again that the final game isn’t like this at all. Gamescom had a different demo that was a free-roaming affair, and you could even take the Formula One cars for a spin.

I’ve seen what Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections can do with the series, and they are capable of delivering a good driving game. There’s a lot of potential with The Crew 2 if they pay attention to what they can do well.

Which brings me to my second point. If the inclusion of boats and planes are just there to fill things up, then it’s going to feel tacky. Boat races and plane races did not belong in the original game’s universe, which wasn’t strictly a racing game either. There’s a lot of driving, playing bumper cars, smashing other cars, exploring, bundu-bashing, and performing takedowns on opponents and cops in The Crew. Last time I checked, you shouldn’t can’t really do that with a plane. The additional vehicle types need to play an integral role in the gameplay and story to feel like it’s meant to be there, and I hope Ubisoft is taking that thinking to heart.

The Crew 2 launches in March 2018 on Windows PC, Xbox One, and PS4.

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