The Crew was one of my most anticipated titles to come out of Ubisoft’s E3 2013. An open world racer with a huge map that tries to emulate all the most recognizable features of the United States of America containing 100’s of challenges, customizable vehicles and a persistent online experience. It definitely sounds like an ambitious project and it is, but if the Closed Beta is any indication then it looks like developers Ivory Tower have been able to control this beast of a game and provide an excellent open world racer for us to enjoy, albeit with some desirable features currently omitted.
The Crew contains some elements that have long been missing in the racing genre, one of those being a story mode. In The Crew you take the wheel as Alex, who after witnessing his brother being shot has spent 5 years in jail due to being framed for his murder. You are then recruited by FBI agent Zoe to take down the dirty cop that framed you and also get revenge on the guy who killed your brother. Yes it’s the classic Fast and Furious, undercover, infiltrate their gang, rise through the ranks and destroy their organization from the inside out type story that is very typical for racing games but it gives you objectives to complete and a main goal and honestly it’s just good to see a story being brought back into racing games as the Need for Speed series has been without one for a while now. The character voice acting is done pretty well as are the cut scenes which actually has people getting out of their cars. If you like the Fast and the Furious films you will probably be happy with the story here, at some points it did literally feel like the game was trying to replicate scenes from the movies (‘The Initiation’ mission intro springs to mind).
A big aspect of the Crew is its always online persistent world. Unfortunately in the Beta this feature was very buggy and I was always alone outside of a few times when a whole heap of players would appear around me only to disappear again seconds later. Obviously I don’t expect this to be the case in the final product but I was able to start a mission with one other user where we both had to try and ram an AI controlled car off the road. The process for getting other players involved is quick and easy and after the one user joined there was only a small break before we waited for 2 other players to join (unfortunately no one else was in the area at the time) before the mission started. Playing in co-op with a stranger was fun as we both tried to hit our target and I’m sure it would be a blast with friends especially if you get a tight four person crew going to complete the entire game with.
The other major marketing point that has been consistently mentioned is the size of the map and it does not disappoint. Spanning the entire United States and replicating all the most recognizable cities and landmarks the world is a joy to drive through and feels absolutely massive. The world is fully open with only the ocean acting as a barrier. You can plough through corn fields, trek up mountains, jump sand dunes and drive through forest, pretty much anywhere you can see you can drive to. There was only one section that seemed closed off by walls and that was unfortunately a roller coaster that I really wanted to get on. The world is also not lifeless, with AI traffic and ready-to-dodge pedestrians filling the streets and foxes and other animals scurrying away as you drive by them.
Another great addition is dynamic actions that occur during races. An example that comes to mind occurred during a race through a construction site, where trucks would pull out of sheds and cranes lower or raise shipping containers as you came around the corners. At one point a train was coming right toward me before I jumped out of it’s way on to the ground below. Gamers will be happy to know each car features a cockpit view among four other views so everyone should be happy with the camera options available. It is important to note the interior mirrors were just gray in the Beta but it’s a safe bet these will be fully functional come release. With the game looking so pretty it is a shame that no time has been put into developing a photo mode for the game for users to show off their cars or the environments, but perhaps this isn’t a necessary feature with all the sharing options on PC and next-gen consoles.
There are also hundreds (could be thousands) of challenges littered throughout the world testing your driving prowess with challenges ranging from basic tasks such as jumping your car off a ramp as far as possible to more intricate tasks like weaving around virtual slalom poles. Completing these challenges alongside the story missions help increase you user level and award you new parts for your car depending on the rank you receive. This system works well, rewarding drivers for their skill while also giving incentive to complete these tasks. As you increase your level and reach certain level milestones, you will start to notice significant performance improvements in your car which will help you complete certain story missions and also better your chances when racing against the community.
