The Crew is the spiritual successor to Test Drive Unlimited 2, one of the most underrated racing games of the last generation. It’s a gargantuan open world playground, jampacked with more events and activities than any racer to date. Ubisoft promises a new social landscape that seamlessly connects racers across the globe. Racing MMOs aren’t a particularly new concept, but The Crew’s vast American landscape combined with solo, cooperative and pvp races is a big step above the likes of Need for Speed: World or Motor City Online.
As far as social interactivity goes, The Crew doesn’t quite live up to its premise. The idea of forming a crew and dominating the racing landscape with your buddies is sound, but the end result is a somewhat reclusive experience. However, much like the Test Drive Unlimited series, the joy lies in exploration and discovery. There may be plenty of technical shortcomings holding The Crew back from perfection, but its alluring world is impossible to leave behind. For anyone who’s enjoyed the recent Forza Horizon 2, Need For Speed: Rivals or even Rockstar’s Midnight Club series, The Crew is a strong addition to the sandbox racing genre.
"For anyone who’s enjoyed the recent Forza Horizon 2, Need For Speed: Rivals or even Rockstar’s Midnight Club series, The Crew is a strong addition to the sandbox racing genre."
Ubisoft’s biggest mistake is the inclusion of a narrative. It’s awful. How many cliche revenge stories can they possibly throw at us? Even the talented Troy Baker can’t save this excuse for a storyline. The dialogue is juvenile at best. It makes The Fast and the Furious seem like a Shakespearean play. Fortunately, the plot is nothing more than background noise and only rears its ugly head during brief cutscenes while playing through story-missions. I never thought I’d say this, but Forza Horizon’s “racing event” premise would have worked much better here.
Embarrassing storytelling aside, The Crew is an incredibly ambitious title. The sheer scope of the map is mind boggling and it can take days, if not weeks, to uncover everything. The story missions guide players across the map regularly, but it still takes time and effort to discover all areas in between. In terms of progression, The Crew is less of a racing game and more of a traditional RPG. The car serves as the player’s avatar, and while there are multiple vehicles to buy throughout the game, the progression system encourages sticking to one or two rides and continually upgrading them with each race and mini-game.
"The sheer scope of the map is mind boggling and it can take days, if not weeks, to uncover everything."
The mini-games are scattered all over the map, and include challenges in precision, slalom, long jumps and more. Winning bronze, silver and gold medals unlocks parts of varying performance. These parts can’t be purchased at a car dealer, although they can be acquired with real world money. This may encourage some players to just buy all premium upgrades as soon as their car meets the level requirement, but unlocking them through winning the tough trophies is far more rewarding (and doesn’t cost anything).
The Crew’s car classes are broken into five specs: Street, Dirt, Perf, Raid and Circuit. They are switchable on the fly via the game’s handy mobile-phone feature, and each spec handles differently and emphasizes a particular racing style. Story missions can be played either solo or cooperatively. The AI in these missions is ruthless, with some occasionally unfair rubberbanding that leads to frustrating trial and error scenarios. Events where players need to take down AI drivers or escape the police are particularly unforgiving. Anyone who remembers the last Midnight Club game knows what to expect. Despite the AI’s unfair speed and godly precision, the computer controlled racers follow a very specific pattern, and it doesn’t take long before the enemy’s vulnerable choke points are discovered. Having a buddy during these events can be particularly helpful and makes races notably less frustrating.
"The AI in these missions is ruthless, with some occasionally unfair rubberbanding that leads to frustrating trial and error scenarios."
PvP events can be found in each area of the United States, and each lobby provides dozens of tracks with varying disciplines. Connecting to fellow racers can sometimes take too long due to server problems, but things have improved dramatically since launch. We only had two major disconnects, but it took only seconds to get back into the action. PvP races can be tough on newcomers who haven’t acquired enough high-end upgrades, so it’s best to play through as many mini-games as possible before facing high-ranking racers.
As players gain new levels, they can join one of the five factions: The Wolves, The Eagles, The Snakes, The Crocodiles and The Bears. Joining factions introduces new rewards and activities, like the endurance races (some of which can take over 4hrs to complete). Unfortunately, faction missions scale to the player with the highest stats, making it hard to find a balanced event. This makes the whole “social” aspect seem pointless. Furthermore, there aren’t other social activities outside of PvP lobbies and story-missions races. Sure, you can take a road trip with your buddies, but it would have been nice to initiate a road trip with new players by mapping out a route on the map. As a result, The Crew feels like a single player game disguised as an MMO.
The handling in The Crew is reminiscent of Need for Speed and Midnight Club. Cars handle loosely early on, but each upgrades delivers a substantial performance boost. Once players reach level 8-10 (which is reachable in under an hour), the handling becomes tighter and smoother. This is where The Crew’s RPG foundation really comes into place. Gaining new parts feels like upgrading a character in a traditional RPG. Gamers expecting advanced tweaking options may be disappointed, but the more streamlined approach works in the game’s favor. There's less time spent tinkering, and more time spent racing and exploring.
"Yet despite all its problems, The Crew is a blast to play and difficult to put down."
Visually, The Crew doesn’t impress right away. Background elements like buildings and trees are simplistic, and other traffic vehicles look very archaic. On the other hand, the size and variety of The Crew’s world is unparalleled. Traveling across the entire United States can take hours, and each state feels aesthetically identical of their real life counterparts. When the sun sets and covers the Nevada desert in an orange glow, The Crew can look breathtaking. Car models are meticulously rendered, although the anti-aliasing exhibits an odd shimmering effect with certain background elements. The environmental diversity is masterful and a remarkable achievement.
The Crew isn’t perfect. It’s not the social experience Ubisoft initially presented, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The AI can be unfair, the progression system isn’t typical of most racing games, and the unbalanced matchmaking makes for some frustrating PvP events. Yet despite all its problems, The Crew is a blast to play and difficult to put down. It’s undoubtedly going to frustrate serious racing fans, but gamers who enjoyed Test Drive Unlimited 2 are going to love The Crew. Let’s just hope Ubisoft can iron out the rough edges with some future updates. With a little more polish, The Crew has the potential to be the definitive online racer. It’s just not quite there yet.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4