Developer: Ivory Tower, Ubisoft Reflections
Release Date: December 2, 2014
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Reviewed Platform: Xbox One (Review copy provided by publisher)
When Ubisoft gave gamers their first full look at The Crew during E3, the response was almost universally positive — if not cautiously optimistic. The visuals were gorgeous, the cars looked amazing, and the concept — an open-world racing game where you can drive coast to coast without stopping — was fresh and intriguing. Racing fans were excited about the possibilities of a new title with inventive mechanics, and regular gamers were interested in the unique premise and the next-gen-sounding ideas. Unfortunately, The Crew failed to deliver almost all of those things.
The last driving game I was remotely interested in was Burnout — mainly because it was less about racing and more about smashing. When I saw The Crew tech demo and played the beta I was intrigued; but not only did it not feel as repetitive and stale as most racing games do to me, it also presented an open-world feel with a Fast and the Furious vibe as opposed to just driving laps. I joined the ranks of the cautiously optimistic and took The Crew for a test drive on my Xbox One when it was released, eager to see something new and fresh.
Sadly, everything about The Crew that was new and fresh was overshadowed by things far more familiar: uneven AI, vehicle handling issues, middling mission designs, and some questionable textures. Don’t misunderstand me: the graphics in this game are gorgeous and speeding through the cities can feel quite real and invigorating. However, if you’re not speeding you’ll notice a lot of the textures in the major cities are muddy at best. Despite that it’s still a very pretty experience to drive through the United States’ more shiny cities (Vegas, for example) and watch as the lights blur past you. Just try not to let your foot off the gas.
The AI in The Crew is difficult to understand. At first, it’s wickedly hard and almost unfair — during a timed chase, your masterfully skilled opponent (who has been avoiding you with unparalleled skill for 75% of the mission) will seem to have a stroke at the last second, enabling you to ram them just when you were starting to doubt your ability to do so. The law enforcement that chases you will nearly always lose the game of chicken, deciding instead to just call off the hunt and go home, for no reason whatsoever. None of these things actually make the game feel totally broken, but they definitely take away from the immersive experience.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the vehicle handling was improved between the beta and release. During the beta, the forums were rife with complaints about vehicles not handling like they should, and people were annoyed at the slippery nature of the controls and the cars. It was definitely improved — enough for me to notice, and I wouldn’t call myself a car aficionado — and some of the more frustrating slips and slides didn’t make a reappearance for me. As you progress through the game, you’re able to find and collect more parts to upgrade your car of choice, improving the handling even more, thankfully continuing to make one of my primary concerns a non-issue. What fun would this giant world be to explore If the cars you use to explore it are flying off the roads at every turn?
The Crew mixes its single player mode and multiplayer facets seamlessly — you never leave the open world. The single player story is a long, plodding affair about dirty cops, vengeance, and Crew politics. It really does feel like a Fast and the Furious movie, only longer and with more filler — which would be very unpleasant on the big screen. I myself found more enjoyment out of this by simply cruising. I explored every landmark I could think of, just driving around and checking outside missions as I came by them. I ended up enjoying my time in the game much more when I wasn’t concentrating on a specific task, which doesn’t strike me as a good thing.
The main aspect of The Crew I expected to enjoy but just ended up finding exasperating was the leveling system. Your car has an insane amount of levels, and your driver has separate levels. That was frustrating, but I went with it until I found out that every component in your car also has levels in addition to levels of quality (bronze, silver, gold), and then everything was just overwhelming. Every time I began to get a handle on which parts I had, which I wanted to use, and what I was leveling up, I would unlock a new garage and all my parts would be obsolete compared to what it offered me. It was a perplexing design decision and ended up frustrating me more than anything.
More frustrating was the decision to include microtransactions in the form of premium cars and parts for purchase with Crew Credits. I wouldn’t be quite so bothered if these were available at a couple of dollars a piece, but there’s a “Platinum Crew Credit Pack” on the Xbox store available for $50 that gives you 600,000 Crew Credits in the game. That’s nearly the cost of the game itself, and unless you’re a major racing or car fan, I can’t see any reasonable person going after this.
Despite my negative tone, I didn’t totally hate all my time with The Crew. I suppose the word for my feelings would be disappointed — I was disappointed I didn’t enjoy it more, disappointed when I found bad textures, disappointed whenever the AI was out to lunch, and disappointed that the leveling system wasn’t more friendly towards someone who didn’t want to spend a couple hundred hours on the game. If you’re a racing fan or a huge fan of cars in general, I suspect there’s a good deal here for you to find and enjoy. If you’re like me and on the fence about them, The Crew will definitely not do anything to change your mind.
What did you think? Enjoy The Crew a lot more than I did? A lot less? Let me know in the comments! Keep up with us on Twitter at @APGNation for more gaming news and reviews.