Ubisoft hits the road with an open world racer that’s less of a racing game and more of a car game that has some racing.
You control Alex, an ex-con who needs to infiltrate the nationwide car club whose activities include illegal street racing, smuggling and other car related crimes. Also, the leader of said car club, Shiv, and a dirty FBI agent framed you for the murder of your older brother.
It’s a revenge plot you’ve seen a million times that loses focus since its a deceptively long game full of distractions and side stories that really really pay off.
So after serving five years in jail a FBI agent by the name Zoe asks you climb the ranks of this gang in order to expose the filthy agent and bring your bro’s murderer to justice. Of course you’ll do this by doing favors for lower ranking members of the 5-10s in cities all over the country.
These favors include delivering stolen exotic cars, racing rivals and running fools off the road. It’s these favors that will take you cross country exploring the real main character, their version of US of A.
The Crew’s scaled down version of the United States is a great back drop for an open world racer. Each region is covered with missions that cater for each region. The scope is certainly impressive but driving from major metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago or St. Louis never truly distinguish themselves outside of a familiar landmark like the Arch or the Sears Tower.
Other than that each city ends up looking the same. The real jaw dropping locales are the areas that serve as the connective tissue between major cities. San Francisco didn’t blow me away but off-roading the Grand Canyon seeing dirt kick around and tourist planes flying over is awfully cool. If you want to see some cool things The Crew’s America has to offer, make sure you leave the cities.
The Crew is not a great looking game. There’s a generally muddiness on all the textures that aren’t on cars. Seeing things like buildings and parked cars from up close is pretty unsettling considering the hardware.
I get it, in motion everything looks fine just sterile and dull. You can equip your car with different specs that drastically change the appearance of your car. A Street spec will make your car lower to the ground and give you a more Fast and Furious vibe. Switching to a Dirt spec, fog lights, big tires and a roll cage end up making your muscle car look truly bad ass. Wait till you see the Raid and Performance specs, those cars look stunning.
Your progression in The Crew is solely based on the level of your car. Regular story missions that consist of street races, timed runs, and out running the people who mean you harm. Peppered between these story mission are literally dozens of quick challenges. Some as basic as going as fast as you can without veering off the road to stunt jumps and smashing through virtual checkpoints.
These activities result in some fabulous car loot that you can equip on the fly. What I like about these challenges is that they are cleverly placed en route to story missions so you rarely have to go out of your way to do them. The only issue is when you acquire a new car you have level them up separately so you’ll be doing these challenges a lot in order to get some good parts for you new whip.
Figuring out what car works for you is important since all the cars really don’t drive well at all until you level them up. It’s going to take a long time (hours in most cases) of upgrading before your car feels like is driving the way its supposed to.
I decided to go with the Nissan 370Z because that would be the car I would buy if were a street racing type of guy. Turns out making a new car race-worthy means you’ll have to do a lot of replaying of some very repetitive missions.
The cars don’t handle great at first. In fact they feel heavy, slow and turn like boats and I’m fairly certain that a Nissan 370Z or a Mini Cooper are not supposed to drive like that. This is where the RPG-like elements kick in. As you complete missions and activities you get gear that you can equip on your car that increases your car level.
Bronze, Silver and Gold rewards offer slightly better loot the higher you go; for example Gold rewards in weight reduction are worth a +5 compared to a +1 for Bronze and +3 for Silver.
Each story mission has a require player level (your overall level) in order to play and also shows a suggested car level to tackle that same mission. So if your car level is only 60 for a level 85 mission, be ready to make up the difference doing side missions or the competition will smoke you.
The core mechanic of driving though is The Crew‘s most powerful disappointment. Regardless of what car you have driving just doesn’t feel right. There’s a couple of reasons why driving is such a let down. For starters, the opponent AI’s frustratingly rigid in how they perform every race using a predetermined path.
They won’t try to bump you off the road or drive like how’d you expect a bunch of low-life gang members would race. And get don’t me started on the game’s ability to defy all the law of physics and gravity when you hit objects.
The same can be for the other non-racers on the road who’ll get out of the way for your opponents but act as if you don’t exist. They never change lanes or make any real attempt to clear out of the way. So racing through downtown Manhattan during rushing is less exciting than it should be since you’ll collide with dopey civilian cars that casually drift back into your lane after moving aside for your rivals only seconds ahead of you.
This keeps the open world from truly feeling alive, instead it just feels like a bunch of bots on cruise control. You can disrupt the flow but everything is back to the status quo when you and your buddies leave.
Driving cross country with a group of friends where you’ll be competing against each other with stunt jumps or speed challenges is a glimpse of what game Ubisoft wanted The Crew to be. The cool thing about the online is other drivers can join you on almost every story mission and so long as you or your friends win the race, you all win.
Keeping a “crew” together is really what saves the game from just being a poor man’s Burnout Paradise. Whenever I came across a story mission that kept kicking my butt, I found that getting a crew together with people of higher levels got me through those events with little effort. I couldn’t really say the same for the online competition portion of the game.
When the PvP becomes available you’ll have to side with a faction and earn rep by challenging other racers online. These are mostly straight races with pretty diverse tracks and race types. The races themselves are fine but the real issue was actually getting enough people to compete against.
The co-op mode will search a race for you while you cause trouble around town and the search time usually averaged 10-15 minutes on the PS4. It seemed that more people are into the co-op than they are competing against each other which is odd considering the type of game.
The clever social hooks are still no excuse for this game’s always online requirement to exist. There’s no play offline option even though all the activity have a solo play option attached to them. If the Ubisoft, Playstation or Xbox servers are down you won’t be able to play the game.
My guess is that ties into preventing any exploitation of the Crew Credits system. For actual cash you purchase Crew Credits that you can use for new cars and upgrades. I take personal umbrage with a full priced retail game having paid shortcuts. I get it, some people don’t have the time to grind out exp and cash but it does make the game feel unnecessarily padded.
I gladly would have given up a long 40 plus hour game for a tighter 10 hour game. The Crew plays like it was meant to be a free-to-play with all the busy work it has you doing.
While ambitious in attempting to craft a living breathing world with tons to do, it falls short with poor driving and being loaded with superfluous content intended to run up the play clock. The co-op is fun but recommending a driving game where the main activity of driving is no fun is a tough sell.