When Ubisoft announced The Crew at E3 2013, I was rather sceptical of the project. They talked about the seamless nature of players dropping in and out of one another’s world. This isn’t something totally new to racing games, but the scale they were talking about had never been done before and I had my doubts. I have to say that after putting a few hours into the PC beta, I am convinced.
The Crew is not your average racing game, Ubisoft has put the work into making this the first viable massively multiplayer racing game. In GamingBolt’s interview with Game Director Stephane Beley the game was called an MMORPG, and the inspiration shows. It certainly fits the criteria required to be one, with it’s wide variety of cars, parts, and trims available to players, as well as the persistent world with hundreds of players all racing at once. It was immediately evident to me after only an hour of playing just how big this game potentially was.
The beta starts out with players assuming the role of Dayton (Voiced by veteran voice actor Troy Baker), a character framed for the murder of his brother by a crooked FBI agent and the leader of the nationwide smuggling outfit, the 5-10’s. In a Fast and Furious style turn of fate he is let out of jail to track and take down these two and the 5-10 smugglers along with them.
To do this he must infiltrate the gang in Detroit by proving himself good enough to get the 5-10 ink. It is admirable that the developers have included a story portion in this game but I can’t help but feel like this was maybe an afterthought. Regardless, it serves as a good way to tutorialize the player and introduce them to the vast world of The Crew.
Players can compete in many challenges and races throughout the country, each with their own requirements and levels of difficulty. Challenges range from driving through increasingly smaller checkpoints on a busy highway, to seeing how far a ramp jump can take you. Races seem to be the standard fare of competing with other drivers on a closed track.
A more familiar gameplay edition is the Burnout style crash cam whenever you wreck your vehicle. But don’t worry, you won’t be searching for a garage to make your repairs, instead your car has a real time regenerating frame. It was great to watch my car repair itself automatically on the fly as I demonstrated my most carnal demolition derby urges.
The real nuance in The Crew comes from the extensive vehicle customization options available as you level your skills. Like an RPG, you collect gear with varying stats and perks along the way, and can only be applied while equipping your car with certain trims. Trims are akin to classes in an rpg, having different strengths and weaknesses.
The Sport trim is great for open world travel and street racing, while the Off-road trim is great for just what it sounds like, off road racing and exploration. There seems to be 4 other trim types in the beta, but I only got the chance to experience these two due to level and money restrictions. One thing was clear to me however, there is a real difference between trims and knowing when to utilize each one will become important in the latter parts of the game.
I said above that the world in this game is massive, and I was not being hyperbolic when I said that. Now, I am no racing game expert but this has to be the largest open world ever envisioned for one. I decided I would test my theory so I grabbed a stopwatch and went to work. I started in Detroit Michigan with the goal of seeing how long it would take to drive across the entire map east to west.
The first thing I had to do was get to the east most point of the map, so I looked and saw that Washington D.C. would be a good starting point, I clicked on my stopwatch and set the in-game GPS. This journey from Detroit to Washington D.C. took a full 15 minutes to complete. This was way longer than I expected, and the scenery along the way was varied and interesting with little to no repetition of buildings or areas. From there I restarted my stopwatch and set out on my cross country journey to San Francisco California.
What I expected was a long stretch of Rt 50 highway and traffic but what I got was a winding trip through the country with lots of great regional American scenery ranging from the midwest’s cornfields and silos, to the snowy mountain regions further north. I encountered small towns, and back roads, dark tunnels, and lush forests. It really was a beautiful trip and firmly cemented that the developers truly care about creating a faithful representation of America, even if on a much smaller scale.
When I finally arrived in the Bay Area, my stopwatch read 45 minutes. It felt a lot longer but I still can’t think of a single open world driving game that took that long to clear the map, and of course this was only east to west in the straightest shot possible.
During my trip I experienced the real time dynamic lighting and weather effects the game has to offer, I can honestly say that this is one of the best looking (and best optimized) PC games Ubisoft has produced to date. My only complaint would be that the game is natively locked to 30 frames per second on PC. This is a dealbreaker to some, but thanks to a few savvy PC gamers a work around was discovered in the game’s configuration files to allow for 60fps. Hopefully once the game launches there will be a simple menu option to allow for this, as for a lot of people it is an absolutely crucial component to PC games.
All in all The Crew is shaping up to be a formidable competitor in a genre that has stagnated with yearly Need for Speed and Forza releases. Maybe in the absence of a Need for Speed game this year, The Crew will take it’s place in the throne room in November.
This game was previewed on the PC.