If you are a fan of the Test Drive Unlimited series of games, I actually think you will really enjoy The Crew. I have played 40+ hours and I still have to cover more than half the scaled down version of the USA. This is one big game. I would have to say that as a collaboration, Ivory Tower and Ubisoft have down a good, if flawed job of The Crew. I actually do think there is room for The Crew in amongst all the other driving games out there. Sure, Forza Horizon 2 and Drive Club look nicer but for scope and exploration potential, they simply can’t compare.
To give you a frame of reference, I set a waypoint from New York to Los Angeles and the most direct route was still over 150 kilometres. Take into account that you can go as far south as Miami on the east coast and as far north as Seattle on the west coast, and it gives you some idea of the size of this world. The world is extremely varied too. Snow covered peaks in the northern mountain states, to the lush swamps of Florida. There are interesting re-creations of various landmarks through USA that you can visit. You really can drive pretty much anywhere you like.
The traffic AI is pretty reasonable and don’t get in the way too much. There is plenty of it in the cities. Police are also present. When you have a mission, trying to escape from the police that can be quite a challenge in itself. They seem to have an unfair advantage as you could be trying to get away in a Ferrari 458 but a standard cop car can somehow keep up with you. It seems a little brutal and unfair at times, but with some persistence you can still make it away.
The storyline is pretty lame, about on the same scale as a Fast and Furious movie. You play Alex, a brother of one of the “510” crew members. Things turn south, and you are framed for murder and locked up. Queue five years later and the FBI come knocking, asking if you can try and infiltrate the “510” gang, which has become a huge trafficker of guns, drugs and money from the east to the west coast of USA. This is the story that leads you through 65 missions to try and work your way up to the head of the gang and take him out. One of the annoyances for me was that some of the missions were composed of multiple parts (usually boss type missions that had 2 or 3 parts to them). If you got to the end of the first part but didn’t have time to try the rest when you come back you’ll have to do the whole mission over again.
I prefer the festival feel of Forza Horizon 2 or even the very loose open world feel of Test Drive Unlimited. Thankfully, you have plenty of other things to do apart from following the main story, although sound bytes and little animations pop in on your HUD from time to time that get annoying. The difficulty level seems to be off at times too. I consider myself to be a reasonable racer, and I really struggled on some of the missions. I would suggest not going on the game’s recommended car level and actually go 50-100 performance points higher. Even then the occasional mission can be really difficult. Considering how many pre-launch betas Ivory Tower had for The Crew, I am surprised some of these missions got through at their current difficulty level. Having said that, if you are used to Test Drive Unlimited you’ll know what to expect. The Crew hails back to the challenging arcade racer because it has no rewind feature found in some other racing games.
What does make it easier is the ability to play any mission or challenge (you have a variety of challenges strewn throughout the map that will help you get upgrade parts for your cars) in co-op mode. You can have up to three other people join any mission (including the main story missions) to try and help you get through it. This is fantastic, but it does lend itself to one of the negatives of The Crew, having to be always online. There is no single player mode for this game. With recent DDOS attacks targeting Xbox Live, forget playing The Crew. Due to the always online nature of this game I find it hard occasionally to get into the game. It usually brings up the same error code and I have opened up all the necessary ports. Having said that, once I get into the game (on my second or third go) it is very stable, and I haven’t had any drop outs.
There are 50 cars, approximately. What you can do with a lot of the cars though is upgrade it to a different specification, to help you win certain types of races. Not only do these upgrades affect performance but you really can customise the visual style of your car as well (you can change the look of bumpers, hoods, spoilers, rims etc). You have Stock, Street, Dirt, Performance, Raid and Circuit tuners available throughout the map. There is a level 50 cap to your driver level and you’ll unlock more of these tuners every ten levels. On top of this there is a great amount of upgrades to win doing missions and challenges and these will increase the performance rating of your car. You have gold, silver and bronze levels too for each mission which adds to the longevity of the game. There are leader boards as well so if a friend beats your score you can redo it to try and take the lead again.
One of the trade-offs in having such a massive world, the graphics aren’t as pretty as Forza Horizon 2 or Drive Club. I do think they have some great moments and the lighting seems to be very nice at times, but for a game running at 1080p it certainly doesn’t look crisp on the Xbox One or PS4 (PC fares much better). The Crew does run well though. I haven’t noticed any framerate issues at all in the 40+ hours I’ve played so far. I actually think for an open world game it is quite good but there is definitely room for improvement. Other concessions have had to be made to make the game run at a steady framerate. You won’t find a rear view mirror in cockpit view (all of the cars are properly modelled – front and rear internally), nor does there seem to be much in the way of dynamic weather (although there is a day / night cycle). I can forgive the game for this because of the impressive scope. The world does seem to be alive. You’ll see various forms of wildlife everywhere, which is a nice touch.
The sound is pretty good. Some of the cars seem to sound a bit muted (Ferrari 458 doesn’t sound quite right) but the V8s certainly seem to have a decent depth to them. There are a number of radio stations to choose from with some decent tunes, but no option to play your own music (one of my favourite features from the original Test Drive Unlimited). The voice over work is generally very well done but occasionally when you are on a mission you’ll hear the same phrase repeatedly which gets annoying.
Multiplayer seems to be very well implemented. As you drive around you’ll see other players driving around too. There were no issues at all with this and it is implemented well. My only complaint is that I wish you could do head to head races with other racers on the fly. You can play PvP races by visiting certain hubs and as mentioned before, play co-op with any of the missions available. You can also join a faction (there are five) which allows you try and earn faction points to make your faction the best. These faction missions are really good fun and can also be played with other friends or crew members (you have four people in your crew). Some of these missions can actually take over an hour to complete because you might be racing from one side of the country to the next. I completed a faction race where I had to come in the top three to win the challenge. The race took me from Chicago to New York via some interesting routes. This race alone took me 53 minutes to complete. It was really exciting and hailed back to the longer races you completed in Test Drive Unlimited.
One of the weirdest things about this game is the default controller settings. Playing on an Xbox One controller felt incredibly laggy and floaty when I first started playing it. Tweaking the sensitivity up and the dead zone down meant it was a much more enjoyable experience. This is a huge shame because I think anyone trying one of the many betas that came out would have been completely put off by the handling model, when for most part it came down to the wrong default settings. This is another example of where a bit more internal testing might have been good.
If you are a fan of cruising and exploration as well as racing then I would say a definite yes. It is a lot more fun with friends. This is one of the catch twenty two situations. I really like cruising around, doing challenges and exploring but the difficulty spike of some of the main missions dulls that a little. If you are into racing more then perhaps wait for it to be on sale before buying it.
Personally, despite some of its flaws, I am really enjoying The Crew. It isn’t a perfect game but I think it is a good start. If they move away from the hokey storyline, add some real estate to be bought and fix up the other issues mentioned then I think this could become a superb racer. As it is now, it is a great driving game, but there are better racing games on the market.
Score – 7.5 out of 10
Reviewed on the Xbox One.