Ivory Tower’s The Crew released last year in December for Xbox One, PS4, PC and oddly enough, Xbox 360. If you were one of the few players to experience it at launch, then The Crew didn’t offer much by way of compelling visuals. The game’s anti-aliasing solution was extremely poor, textures were buggy for the most part and that’s not counting the numerous glitches, connection issues and terrible gameplay aspects that dogged it. Sure, the developer improved things over time but there didn’t really seem much reason to recommend The Crew as an open world online racing game, especially when there were plenty of better looking offline racers to be had.
That was until Ubisoft announced The Crew: Wild Run at this year’s E3. This isn’t your simple yearly content update – Wild Run significantly overhauls the original game’s visuals with Ivory Tower opting for a full physically based rendering (PBR) pipeline and introducing a range of other visual improvements.
What makes Wild Run so different? Using physically based rendering, The Crew: Wild Run relies on physics, material types and how light behaves in different situations (both through diffusion and reflection) to essentially make objects, characters and environments look more realistic. For instance, the way light behaves with a car’s hood will be different from how, say, it behaves with the car’s windshield. The overall effect comes across as more natural and works better for artists since they can simply specify how light should react with a specific material rather of creating multiple diffuse textures and specular maps.
One look at The Crew: Wild Run, especially next to the original release, makes this more obvious. Your vehicles, environmental objects and roads look more natural depending on the lighting. Whether you’re awash in bright sunlight or simply racing against the backdrop of a setting sun, you’ll notice the light interacting with the environment and your racer in different ways. It’s apparent in the chrome reflections on your vehicle, the subtle refractions when light interacts with puddles or the dull shadows cast by rocky structures as you speed by.
Head to head comparison between the PS4 version without and with the update. This video also has PC footage at ultra settings. Select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video quality.
The Crew wasn’t always like this though. The game shipped on PS4 and Xbox One running at 1080p resolution and 30 frames per second with minimal frame rate drops experienced at times. The PC version won out by supporting 60 FPS but along with a poor AA solution (which resulted in plenty of jaggies), The Crew used a very weird implementation for depth of field. Lower resolution textures would often come across as either blocky or even blurred out. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear The Crew was stuck between the previous and current generation of consoles.
With The Crew: Wild Run, Ivory Tower has clearly focused on the current generation. Along with the physically based rendering pipeline, Wild Run introduces dynamic weather to the mix. This is an especially good addition with the game’s focus on outdoor, off-road racing. However, even the physics and handling for cars has been changed up, making vehicles easier to handle. Racing in the rain, much like in Forza Motorsport 6, is a more dynamic affair and causes you to change up your steering, braking and overall strategies. The post processing AA is far better this time around and though the jaggies have been reduced, they’re not completely gone. Texture quality is relatively the same but the PBR pipeline makes everything look drastically different from before. To top it off, there’s no performance downside in switching to PBR – frame rate performance is very stable throughout. Ivory Tower seems to have improved the texture streaming, with next to no pop-in for objects and faster loading times for textures.
Not everything is amazing though. There are lower resolution objects in the environment which don’t have any PBR properties. Though the developer could be credited in focusing more on the racing action and one’s car, these kinds of discrepancies stick out every now and then. Depth of field and blur effects are also similar to last year’s release and still come across as disappointing overall. Keep in mind that The Crew: Wild Run isn’t going to offset DriveClub or even Forza Motorsport 6 in terms of attention to detail and effects but the scale on offer is very impressive. Taken together with the improved texture streaming and The Crew actually feels like a game you want to explore. Enough credit can’t be heaped onto the physically based rendering as it seemingly encourages your exploration and desire to drive off the beaten path.
Say what you will about The Crew and its gameplay or how Ivory Tower has ultimately handled the content it’s received. The fact remains that no developer has offered such a significant visual upgrade over its vanilla release, that too in less than a year after the original launch. Ubisoft clearly has a lot invested in The Crew and the online experience it brings to the market. It paints a relatively positive picture for the company’s future online games like Tom Clancy’s The Division and Ghost Recon Wildlands (though we hope they also don’t take a year to receive such wide-ranging improvements).
The Crew: Wild Run’s gameplay may still divide the most hardcore racers but its dynamic weather effects, larger scale, updates to the overall handling and physics of the cars, implementation of physically based rendering, better post process anti-aliasing and improved texture streaming without any strain on the overall frame rate performance is something worth admiring. Now let’s see what Ubisoft has planned next for its massively multiplayer online racer.