Developer: Ivory Tower
Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here / $99.95 AUD – Available Here (Also on PSN, Xbox Live and uPlay)
The Crew was first announced at E3 in 2012 and after multiple delays finally saw it’s release on next gen platforms and PC (as well as a very quiet launch on the Xbox 360). Promising intense driving action, lots of social interaction in an ever-connected online world and one of the biggest maps ever seen in a video game, how does The Crew rate after the multiple public Beta’s that were held for the game? Read on to find out.
Yes, The Crew has a story. While it definitely won’t win any awards for originality or acting, the tale told here is decent and helps give motivation to the player to complete story missions, provide a non-intrusive tutorial and give context to different race types.
Basically your brother who runs the 510 motor gang is shot and you are framed for the murder. 5 years later you’re on a good behavior bond as long as you help the FBI infiltrate the gang and rise to the top. The whole race to the top thing has been done to death in racing games but some interesting sub plots do arrive as you work your way through the missions and new characters are added to the story regularly all who have their own agenda and help keep the story fresh. The small CGI cutscenes look great and help you get inside the story as opposed to just having heads pop up while your driving explaining the situation. It’s always nice to see characters out of their cars in racing games.
A lot of people have criticised the core driving mechanics of The Crew however once you play with the control options a little it isn’t hard to find the driving settings that will suit you best. I instantly changed the dead zone to zero and steering sensitivity up to 75% and it really helped me get a better feel for how the cars control. Driving feels responsive and most importantly is fun, more so when you reach higher levels and have a car that can go much faster. If you don’t like the driving at first I highly recommend you stick with it, it really opens up as you progress into the game. This is an arcade racer and as such you are not punished as much for your driving errors and hitting skinny trees or poles will normally allow you to continue at full speed.
However there are times when the physics implemented in the game come into question. One time I slightly hit a wall at relatively low speed and my car was flipped into the air. Other times small bumps in the road will make the front of my car launch nearly straight up, drastically lowering my speed. This was annoying mostly towards the start of the game but again I urge you keep playing as the physics become less of an issue as you upgrade your ride and won’t be dealing with them at slow speeds anymore.
Those that love exploration and collecting will instantly love what The Crew has on offer. The massive map is absolutely littered with things to do. Missions, skills, data stations, hidden car parts, landmarks and over 500 micro challenges provide one of the most busiest and overwhelming experiences I have ever seen and those who like to 100% their games are going to be playing this one for a long time. Even after my 20 hours or so spent with the game this collecting never felt tedious and remained fun as there is great variety and pacing among these collectibles and missions and the constant rewards keep up your motivation to complete them. Fast travel is a welcome addition to this game, allowing you to get anywhere on the map you have already been quickly and there is also a transport network that allows you to visit major cities quickly without having to drive there.
Skills are a particular highlight of The Crew and really spice up long road trips. There is a mix of 8 different skill types here including jump distance, hill climbing, target smashing, precision driving, slalom, driving on a race line, escaping from a radius and lastly driving as far as possible while keeping your whole care on the road. These are all fun but the jump distance challenges are definitely my favourite. The only downside to these is that they have a somewhat random element to them, with other players and traffic sometimes being right in the way of a gate you need to pass through or a pole you need to swerve around, meaning you will just have to retry that skill and hope that car isn’t their next time. Luckily retrying is a quick process.
The progression pacing in The Crew is also done well, thanks in part to the RPG elements of the game. Cars are more like your party in this game, with each spec (street, dirt, performance, raid and circuit) making up your party members that are all used for different missions and excel in certain areas. You earn parts for these cars which are pretty much your item equips that boost your stats. As you perform well in missions, you level up, boosting your own level as well as the level of each car you own and these levels lead to noticeable differences in top speed, acceleration, handling and braking. You earn perk points as you level up which you can use to increase your cars attributes, provide a driving line during races, receive a discount on new cars and parts and more. It’s a fun and rewarding system and my only complaint is that you can not share parts you earn with one car with your other cars, meaning you have to level up and earn/buy parts for each car separately.