Perhaps the issue causing the most conflict between users on the forums are the controls and the way the cars handle. Personally I had no gripe with the controls (I was playing with a PlayStation DualShock 3 control) which I found to be responsive. Car control in a game is hard to describe but they did feel slightly more slippery then how cars handled in Burnout Paradise. This game is pure arcade racer no doubts about. The handling of each car will be affected significantly based on the stats of the parts that make the car up from tires to exhaust pipes, so even if you aren’t a fan of the initial setup of the car you are given, you can quickly start to modify and fine tune the handling and performance to your liking as you win events and unlock new parts. There are also plenty of handling settings in the options menu and users can opt to change the level of driving assistance they receive from all assistance to hardcore, where you will have to be a very skilled driver to not send your car into a spin. There is also the option to choose between automatic and manual transmission which should appease hardcore racing fans.
Another small issue is the physics which feel a bit ‘off’ for lack of a better word. It’s hard to describe to someone that hasn’t played the game but often crashes resolve in some unrealistic physics. One example involved me clipping the front of a heavy looking mini van and my car just span out while the mini van fully flipped over. Sometimes hitting loose objects such as tires and fences also sends them flying sky high into the air. It’s also annoying when your car just stops completely dead because you have clipped a small indent in a wall or a pole that is slightly sticking out. Again this is only the Beta and all the physics may be fine tuned before release, but they are serviceable for an arcade racer and generally you won’t have any serious issues with them.
One thing that is hard to dispute is that the graphics look amazing especially for a world of this scale that is full of so much variety in it. I was able to get Ultra graphics running smoothly with 60 FPS (the game was locked at 30 FPS but users quickly found an easy work around). The game is optimized very well and even very low end PC’s should be able to enjoy The Crew at the lower video settings. Car models look impressive and get damaged as you scrape walls and crash into other cars and get all muddy and dirty when you’re off the beaten path. Cities and environments are also well modeled and are a joy to cruise through. I was personally blown away by how great the deserted sand environment looked the first time I saw it.
Their isn’t much to say in terms of audio except the cars sound great as do all the other sound effects such as crashes, scrapes, landing off jumps, your car being put together etc. The soundtrack was limited for the Beta but the tracks that were included fit the game well. I couldn’t see any custom soundtrack feature for the PC which is a disappointment especially as it would be nice to road trip to my favorite songs without using an external program but on PC it isn’t really a deal breaker with the right set up and turning the music volume to zero.
I do have one major disappointment with this game and it’s in regards to the visual customization for cars. You have a decent selection of hoods, side skirts, front bumpers etc. for your car’s form to look unique. There are a great range of paint options from standard to pearlescent and you also have stickers which you can place on your car. This is where I’m afraid many gamers have been spoiled from offerings such as Midnight Club: LA and the old Need for Speed games where decal customisation options were plentiful. In The Crew you can’t select which part of your car the sticker will be placed, nor can you change its rotation, orientation, position or even its colour. There are also no layers so you are limited to one sticker on your vehicle. In a game that features spec customisation so heavily and where your vehicle is constantly on display to the word, it is a shame you don’t have the tools we have seen included in past racers to really make your car stand out from the crowd. All that considered, there are a decent selection of stickers to choose from so you probably won’t run into a car that looks just like yours anytime soon (my pearlescent pink paint job with silver flames 370Z still looked pretty slick and I definitely didn’t see anything like it), but it is hard to see who this middle ground of customisation appeals to as people that don’t care probably won’t use it and people that want customisation will most likely be left wanting more.
The best way I can describe The Crew is ‘a great mix of the best features from arcade racers gone by with some new elements’. There are some features the game is lacking at the moment, with the most obvious being the level of decal customisation but this may not be an issue for some. If you are a fan of similar open world racers then a lot of the game’s parts will seem familiar to you but that is by no means a negative as The Crew builds upon these successful building blocks and also brings some new elements to the table in the form of a mission based story, huge explorable map and persistent online connectivity. With Need for Speed taking a break this year and many other racers like Forza, Driveclub and Project Cars taking a more serious approach, The Crew is looking to be the arcade next gen open world racer to own come November 11, especially if they can find the time to incorporate some of the most requested features appearing on the Beta forum. Check back around the time The Crew releases for our full review and if you’re interested in another team members impressions from an earlier demo build of the game, check out his preview article.