Since the dawn of the new generation of consoles, there has been a heavy focus on both racing and online-integrated games, so it makes sense that someone would try to bring those two together at some point. Following recent releases like Forza Horizon 2 and Driveclub, The Crew looks to do just that while setting itself apart from other games in the genre. Coming from Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections, The Crew has the potential to be a winner, but ends up running out of gas before the finish line.
At the start of the game players will get to choose from a few different cars, with the ability to purchase more cars later. However, the price of cars in the game is so steep that the player will likely be keeping their initial one for quite a long time. The good news is that unlike most racing games where stats are only determined by the specific car itself, there are ways to improve upon each vehicle found in The Crew. By completing missions, skill challenges, and other things, players have the opportunity to collect brand new parts for his or her car. Rather than having to travel to a garage to upgrade each time, the cars can be upgraded instantaneously, which is a fantastic design choice to streamline the process for players.
As the player continues through the campaign, different tuning specs will be unlocked, such as Street, Dirt, and Raid. Altering these will affect not only the look of the car, but also allows players to better participate in certain types of races and missions. After unlocking a few, the mobile garage will be unlocked through the cell phone, which allows one to switch between each of these at almost any time, without having to actually visit a garage.
The Crew certainly is one of the most ambitious projects in recent years, by not only providing a very in-depth upgrade system, but also a map that spans one of the largest terrain ever in the genre. Of course the entire country is not playable to scale, not even close actually, but they still aimed to offer as authentic an experience as possible. The locations the player will visit on the map are well designed, each feeling somewhat representative of the regions in which they are located.
The biggest problem here is that the distorted map is quite strange and takes some getting used to while playing. For example, getting from Detroit to St. Louis will only be 15 miles while Chicago to New York is only 24 miles. Obviously, there is no way that players would want to travel the realistic distance between these, but it almost feels as if the developer should have stuck with a smaller location range for the first outing. This would have allowed for a little more precision and detail in each area. Driving just south of New York City and hitting what is known as the Washington Suburbs feels awkward and takes the player out of the game easily.
While obviously not to scale, the distances between areas in the game are still pretty large. As a result, the developers implemented a few options for fast travel in the game, which is something that was much needed. Certain locations and missions can be directly picked on the map and traveled to automatically, with some missions even playable without any traveling at all. This is used more within the same city though, so for larger travel distances, airplane or train transportation hubs are located around each city. Without these in the game, the driving between cities would have been very tedious and aggravating, so it was a great design choice.
With the in-depth upgrade system and giant map to traverse, one would assume that the driving physics themselves would also be excellent. Disappointingly, this is not the case as the mechanics have a number of problems that the player will come across. The driving style itself is somewhat of a hybrid between simulation and arcade, edging a little more toward the former. This hybrid provides handling that is overall easier than games like Forza and Driveclub, but it means the level of realism takes a back seat as a result.
While the overall control of the vehicle is relatively easy to handle, the car physics and inconsistent reactions can really cause a lot of problems. Regardless of the speed, there are times where the player will ram into another vehicle or obstacle and instantly crash, forcing a respawn. Then in the exact same situations, there are many times where the player will just bounce off of the obstacle and keep going. Most of the time there is no rhyme or reason for this and it makes judging how to use the surroundings to one’s advantage almost impossible.
There was even a moment in the game where horses ran across a road during a race, strangely the car literally went through a few of them as if they were ghosts. If the developers are going to implement animals that can get in the way, there should actually be a reaction, rather than acting as if they were not even there. This may seem minimal, but really exemplifies the overall unpolished nature of the game.
While the game might be held back by being overly ambitiousness, The Crew offers a respectable campaign for players to enjoy. The extremely popular Troy Baker takes the lead throughout the solid story, in which the main character is framed for murder and teams up with the FBI to clear his name. This takes him all across the country through a variety of races, take down missions, escape missions, and skills challenges.
The driving style itself is somewhat of a hybrid between simulation and arcade
While the game provides a lengthy campaign, the game’s unforgiving AI makes most of it beyond frustrating to play through. Even on the lowest difficulty missions, one mistake can easily force the player to restart, as the AI plays at a top tier level almost every time. However, nothing can get more infuriating than the take down or escape missions. The target in the take down missions drives to near perfection, dodging obstacles and even the player most of the time. The escape missions may be even worse, as the punishing AI requires more trial and error than actual skill to win.
Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections aimed to do what Destiny did for the FPS genre, by modifying a usually offline type campaign, though it is still possible to be played without the help of others at all. While driving around, one will see a variety of other random players can be invited into his or her crew. If not one for permanent partnering, a player can just invite others to help co-op a specific mission in the game. However, this does not work well most of the time, as the game more often than not will say no players can be found. Even worse are the PvP missions, which can take upwards of 10 minutes just to find one single match of eight players.
This level of online integration can be a major problem beyond just not finding players, as the game is literally unplayable without an online connection. PS Plus or Xbox Live are not needed to play the basic single player campaign, but for the most advanced PvP gameplay, a subscription to the respective service is required. However, if the internet goes down for any period of time, players will have to abandon The Crew completely to find something else to play.
This is incredibly troubling in a time where hackers have been hitting both PSN and Xbox Live on a regular basis, along with the problems associated with uPlay itself. The worst example of the latter is that the in-game challenges have been unavailable at all times, once again leaving the player at the mercy of Ubisoft’s servers.
While offering one of the largest explorable maps in a racing game and an excellent upgrade system, The Crew sadly never manages to be anything more than mediocre. The reliance on online often makes the game unplayable, whether it is on the Ubisoft or console side, which is not good for something that really should be playable offline. From incredibly frustrating and punishing missions to overly perfect and maddening AI, this game pales in comparison to other offerings like Forza Horizon 2 on the market. Aiming to take the racing genre to an entirely different level, Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections have suffered a flat tire in their first outing together with The Crew.
- This article was updated on December 17th, 2014