The core gameplay of The Crew is very strong and well polished however there are a lot of issues weighing that experience down. A really big letdown for me was how void of people the map was. Ubisoft played up the social aspect of The Crew big time, showing people all around you in trailers and promo material. That is simply not the case in the full game and you will be lucky to have two or three people located around you at any on time with the most I ever saw at once being five. I estimate I was alone on the map for at least 60% of the time. Either there are server or connection issues (which I am led to believe as sometimes four or five people would be around with me and then instantly vanish) or I am just playing at the worst times and never have anyone in my area, but either way it is not acceptable considering how strong a social aspect is pushed onto you. This makes a lot of missions designed around co-op become much harder and you also lose access to all the co-op bonuses. Unless you’re going in with three dedicated friends, prepare to be alone a lot.
This lack of connectivity causes another issue. PvP and factions which are a big part of post game are very quiet early on in the games life. I waited 10 minutes to get into a six player free for all race on the day after The Crew launched. These kind of wait times are unacceptable and will turn a lot of people off these gameplay modes instantly. The only reason this isn’t more of an issue is that you are free to do anything else in the game while you wait for people to play with thanks to the free drive menu system, but if you are looking to do lots of online missions back to back prepare to spend most of your time waiting.
Another big negative here is the A.I and the issue is prevalent both in standard races and in cop chases, with the issue being much worse for the latter. There behavior is flat our unrealistic, making use of the frowned upon rubber banding technique to always keep an A.I. car close to you. In nearly every chase I have been in I have gotten out of the cops radius, only to be pursued at a speed of what I can only assume is twice the top speed of that police cruiser. Another issue is how ‘bulky’ the cop cars are. Your car gets flung around like a pinball between multiple cop cars however it seems you only have about half the knock back power they do and it makes taking out cars more of a chore than a fun rampage of destruction. On a positive note about chases, the cops are smart for the most part, trying to box you in and trap you and they are very good at following your route, meaning you will have to drive very well to lose them. Before you are in a pursuit though they are blind as a bat even if they are ‘on watch’, not even blinking an eyelash if you pass them at 250 km/h.
The plague of micro transactions unfortunately rears it’s ugly head in The Crew in the form of Crew Credits which are an alternate currency to Bucks which you earn (albeit very slowly) from completing missions, finding landmarks etc. In there lies the problem, money is doled out to you very slowly and cars and customisation options are expensive. Very expensive. After playing through the story for about 3 hours I had accrued about $60,000. A stock Lamborghini cost over $500,000 and there are cars more expensive still. Visual customisation is the biggest offender of being overpriced, with some decals costing over $45,000 and the best paint jobs costing $20,000. If you want to unlock the best stuff, be prepared to grind or shell out for Crew Credits, the value of which doesn’t seem great.
The graphics presented in The Crew are great considering the size of the world but won’t win any awards for best graphics ever seen. Cars are detailed and well modeled and the way they are effected by the environment is terrific, from the glow of sunset reflecting off the paint to the dirt and mud that flings up onto your bumper when you go off-road. Car damage is done well with dints, scratches and even body parts falling off at times, making you wish you were a bit more careful with your ride. One big issue for players that like to drive in the cockpit view is that the mirrors do not work at all, they are simply grey. This really isn’t acceptable for a big budget game release like this and is a really questionable choice, especially as the external mirrors work in other camera views.
The huge world is detailed and full of life with pedestrians, traffic and animals roaming the environment. The great variety in the map from cliff sides to swamps and forests to cities makes for a stunning world to explore, even if the representation of the U.S.A has been modified to make it more fun. The lighting is great and varied, from dark cloudy days to bright sunsets and visiting popular attractions at any time of day is a highlight. Trees don’t always look the best and buildings sometimes look too simple, however you probably won’t notice these small issues as you speed through these areas. Unfortunately there is no dynamic weather which would have added a new level of depth to the map, however the world created here is truly the star of the crew and it shines bright. It makes you pine for a photo mode which is another questionable exclusion.
I also have high praise for the user interface here which is very clean and informative but somehow manages to avoid cluttering up the map. Checkpoints in races are easy to spot, meaning you don’t have to look down at your mini map so often and the blue wavy line that leads you to your way point is greatly appreciated. The mini map can be made larger or smaller at the press of a button which was a handy feature if there were a lot of features on the map at once or I wanted a greater view of my immediate area.
