The Crew: Calling All Units Review
- Chase mode is fun and competitive
- Lots of glitches and crashes
- Weird design choices that hamper overall enjoyment
- Cars are unwieldy and physics are still wonky
- The best piece of content can be enjoyed without purchase
The Crew was an interesting proposition before launch, a large open world racer that builds on the connectivity and freedom presented by games like Burnout Paradise and promised to create the first true massively-multiplayer online racer. On release The Crew was criticised for not giving players enough to do with each other, a number of glitches, unusual design decisions and some wonky car physics. While The Crew: Calling All Units gives players a new, fun way to compete against each other, it doesn’t address the other issues with The Crew and ultimately introduces its own flaws to the overall game.
The Crew: Calling All Units introduces Clara Washington, a young up and comer in the police force who is tasked with taking down a street gang called The Harvesters. Clara’s incredibly sparse story is told in short cutscenes before each of the 12 Calling All Units missions that are added to the game, which also serve as a tutorial to the new Chase mode. With each cutscene only lasting about 20-30 seconds and mostly serving to frame the mission at hand, Clara is effectively treated as a bit-character as opposed to a protagonist. This opinion is further solidified by some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard in a game, with stilted speech and vocal tones that are completely indifferent of the content of the script. Ultimately, this means that there is nowhere near enough time for a cohesive story or interesting character to be built and what is there is a chore to listen to. It all makes me feel like Clara was added as window dressing, with Ivory Tower wanting to avoid using a silent protagonist and instead putting in minimal effort to develop Clara as a character.
The biggest issue with the campaign missions isn’t their brevity or low-quality voice acting, but in how they are presented to the player. They aren’t a single flow of missions that you can complete. Instead, they are gated behind a variety of player level and car level restrictions that prevent you from completing them in a row. What this means for new players such as myself is that you may be able to complete 2 or 3 in a row, but you’re going to need at least a few hours levelling up before you can engage with the next lot. This won’t be an issue for long time players of The Crew, but for newer players it results in a disjointed experience that breaks engagement. Ivory Tower have stated that this gating is done in line with the level requirements for specific car types in The Crew, but this practice was never employed in the original campaign for The Crew where loaner cars were present for story missions that required them. The specific type of gating, specifically that early missions are available at low levels and not at high levels only obtainable through past play, makes it feel and look as though these missions were really added as padding for the original campaign. This is opposed to most expansion packs for other games, which either remove level requirements entirely or begin with high level gates. Overall, it’s a really unusual design choice that detracts from the campaign.
The other new addition in The Crew: Calling All Units is Chase, a new mode that pits street racers against player-controlled and AI-controlled police cars. Street racers pick up a cargo package on the street, which they then need to deliver to a specific location. As they make this drive, they need to avoid being apprehended by the police by staying out of range of their cars. Both the police and street racers have access to a range of abilities introduced as part of this mode, like gaining unlimited NOS on your street car for a limited time or police cars causing you to lose control of your car. Each ability has a timer and a range, meaning that you can’t use them straight away and you need to think strategically about when you unleash your abilities. It’s an interesting mode that introduces a new competitive feeling that isn’t in the main content of the game and is extremely fun to play. The one issue with it is that it’s not completely exclusive to owners of the expansion, with only the police-side of the mode being gated behind purchase. This does mean that there are ample players to enjoy the chase with, but also means that the one big positive inclusion in The Crew: Calling All Units can be enjoyed without purchasing it.
Those are the new additions in The Crew: Calling All Units, along with a range of new cars and motorbikes, but beyond this the base experience is untouched. What this means is that a number of design decisions that frustrate players are still apparent in the game. There is a loading screen of between 5 and 20 seconds every time you attempt to close your map after opening it. In an open world racer which covers an exceptionally large area, you’re likely to open your map after every race to plot your course to the next one. What this means is that you have to endure an additional loading screen every time you want to go somewhere or do something. This is compounded by an issue with the route plotting system, with directions sometimes disappearing mid-route and sometimes not appearing at all after exiting the map. There is also a frustrating design within the in-world skills challenges. These skills challenges are found on the road as you drive and they seamlessly begin as you drive through their gate, taking place in the open world. After you complete one, you can continue driving as your score comes up. Click on complete, and suddenly your screen goes black for 2 seconds and your car is in the exact same position it was beforehand, except you’re no longer moving, robbing you of your momentum. On the other hand, if you abort a skills challenge, you’re free to continue driving as normal. It would seem like this is masking an upload as your score is placed onto the leader boards, but this is surely something that could have been done as you continued to drive.
Along with these issues, there are still a number of glitches in the game. I encountered multiple crashes back to the dashboard during my time with the game, which caused me to then have to endure multiple loading screens and a long drive to get back to my destination. I had a particularly worrying issue when I was about to begin a mission, with my car hitting a rock, causing a loud explosion to occur within the game and the screen then go black with an unending loading screen. I had to manually close the game down, worrying that if the game was also saving due to my seeming death, I could potentially corrupt my save game. These issues are coupled with car physics that feel unwieldy and are ultimately a frustration. Cars don’t respond well to small steering corrections, often resulting in an extra push of the analog stick that causes the car to suddenly jerk further than you intended. This often causes issues when dodging cars or turning corners, as you can’t always predict how your car is going to react to your input.
Throughout all of this, with both the positives and negatives, Ivory Tower’s version of the USA really is a pleasure to drive through. The graphical update released as part of last year’s expansion, The Crew – Wild Run, still stands up incredibly well after a year. Cities and their surrounds are dense and filled with detail. Textures are complex, water looks lovely and the lighting can be absolutely incredible at times. I want to keep driving across the country to see more of the environments, I just wish the rest of the game filled me with the same desire.
Ultimately, the mixed-quality of the content added, and overall sparcity of it fails to justify The Crew: Calling All Unit’s $37.95 price tag. The Chase mode is interesting, but can be enjoyed as a street racer without purchase, and the campaign is disjointed and of an overall poor quality. The same issues that were discussed both when The Crew originally released and when The Crew – Wild Run was released last year continue to go without correction. Load times when closing maps, multiple hard crashes and unwieldy handling and physics are all still present in the game. These are all the more frustrating because the world itself is interesting and is presented well enough that I want to continue exploring it, but the gameplay and design push me away. Even if you’re a fan of The Crew, I highly suggest just playing the free parts of The Crew: Calling All Units unless you absolutely cannot do without a shiny new police car.