There are a lot of great open-world racing games out there, but if you take a look at a list of titles in the genre, you’d see a lot of repeat entries from the same few franchises. As a result, it’s good to see a new face in the midst of it all with Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s The Crew 2. It will be going up against Forza Horizon 4 later this year in a duel to be the best in the genre. But, a direct comparison can’t exactly be made, at least in my opinion. If anything, The Crew 2 provides an interesting alternative experience to that of the latest Horizon installment.
Horizon is a spin-off from the core Forza Motorsport series. Instead of focusing on hardcore sim-racing, the Horizon titles are geared towards those who just want to have absurd amounts of fun. Thus, the driving mechanics are more “arcadey,” and the world is totally open for players to explore to their heart’s content. My first Horizon experience came last year with Forza Horizon 3, thanks to the series finally making its way to PC. I know I’m super late to the party, but boy am I glad to finally have had the opportunity to join! It didn’t take me very long at all to consider Horizon 3 to be one of the best racers I’ve ever played, period. It continues to be my favorite. I recently jumped back into playing it after a few months, and despite having already poured dozens of hours into it before, I’m still blown away by all the passion and polish it has. Playground Games are definitely an ace studio, and I can’t wait to dive into the new experience of Horizon 4.
As for The Crew 2, I was intrigued by the title ever since its announcement back at E3 2017. Despite being a sequel, its theme is very different from the original. The first title came off as being an NFS clone with a larger open-world, straight down to the whole Fast and Furious-esque action movie storyline. The Crew 2 has completely flipped the script by basically ditching the story mode entirely, and it instead takes a bit of inspiration from Horizon in a way. The goal of the players will be to win events and explore in style in order to gain more virtual followers. Racing is still the name of the game, but the biggest change is that The Crew 2 has added airplanes and boats to the experience on top of road-based vehicles. I’ve gotten chances to play pre-release versions of the game, and I’m absolutely in love with this idea.
The Crew 2’s open-world is a simplified recreation of the entire USA. Although it’s not trying to be a totally accurate representation of the country, it does capture a lot of details. But even more importantly, it’s absurdly fun to just go out and explore the map. That’s what I found myself doing the most during all my play sessions. Sometimes I even forgot that there were actual events for me to complete. What really made the experience so fun is the ability to switch between land, sea, and air vehicles completely on the fly. There were so many moments that ended up going something like this: I’d take off in a plane from a small landing strip, do a couple of rolls and dives, switch to a car, drift around a few bends, then vault off the side of the road into a river and switch to a boat before hitting the water’s surface, and then rocket down a stream or out into the sea. All of this would happen in just under a minute, and it’s simply exhilarating. It’s honestly made me consider letting Horizon 3 go as my all-time favorite racer.
The ability to swap between land, sea and air vehicles is incredibly fun in The Crew 2.
Ubisoft’s Ivory Tower team has taken a very interesting approach to tackling the open-world racing genre this time around. While The Crew 2 certainly isn’t the first game to offer a variety of vehicle types, it’s pretty much the first open-world racer to do so. Having the ability to swap between the types on the fly is what especially makes the whole experience feel amazing. Of course, it’s this mechanic that really separates the two gameplay experiences between The Crew 2 and Forza Horizon 4.
The big new change in this latest installment of Horizon is the inclusion of dynamic seasons that introduce new driving conditions and world changes. From all the gameplay demos I’ve seen and interviews I’ve read/watched, it sounds quite exciting, and I can’t wait to try it out for myself. But, one thing I can already confirm via testimonies of people who have played it is that the game does feel very similar to Horizon 3 mechanically. This is neither a surprise nor an issue. Playground Games has managed to strike a great balance with their gameplay style for Horizon. Although it’s an arcade racer, it walks the fine line between being totally arcadey and realistic. The driving mechanics are quite fluid and make basically every car a joy to drive. Considering the absurd amount of cars that are in the Horizon titles, (Horizon 3 had over 350) it’s impressive that the driving mechanics are so balanced. Driving a supercar feels genuinely different than driving an SUV and everything in-between them. The Crew 2’s driving mechanics are also nice, but they didn’t feel as good as Horizon’s.
I think the main reason why the two feel different is due to Ivory Tower spreading their focus across different vehicle types, which is no easy feat. This is especially true due to the instant-transformation mechanic, which makes the whole situation even more complex. Now, don’t get me wrong—the cars feel like cars, boats like boats, and planes like planes. But, I did notice some “quirks.” For instance, the cars all drove well, but jumping off of ramps and hopping across off-road hills didn’t feel as satisfying as it does in Horizon. The cars felt like they all had a bit too much weight to them. So, it’s as if as soon as I got in the air, I was on the ground again. But, again, this can be chalked up to the game having to accommodate the different vehicle types. Not to mention that my gameplay experience thus far has been from early builds of the game, so it’s definitely possible this can be improved either at launch or shortly after.
Nevertheless, the core driving experience is still nice enough, but the extra polish on top of Playground Games’ already high level of pedigree is clearly seen in the Horizon titles. No doubt, it would be a tall order for any studio to try and rival it, not just Ivory Tower. Even so, zipping around the of The Crew 2’s USA without a care in the world is a joy within itself. It sucked me in for hours; just free-roaming and pulling off my own cool maneuvers. And really, that’s an important aspect of any open-world game—to make it fun to get around. All in all, I think it’s definitely safe to say that both titles are going to be amazing entries to the admittedly small selection of open-world racers. While still essentially being competitors, they both expand upon the formula in their own unique ways. Though, I think it’s a good thing that The Crew 2 is launching several months ahead of Forza Horizon 4, as this gives it a fair and well-deserved chance at holding its own on the charts. I hope it turns out well so Ivory Tower will be able to expand upon the experience with future installments.