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

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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

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.

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