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The Crew

By Bobfish13-01-2015
The Crew

The Defence

Ivory Tower; Ubisoft Reflections
MMO, Racing
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core i5 2.66 GHz
AMD Phenom II X4 3.0 GHz
Nvidia GeForce 670
AMD equivalent
8 GB
18 GB
10, 11

The Case

Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) are hardly a new thing in the gaming world. Especially the PC market. Ranging from high fantasy, wizards and dragons, all the way to hardcore sci-fi shoot everything to death and everything in between. Racing games are also, unsurprisingly, an extremely common type of game. The two of them together, not so much. Which, if nothing else, makes The Crew a genuinely unique idea in the gaming industry. Which leaves us wondering if it’s any good. So let’s floor it and see.

The Trial

In a word, yes. In another word, no. And both are applicable, at the same time, in varying degrees depending on context. Frankly, the game is all over the place. Not quite a complete mess, but there are certain things about it that...well, the physics are completely fucked up. Seriously. Like, a tiny tap on the bumper can send your car, literally, spinning off into orbit, but a head on collision leaves a minor dent in your hood. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, at all, to which one is which. The only consist part of the car physics is that you will come off worse than an NPC. No matter what. You will always be the one screwed over. Especially during the final few hundred yards of a race.

Just whack a seat on it and we're all set.

Just whack a seat on it and we're all set.

The physics, honestly, are so bad they...actually become the highlight of the game. They go way, way past the so bad it’s good, and straight into so bad it’s hilarious. Most of the time at least. They’re also a complete pain in the arse. See the previous paragraph regarding last minute crashes. Dropping from first to fifth place because of a minor bump, right at the end of a 10+ race is a ballache! It makes completing many of them an absolute nightmare. Buuuuuut...there’s a silver lining to that bastard of a thunder cloud.

Each car, of which the selection initially seems extremely limited (more on that later) can be persistently upgraded with new parts. Each one, suspension for example, will come with bonuses and drawbacks for the various aspects of your car’s overall efficiency. One part might, for example, increase your acceleration at the cost of a slight decrease in handling, whilst another might increase braking and handling, but reduce top speed and so on. Regardless of the reductions however, a higher level part is always better than an earlier version, meaning the car as a whole will always be improved.

This means, if a particular mission or challenge is giving you trouble, you can always step out and do something else for a while. Get some new parts, either by buying them or completing other challenges and missions. Or even buy a completely different car. