The last time we played The Crew 2 was all the way back at E3 2017, where we got our first look at the sequel, but last month Ubisoft and Ivory Tower invited us to an extended hands-on at Mercedes-Benz World in Surrey, England to have a bit more time with the game - around three hours in fact - where we got the chance to explore things more freely, without the shackles of a guided tour weighing us down and inhibiting our vehicular creativity.
After all, player freedom is the number one priority here, and in fact as player experience director Julien Hummer said in his brief introduction, the only thing he asked of us was to complete the four trials for the different disciplines - Offroad, Street Racing, Aerobatics, and Water Racing - so we could unlock everything on the map. Other than that, it was just a case of putting the headphones on and doing quite literally whatever we wanted.
Thus, if you go street racing and find that you can't even get around one corner without crashing, you can opt to never ever do it again and exclusively fly your plane around in Aerobatics to try and get the highest scores. The player experience is really defined by making your own stories and adventures right from the beginning, with more options opening up in each field as you get better.
Even within each discipline, there are further disciplines within them too. For example, getting better at street racing unlocks drift racing, while advancing in Offroad gradually unlocks motocross, and as you might have guessed, each new flavour means new vehicles to buy. You'll need cash to buy new cars and the like, and you'll need good vehicles to perform well in races, so there's always that hook of pushing to get bigger and better rides (like we've seen in countless racing games in the past).
We have to make clear though that this isn't exclusively a racing game as such. A lot of the experience is about rubbing shoulder-to-shoulder with your adversaries to get the first-place spot, but there's also an emphasis on stunts and racing with style. Aerobatics, as mentioned, is all about fulfilling a checklist of stunts as well as trying your own for maximum points, and drift is all about hitting the highest score with epic Tokyo Drift style turns.
There are plenty of ways the game encourages you to keep engaging with its activities, one of which is followers. Like with other games such as the Skate series, followers mean more fame, and more fame equals more rewards and things to do, but you can only gain followers by doing gnarly stunts and getting good scores/positions in activities.
What's more is that at the end of each activity a loot system hurls some random loot your way, and just like armour in an RPG you can swap out some vehicle parts to make way for the new ones you got in the loot drop, all of which revolves around numbered scores you're trying to push up to make the highest rated vehicle. This was the element that pulled us in, and there's something strangely addictive about finely tweaking a number on-screen to push it ever higher.
Even if you don't do these activities on the map you can still earn Live loot, which revolves around following a beeping on your mini-map which gets progressively faster until you reach said package, again earning you more gear to upgrade your plane, boat, or automobile. We can't even say we noticed that much of a difference regarding in-game performance with these upgrades in the short time we played, but still we felt inclined to fervently pursue these upgrades.