If you’ve never ridden route 66 then it’s probably on your bucket list. But while Harley-Davidson® and H.O.G.® embody the spirit of freedom, it’s not always practical to cross the Atlantic at a moment’s notice to fulfil those epic dreams of adventure. However, the recent release of video game The Crew 2 from Ubisoft makes this possible in some style.
The first time HOG® magazine heard about the game was a promotional video released last October, which featured the CEO of Ubisoft riding an Iron 883™. So we couldn’t wait to speak to Ahmed Boukhelifa, CEO of Ivory Tower, the French company that develops the game for Ubisoft, to find out more about The Crew 2 and how they’ve worked with the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
Released on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this summer, the game not only features more than 9,000km2 of scaled-down US landscape, but it also lets you drive cars, pilot planes, skipper powerboats and – crucially – ride Harley® bikes. But it’s not just the ride that caught our eye; it’s the level of customization available and the amount of work put into creating authentic digital motorcycles.
The Crew 2 works in an online environment – you drive or ride with and against real people. You’ll be able to create a ‘crew’ of up to eight players or join several crews, with people all over the world. Existing friends, family or chapter members, fellow riders you met at a rally, or even just someone you’ve made friends with playing the game – you can arrange to meet in this virtual world, decide where to go and what to do, and then just do it.
“It’s Harley-Davidson!” Ahmed exclaims. “When you talk about riding all over the US, Harley-Davidson comes to mind immediately. For a long time, we’ve wanted to include Harley in the game and that’s why we’re super excited to be able to build this partnership.”
To recreate in-game Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Ivory Tower went far beyond just copying publicly available imagery. They got the real bikes, they rode them, they visually captured them from all angles and then added detail using technical and CAD data from Milwaukee.
“We have to have the real bike… it’s all about the emotion it conveys. If you want a true experience, you have to feel it. Then, afterward, we needed lots of hard facts too; all the details about the engines, because the simulation is the core of our game. We also did a recording session in Milwaukee, where we took the bikes out of the factory and recorded them on track to get the true sound.”
And then there’s modelling the bike’s handling: “Once we add all these parts to the game our designers ride the bikes again and again to try to make it as close to the real experience as possible.”
The Crew 2 is impressive in its level of visual detail. It’s still very obviously a game, but everything works – the speedometer, the gears – or, as Ahmed puts it: “They’re true to the original and work like the real thing.”
The game aims to show off many of the most iconic locations in the United States, with more than 10,000 kilometers of road to traverse. Although you can’t yet visit the home of Harley, you can visit downtown Chicago, as well as New York, Miami, Las Vegas and lots of other major cities. But there’s as much fun to be had in the vast expanses between the cities, as Ahmed explains. “We wanted to bring the sense of space… the mountains, the desert, huge iconic places like the Grand Canyon.”
The game is all about progression – earning in-game cash allows you to purchase new vehicles, as well as upgrading and customising your existing ones. This is all managed in your in-game house. “Your house is like a luxury garage,” says Ahmed. “In the middle of your living room you have your vehicle, and you can change whatever you want.”
You start out with a factory model, and then it’s time to have some fun. “It was important for us to create something that’s true to the Harley-Davidson experience,” says Ahmed. “We push the freedom for the player to really customise their bikes and make them unique. You can change the exhaust, the handlebars, front lights, rear lights, fenders, mirrors; it’s all you can imagine.” And yes, you can tune the engine and go wild with the paint job too!
After you’ve learned the ropes and progressed a little way through the game, the first Harley-Davidson® bike you’ll be able to unlock is the Iron 883™. Many real-life riders start out on a bike like the Iron 883 before progressing to bigger models, and in The Crew 2 it will be no different.
As well as the Iron 883™, just one more Harley-Davidson has been announced so far: the 2017 Street Glide®, which will up the game in terms of power with its Milwaukee-Eight® engine. But while Ahmed couldn’t reveal anything else due to contractual arrangements, if the original edition of The Crew (released in 2014) is anything to go by, there will be regular game updates and more motorcycles revealed soon!
As well as the bikes themselves, there is a specific part of the game world that’s designed just for Harleys: “We have elements that are specifically for bikes, for example, the incredible Harley-Davidson race. This is almost 20 minutes long and will take you from Las Vegas to Yosemite National Park. It starts on the strip in Las Vegas and goes up through the hills. Doing that with your crew is a mix of adrenaline and discovery.”
What sets apart The Crew game series is its community – nearly four years after its emergence the game remains popular, with people continuing to meet up and race across the vast landscape. “You have this huge world, with whole communities of crews taking part: street-racing, off-road, freestyle and highway racing. Each of those communities organizes events, and each event you go to will build your story and your following. Even when you are done racing, you also have lots of tools to have fun with – for example, the camera, which allows you to take pictures as you ride – or even video, which you can upload to YouTube.”
Finally, we quizzed Ahmed on what it’s like to work with Harley-Davidson – has it been what they expected? “It’s exciting because we’ve wanted to work with them for a long time. With Harley-Davidson, it was really love at first sight. They had already seen The Crew and imagined what it would be like with motorcycles, so the first contact was very positive. We reassured them that we wanted to recreate their bikes with depth, and they supplied us with everything we needed – engineering data, color data, visual data and access to the real bikes.”
And, as you’ll see from the artwork on these pages, this close collaboration paid off in the visual impact of The Crew 2. Video games may never be able to fully recreate the sensations of rolling down the open road and the beating heart of a real Harley, but for those winter months when the chrome is staying dry, it’s worth knowing that at least one game will let you explore the US on a Harley and create your own crew of like-minded riders.