Ubisoft haven’t had the best 2014, sure they’ve released some great titles but some of them have been marred by game breaking bugs or poor connectivity in multiplayer. Now the dust has settled, how does Ubisoft’s MMO racer place on the starting grid and can it get a podium finish? Set in a fictional compressed version of Continental United States, the cities and countryside environments retain their identity but are not too large that you will have to spend hours driving from East to West/North to South.
Need for Speed used to release a yearly title with a storyline that would be right at home in a Fast and Furious film, now The Crew has taken on this mantle. You play as Alex Taylor, voiced by Troy Baker who voiced Pagan Min in Ubisoft’s open world shooter Far Cry 4. You are the brother of a car gangster who is killed by a rival gang member, the police arrive with you at the scene and put two and two together with the help of a crooked FBI agent leaving you in the frame. Five years later and the FBI come crawling to your cell to ask for your help to infiltrate your Brother’s old gang (The 5-10) and bring down the FBI agent that framed you – the story certainly won’t win any awards for originality!
Ivory Tower are behind the wheel of The Crew so it’s no surprise that the developer brings with it influences from their past, which include Need for Speed and Test Drive Unlimited. It’s also no surprise then that the gameplay is firmly rooted in an arcade style of racing, it worked for Need for Speed so why not the Crew? Well, you need to get the AI right and unfortunately for The Crew the AI is its biggest problem. It swings from ruthless to stupid in a matter of seconds – escaping from thugs and police can be more luck than being a skilful driver and races are also strangely paced – at times you can be out in front but never gain much distance from the pack while other times you’ll crash and the other cars will slow down allowing you to catch up.
It makes the racing feel artificial and lack that ‘edge of your seat’ action. One mission in particular was especially annoying – no matter how hard I raced I was always overtaken at the same point. Not only was this frustrating but it also made the race feel terribly scripted and almost ruined the previous 12 hours I had played.
You can tweak a variety of settings to help improve the way your car handles, both in the game settings and by upgrading as you level up your character and your car – your car is effectively a separate ‘character’ that can be leveled up with parts won from events and challenges. Unfortunately the ‘parts’ have a minimal effect on your attributes and are really only necessary to increase your level so that you can take part in certain missions. Each rank that your character gains will reward you with a point to invest in perks that help with driving, exploration and purchasing power – you gain a different set of perks from each of the crew members that you meet throughout the campaign.
It’s quite a novel idea to give an RPG-like XP system to both character and car but it does raise the question as to why you’d need to invest money into new vehicles when they are just atheistic! It’s a good job too because some vehicles are so highly priced that you’ll need to grind away for hours to make enough money or succumb to the dreaded micro-transactions to buy that ride you simply must have.
For me, the main technical brilliance of The Crew is the location it’s set in – save for the first loading screen the game streams in seamlessly and there’s plenty to see and do from exploring vast landscapes, hunting down hidden parts of a kit car to visiting hundreds of well-know landmarks or tackling one of the 573 skill challenges – you will certainly be kept busy for many hours to come, that is if you can stomach the arcade racing. The size of the world does mean that graphics are somewhat sacrificed – you can’t expect Forza graphics when the game is rendering the entirety of the Continental United States!
Another stand out feature for me was the cockpit view. Apart from the rearview mirrors not rendering any reflections, it felt really natural. Instead of opting for a static viewpoint, your view moves naturally when you turn tight corners similar to Forza’s Kinect head tracking. It works really well and you will almost forget you are playing a rigid arcade racer, well until you crash into another vehicle. Crashing has that perfect arcade feel – you bounce right off other cars, or even go through them, unless of course you are travelling too fast or hit something far bigger than you, that rewards you with a Burnout inspired slow motion crash sequence!
The Crew is a real mixed bag – the play area of the game is really impressive and there’s plenty to keep you occupied but the AI and somewhat iffy arcade controls can really ruin the game experience at times. The campaign is a clever balance of story missions and skill challenges – you need to complete skill challenges in order to upgrade your car so that you can compete in the story missions. You can bypass this by playing a co-op game – if one of your ‘crew’ comes first then you will pass that mission. This in itself is a challenge though; despite The Crew being advertised as an MMO there were never more than a small handful of players available in my session and often none of them seemed bothered about joining my game.
Thankfully the game can be completed purely in single player although because it’s an MMO you do need to have an Internet connection. Aside from Co-op there’s also PVP events and you can form your own crew with your friends or random players in your session. The main MMO element is the persistent ‘war’ between the 5-10 factions – you align yourself with one of them and at the end of each month the faction with the highest reputation points will receive bonus missions for its members that have special rewards.
The Crew lacks that intense racing spirit that Forza Horizon 2 created, instead it’s more like a leisurely Sunday drive, which is certainly no bad thing for when you just want to kick back and relax. It’s best to remember that at its heart The Crew is an arcade racer and shouldn’t be treated with any preconceptions you might have from playing other racing titles. While the MMO elements are rather dubious and the micro-transactions are just plain greedy, I had a great time racing my way across the United States visiting familiar landmarks and experiencing the open road, maybe next time The Crew will take a transatlantic road trip to Europe – I just hope it leaves its dodgy AI behind!
We bought our own copy of the game to bring you this review
[rprogress value=75 text=”ThisisXbox Score 75%”]
[xyz-ihs snippet=”XboxOne”][xyz-ihs snippet=”Pegi12″]