The Crew is the newest franchise from Ubisoft, labeling itself as a “Massive Multiplayer Sandbox” for racing games, and promising to deliver on high-caliber, high-speed, racing thrills. Set in a condensed, yet still massive, recreation of the United States of America, The Crew wants to set itself apart from games that have attempted the same thing. It wants the world to feel alive, and to make sure that players have plenty to do; both during their journey to the maximum level, and once they’ve reached the top.
Does it accomplish this? Yes. There are only a few stretches of road that I’ve come across which are completely baron of anything to do, while all others include activities ranging from races to skill challenges. In fact, there are some moments where it’s almost overwhelming. Sometimes you’ll hit one skill challenge after another while just trying to make your way to a single race. They’re great ways to unlock car parts, but sometimes you just want to reach your destination unhindered. If you’re not in the mood for a skill challenge, however, you can either avoid them by driving around them, or by pulling up a quick, seamless menu and pressing abort.
As for the gameplay itself, the traffic in The Crew – arguably one of the biggest features of the “living world” aspect – operates as you’d expect it to in real life, which is an interesting addition to a racing game. The traffic is mostly mundane, though sometimes it can be a major hindrance if the other drivers decide to switch lanes, and especially so if they dare to take that green light while you’re about to speed through a red one. Traffic is also more condensed in cities, rather than out in the countryside, and in both the morning and evening, it seems like there’s a lot of peak hour slowness. At first, I thought it was just coincidence, until it happened a few times, so these instances of the rush hour crowds made speeding around even more intense and far more easy to cause a head-on collision.
All the while, the MMO aspect of playing with other people is handled in a way that some may find unappealing, but I think works perfectly fine for a racing game. Rather than having multiple servers for players to pick from, it’s handled in a sort of phasing way. That is to say, you only see up to eight players within a certain proximity to you. Fear not, however, because that proximity window is quite large and with a few exceptions. I almost never found myself lacking player interaction. Now, many would argue that eight at a time isn’t exactly holding up to the “massive” part of being an MMO, and I’d admit they have a valid point. However, at the same time, I never felt that player interaction was lacking in The Crew as I was frequently “crashing” into new players.
Car variety is the spice of life in almost any racing game, and The Crew has taken the idea to heart. There is a large variety with both the environment and car selection, and while there arguably could be more vehicles, by no means does it feel as if the car count was too low. Sitting somewhere in the mid forty count, there are a lot of cars that primarily come from USA and European origins, with maybe several Asian-made vehicles from Nissan, or at least that I spotted. By comparison to other big franchises, it might seem a little lacking, but given the locale, there are plenty of American classics and modern day heavy hitters, as well as a nice selection of in-between to keep you busy.
A nice cherry on top of the vehicle collection is the amount of customization available for vehicles; both cosmetic and practical. The only additional feature I could ask for on the customization side of things would be vinyl designs or custom license plates that would help player rides stand out further and give that extra unique edge.
Once you’re out on the open road, you’ll experience much of what this version of the USA has to offer. Whether you’re speeding through the autumn coloured woods of Maine, the bustling streets of New York City, or venturing out west into the Rocky Mountains or the desert surrounding Las Vegas, there’s a lot going on. The level of detail is quite nice for such a large game, and sometimes it’s nice to slow down and just take in the sights. The twelve major cities offered, and the small towns dotted around the map, are more than enough to make the world feel lived in and not just an open space with empty roadways.
Unfortunately, one of the main problems with the narrative of “The Crew” is that the story line fails to deliver an adequate plot. You get the traditional, “your family has been betrayed, you’ve been framed, so now you must work your way back to the top to find out who the real perpetrator is!” There’s also the standard, “attempt to be secret, but end up being more obvious than a house cat in your underwear” romance subplot between your character and their parole officer. None of these plot points are particularly well developed, either, which makes it more of a distraction than anything else. Ultimately its just one cliche after another that makes the plot feel like you walked into some sort of steroid boosted “dude-bro” film and the result is very awkward to watch.
The controls are something I think deserve discussion in a racing game, and The Crew is no exception. You’re either going to love them or hate them. If you’re willing to adapt to the small learning curve, then you’re going to find a game where car handling lies somewhere between the arcade fantasy and professional racing simulators. Personally, I loved this approach to the handling as it makes the game more accessible to a wider audience overall. Sharp turns at high speeds are still feasible without being too easy to pull off, acceleration and braking both have the sense of added weight to the vehicles, and I haven’t played a racing game yet with drifting as fun as it was in The Crew.
That being said, there are some things I think could improve the overall handling as far as controls go. The game excels when you’re playing with a controller, but with a keyboard and mouse it’s utterly awful. There’s a feeling of significantly less precision in maneuvering when using a keyboard and mouse. I can’t stress enough that it feels like this game was meant to be played with a controller. So if you don’t have a controller, be prepared to either buy one or simply grin and bear it if you try to play without one.
For as much as I enjoyed the game, there are still some major flaws that could have been easily avoided. The game starts off by trying to convince you that there’s a story worth mentioning. Don’t get your hopes up, because the story is both nonsense and awkwardly paced, and only gets worse as you progress; which is a shame as the movie-quality CGI is quite noteworthy. The music is also nothing to write home about as few tracks actually fit well with the racing theme. Taking the good and weighing it against the few negatives, or things I would’ve changed or added, The Crew still carves an okay name for itself amongst the ranks of long standing racing series with one quick motion.