In a big blow for the game, the customisation of your vehicle is unfortunately, rather limited here. Not every car has every type of spec (some only have one other options) and some cars have very limited options for parts such as hoods and rear bumpers, with most only having an alternative carbon option. Only paints and rims have a notable selection to pick from and even then you can’t change details like rim size and colour, with the worst criminal in terms of lack of options being the decals. You literally pick a pre-made decal and that’s it. No scaling, rotating, layering, modifying colour or anything like that, and some of them aren’t available on certain cars either. It’s very disappointing, especially as this is a social game where players want to stand out. Even the ability to customise the text on your number plate would have been appreciated. Another problem with how you appear in game is that you can not change your avatar on the PC version, meaning you are stuck with your horribly pixelated uPlay account avatar picture, a horrible thing to force on players as the avatars do not fit the game at all and look ugly.
In terms of performance, my one year old high end PC ran the game with very little hiccups. There was an occasional stutter here and there or a few framerate drops at high speeds in highly populated areas, but for the most part the game has been optimized very well for the PC platform. The map zooms out really nicely from your current position and can be opened or closed within a second. It definitely feels seamless and is great considering you will be checking the map often to see what’s around you or where your next mission lies. There are also no loading screens after the initial short loading period which is an impressive feat.
I did have a few glitches, one that left me stranded in a mission intro and forced me to quit the game (and a similar one where I got stuck in a menu at a car tuner) and one mission where I could go right through cop cars as if they were ghost. The glitches where I got stuck were definitely annoying buy luckily the game saves often so I didn’t lose anything important. There is also an issue where the game is not recording locations and collectibles I have found and resetting their stat every time, but this is being fixed in an upcoming patch. Still though with all the betas and supposed testing you would think issues like this would have all been caught and I was dissapointed to see them here.
The Crew’s audio is like most other racing games. I’m not a big ‘car guy’ but cars sound as they should with all the nuances of gear shifting and revving, pedestrians yell at you as you cross their path and all the environmental sounds such as crashes and scrapes are believable realistic. There are two small but irritating issues with sound I have to point out here though. The first is the police escape countdown sound, which sounds like a dog barking as opposed to a clock ticking down and I thought it was a glitch of a recurring sound at first. Secondly, is the sound of tires screeching, which became a lot less of an issue as my cars leveled up. However while they are still early level, be prepared to hear the awful screeching of tires for every turn and as your car takes off. I’ll quickly mention the voice actors here who all do a good job at portraying their roles, even if some of the dialogue is questionable.
The soundtrack is a big disappointment despite it’s 100+ song list. The budget obviously wasn’t placed into song selection here and you will be lucky to know a handful of artists on the games soundtrack. There are probably two or three songs that I can actually recall liking and it wasn’t long before I had turned the music volume down to zero and just played my own music in the background. As you will be driving a lot it would have been great to have some catchy and fitting songs to cruise to but that is not the case here. Radio stations have no talking in between songs and are basically just genre playlists. Still on music, the score that accompanies story missions is fantastic for the most part, doing it’s job to build tension during action scenes however it is horribly misused. Sometimes you will just be escorting someone to a new location and the music still has this tense, epic tone to it which doesn’t fit at all.
For every great feature about The Crew I can’t help but bring up a negative or question the exclusion of a feature that could have made the game one of the best open world racers ever made. The fun missions and progression is brought down by the money economy issues. The excellent core driving experience is brought down by the poor A.I and lack of car customisation. The potential of the fantastic world map and it’s great presentation are not fully realised thanks to the exclusion of a photo mode and a poor soundtrack. Then there are the bugs and the big issue of finding other players, which was advertised as being easily done but in reality I was forced to play most of the game alone.
The Crew is no doubt a strong, fun game with tons of content underneath all its issues and exclusions and I will continue to have fun with it as I have had during the process of this review. However there are simply too many problems present here and you will be left wondering just how great this game could have been with a little more work under the hood.
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