After many years of largely forgettable releases, the most recent wave of consoles appear to have ushered in a slightly more ambitious way of thinking from Ubisoft. While I’m confident that they remain capable of releasing recycled sequels and/or complete and utter garbage, I do maintain that there’s still some essence of creativity across their numerous studios. Following the controversies and well deserved criticisms surrounding Watch Dogs, the company has to begin rebuilding their reputation as a developer that people still care about. I have no doubt that The Division, Far Cry 4 and Rainbow Six: Siege will go some way towards mending past mistakes, but before any of those titles arrive, we’ll have to assess how Ubisoft tackles the racing genre with The Crew.
You shouldn’t approach The Crew with the expectation of being surprised or excited by its premise. This is a racing game much like the numerous major franchises which have earned their stars and it’s going to provide you with all of the necessities, including what appears to be a very comprehensive customisation system which harks back to Need for Speed: Underground. The cars are varied and there is a genuine difference in the way each handles, but you’re still going to be sitting through the standard initiation stages which we’re all familiar with (discovering race types, maps, way-points and garages). As far as structure is concerned, The Crew is about as exciting as Rick Astley returning to tour Australia. If anything, it’s a very underwhelming start to a game which has been hyped up as something more unique than your everyday racer. Yet, there’s absolutely nothing unique or ground-breaking about The Crew’s sluggish frame-rate which is now confirmed across all platforms (unless you have a very high-end PC and feel like delving into the system files).
The primary attraction being touted is the fact that The Crew is providing you with a massive playground in the form of the United States. In Ubisoft’s defence, this is a potentially exciting open-world to discover due to the visual transformation of America from coast to coast. However, it’s debatable as to whether or not this will give The Crew a truly unique identity since Forza Horizon managed to deliver plenty of visually stimulating scenery in the confines of a single State. Realistically, that’s the main competition here, and if Forza succeeds once more than Ubisoft will be in trouble. The Crew offers no such stimulus to continue driving, unless its story can somehow compensate for an otherwise complete lack of creativity.
Essentially, you are thrown into the role of an undercover FBI agent tasked with infiltrating your (recently deceased) brother’s gang of petrol heads. Your character needs to earn some respect and begin climbing through the ranks to get close to certain targets, retrieving enough evidence to arrest a crooked FBI member along with the man who killed your brother. At least, that was my understanding from when The Crew wasn’t driving me crazy with technical hiccups. The nicely rendered cinematics do little to hide the banality of a script which is attempting to shield what could simply end up being another very forgettable racing game. It’s worth noting that The Crew is being developed by a brand new studio hailing the talents of people who made Test Drive Unlimited and V-Rally (remember that?), so I’m not entirely sure why I fell for Ubisoft’s PR team and their advertising again.
Keep in mind that everything written here is based on a severely broken beta, one which refused to download initially and took several minutes to connect to a server after progressing from the main screen. I genuinely couldn’t be less excited for The Crew, and while many will argue that it still has two months to address the problems before its official launch, the simple fact of the matter is that the development period is essentially over – and a release day patch can only fix so much. If the time spent on the story had been spent refining the mechanics instead, you’d probably be reading a very different article to this one. My advice? Cancel your pre-orders and wait for feedback on the review code before committing to a racer which will either make me look like a fool or end-up in bargain bins within three months. I would love for The Crew to prove me wrong and fill the void left by Need for Speed this year, but the finished product will need to be significantly better in just about every way if it wants to leave some tyre marks on the grid – otherwise it may as well not bother showing up to the race.
I’m not crazy about racing games that don’t have me either hurtling down wafer thin excuse for a track at a hundred thousand kilometres per hour in a makeshift sci-fi tin can, or scooting around a psychedelic toon-vile hurtling nightmare inducing shells at unsuspecting opponents. I’m just not too hot on the sim racer, you know? Pass on Gran Turismo. Pass on Forza. Pass on all those Formula 1 games. Give me surreal and weird and a little unusual.
Exception – open world. Which is weird, as it’s not like I have some universal rule to anticipate all open world games. Most don’t blip on my radar. But there’s something about racing, maybe because there’s not too many true open world racing games, that intrigues me. So that’s what The Crew is; a big ‘ol open world racing game with a big ‘ol map and a big ‘ol I’m not going anywhere with this.
I’ll keep my opinions short: The Crew, I think, has potential if “scope” is your hook and sinker. Because the map is really, really ludicrously huge and expansive and you really can pretty much drive wherever the hell you want. Only a portion is open in the beta I played, but that portion alone was massive. In theory, the open world mission structure could lead to some pretty rad ideas; tearing down a forested mountain in a four wheel drive, escaping cops through night time city streets lit with neon, and doing burnouts in the desert. Conceptually the idea is sound, the map is huge, and the feel of driving a car is satisfying enough.
What I’m not sure about is how it’ll all come together and keep itself interesting. I wish I spent more time in the beta than I did, as I have this nagging feeling there was more to discover than I sampled, but what I DID sample just felt a little bit…boring. The game was missing the important hook and drive (PUN INTENDED) that have you moving from mission to mission or baiting you into exploring the open world. The world as a whole and the racing concept seemed rather aimless and, problematic for so many open world games, lifeless. Like you have all this amazing space but the game design struggled to justify said space.
That being said I am looking forward to seeing how the full game comes together. More expansive environments to explore, proper depth to customisation and vehicle diversity, and most importantly the online component backed by everyone who owns the game could see the whole open world, connected racing concept come to life. I’m disappointed the beta didn’t sell any of these ideas to me, either due to overall execution or, admittedly, my lack of investment. But we’ll see. Maybe The Crew has something very special going for it. Or maybe it’ll fizzle out as a dull, forgettable open world racer.