One of the elements that was universally praised about The Crew was its open world. While developer Ivory Tower’s abbreviated version of the USA was a wonderfully put together slice of Americana, the surrounding game, ultimately let things down with its Fast & Furious-inspired story, and disappointing opponent AI. With The Crew 2’s arrival we finally get to see if this sequel has managed to make good on the promise glimpsed in its predecessor, or if it stumbles into the same potholes.

Right from the start things look up. The story has been jettisoned in favour of a celebration of racing in its many forms – be it in planes, boats, or automobiles. With a series of events known as the ‘Xtrem Series’ taking the centre stage, you’ll work to impress the audiences across various racing disciplines – such as street racing, off-road, freestyle, and pro racing – with a view to becoming the top dog in each of the them.

By just looking at the spelling of ‘ Xtrem Series’ you’ll know all you need to about the vibe The Crew 2 is shooting for, and after you’ve sat through the excruciatingly voiced tutorial races and cut scenes – where someone at one point utters the immortal phrase “we work hard and play hard” – you’ll have had more than your fill. Things don’t improve much on this front as you progress, and you’ll likely find yourself hammering your controller in an attempt to skip any of the animated sequences that occasionally pop-up, where a racer repeatedly pontificates about how it’s more than just racing, it’s a way of life.

With a broadening of the types of events in The Crew 2, there’s a pleasing variety that also allows you to you switch at a whim between each of the racing arenas. What’s great is that each of these areas feel and play very differently, and while some will no doubt rise to the top as favourites, it’s still fun to return to the more unusual fields – like the monster truck circuits, or the aerial races – as they offer a different sort of challenge.

It’s just a shame there are so few of the events that see you switching between air, sea and land mid-race – you can do this on-the-fly when out in the open world – with only the Xtrem Series and the occasional rival event – that serve as climaxes to your rise to fame in the various disciplines – taking advantage of this exciting format.

In terms of vehicle handling it’s a big improvement over the first game, which required you to unlock a variety of parts for your cars before if felt good to throw them into a corner at high speed. That’s not to say the drive to collect better parts isn’t here, as you’ll still need to collect them in order to keep yourself competitive as you progress through the various event lists. Fortunately, after completing any event you’ll be awarded a number of these parts, which can then be added to any rides that fall within that particular discipline in order to boost their performance.

With a chance to find these performance boosting items around the open world as well, it’s clear they’re meant to form some sort of vehicular loot system – especially when you see there’s colour coded rarity. The rarer the part the better the bonus you’ll get, and while it’s nice to see a car’s performance numbers go up and give you, for example, 1.8 per cent quicker boost generation, it’s hard to get invested in a system that offers no visual upgrades, and has improvements so incrementally small you’ll struggle to notice the difference.

Once again the most endearing part of The Crew 2 is by far its open world. This vast representation of the contiguous USA is a joy to behold. With huge viewing distances and stunning visuals it delivers some truly breath-taking sights as you race across the wildly varying terrain, and the events in-turn make great use of this varied playground. When roaming the open world there are also a number of challenges – such a taking photos of points of interest – to interact with, but these end up being throwaway diversions that aren’t numerous, or challenging enough, to fill out the open world.

While the lack of side activities is a disappointment, the inclusion of an menu-based event list detailing everything you can do in the game – be it events or challenges – ends up diluting the impact of the open world more than anything else. Allowing you to teleport to any race at any time, it’s an understandable inclusion from a player convenience point of view – after all, the first game was criticised by some for only letting you fast travel to an area you’d already visited – but it means you’ll have even less reason to roam the open world as you bounce from event to event. Only the occasional endurance races, that take tens of minutes to complete, offer uninterrupted grand scale excursions around the map, and these are unfortunately few and far between.

With some familiar issues cropping up in this sequel, it’s infuriating to see the annoying AI rubber banding also making an unwelcome return. No matter which event you’re taking part in, you’ll be up against ice-cold AI that will stay in your slipstream no matter how fast you go. Only some of the off-road events – where you have many routes to choose from – make it easier to build up a substantial lead. In everything else a mistake in the closing moments of a race, even if you’ve been flawless to that point, will result in a loss, and while in shorter races it’s a minor inconvenience, putting so much importance in the last few corners for the longer races can lead to controller smashing moments.

To help avoid these destructive moments, you can play through any of the events in co-op with other players – allegedly player-versus-player races are planned to be added later. However, despite the previous game also having this option, it feels like a step back. Before you could invite other players in your game to join you when starting any event, but now this option is gone. As a result, unless you have friends who also own The Crew 2, you’ll have to rely on spamming invites to anyone in your particular game session in the hope they accept. Unsurprisingly success rates for this are low, and this – along with having very little reason to roam the open world and encounter other players – makes The Crew 2 feel more like an always online single player game.

Conclusion

While it’s disappointing to see The Crew 2 fall into some of the same pitfalls as its predecessor, its open world remains one of the most impressive playgrounds, in terms of scale, out there. Sure, there’s very little reason to explore its vast road networks outside of its visual appeal, but the sheer variety of different events, from nerve racking aerial races to coast-to-coast endurance runs, will still get your heart racing.