Some would argue that ambition is exactly what the industry needs right now. While covering old ground has its merits, allowing one to perfect and enhance genres we’ve loved before, it’s also important to look ahead and truly try to utilize the full power of today’s hardware. And on this level, The Crew can’t be faulted on its ambition.
Not content with a single city or location, The Crew offers the entire United States of America as its playing field. Of course, it’s a caricatured version – not every city or town has been replicated, and everything has been shrunk down to meet a more playable level. However, it’s extremely impressive nonetheless. There’s nothing to stop you from driving from Los Angeles to New York, passing though desert areas, mountains and the countryside, in a truncated road trip that will last about an hour, but still conveys the experience extremely well.
The range of driving gameplay has been expanded to take advantage of this scope as well. You can partake in street races in Detroit, lead the police on a huge car chase through the Midwest, or head off-road into a Motorstorm style battle across Nevada. Cars can be set-up to meet these different requirements in a simple, easy to understand system that provides different tuning kits for Street, Dirt, Performance, Circuit and Raids.
It’s interesting to see a game where the technical aspects and minutiae of tuning has been reduced down to the bare bones for us luddites, in a very RPG-like system. As a driver, you level up with every race or mission completed, gaining experience points. However, you’re constantly given car parts as rewards, which can be instantly equipped to upgrade your ride. Rather than explain in detail what makes this part any different to the others, the game reduces the whole thing down to a ‘car level’ number. This new driveshaft will increase me from 70 to 78? Fine, stick it in. This metal thing bit gets me from 90 to 95? Upgrade me. It almost feels too simple, but it works well enough in this context.
Progression is once again handled using the Ubisoft formula, as seen in Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. Around the map are satellite dishes/radio towers/eagle viewpoints which must be found to clear some of the digital fog on the map, revealing missions and points of interest. Various story missions are on offer at a time, which are rated ‘easy’ to ‘impossible’ depending on your car level, meaning you’ll occasionally have to look into side challenges or grind races to get your car up to spec. There’s about 20 hours of story content to get through, and then a whole lot more to see in the side missions, challenges and multiplayer.
In The Crew’s story, you play as Troy Baker playing Aaron Paul in the Need for Speed movie. Convicted of the murder of his brother, Troy is eventually released after years in prison to get his revenge on the real culprit, ‘Shiv’, and dismantle his national criminal gang, the 510’s. There’s nothing too unexpected about the storyline, except that the titular ‘Crew’ doesn’t really feature prominently within it.
‘The Crew’ itself is the multiplayer aspect of the game, whereby you can invite other online players or friends to drive around with you on the map, or take part in missions (single-player or otherwise). Sometimes, this works well, especially if you need extra muscle taking down a target in a mission where you must run baddies off the road. Other times, your Crew will be conspicuously absent from the mission, audible only on voice chat. Most of the time, however, the matchmaking will fail to find anyone. It’s also worth knowing that you must be online to play the game, even in single player.
Most of the time you’ll be up against the AI, and this is where the game starts to break down. I can the developers wanting to make the game challenging, but a lot of the time the AI can range from the impossible to the bizarre. From what I can understand, cars who seem to be pre-determined to come last in a race will almost instantly crash or run themselves off the road. Cars who apparently are meant to be your rivals can stay ahead of you by almost flying along the track, or teleporting themselves around, bending physics and the rules to put up a challenge. These same physics can be fickle with your car. Some street lights will fly off your dashboard as if they were papier maché, yet hitting the very edge of a corner in a race can flip your car over or bring it to a screeching halt. There’s a poor feeling of speed that comes along with this as well – sometimes I would look at my speed gauge and be surprised that apparently I was flying along at 160 km/h, when it felt like 60.
Challenges pop up on roads all around the map and are activated simply by driving into them. They’re obviously intended to provide some fun on your way between missions, turning what might be an uneventful drive into a race to get down the road as fast as possible, or hit as many targets as you can. In theory, these are a good idea, but they clutter the screen with information, rewards and stats – sometimes so much that you can barely see where you’re going. Of course, they can be ignored if you accidentally hit one, but you’ll still have to put up with the information pop-ups as you pass through.
The Crew’s ambition has also unfortunately affected its presentation. While hero cars look good and are well detailed, complete with a nifty break apart animation in the tuning shop, every other car on the road looks flat and last-gen. The environment, while large and varied, can also be similarly flat and undetailed, especially buildings and foliage. If you prop the game up against, say Forza Horizion 2, there’s no contest. Your cars would also be perfect candidates for Marvel’s Weapon X program, in that they regenerate damage visibly as you drive around. You can literally and hilariously see scratches fade away and holes in your back windshield close up on themselves as you play.
However, the sheer amount of content on offer in The Crew and size of the game map can’t be denied. The gameplay, while flawed, still provides a fun arcade-like ride most of the time, while the multiplayer ‘Crew’ is a sometimes handy addition, rather than an experience to hang the whole game on. While there are better racers out there this holiday season (Forza Horizon 2, for one, if you’re an Xbot), The Crew has its own little niche carved out and it’s definitely worth a try if you’re curious at all about the premise or the scope.
Huge game map | Varied locations | Fun arcade-style racing | Basic RPG progression for N00bs
Weird AI | Physics can be buggy | Multiplayer doesn't feel that strong or necessary | Presentation woes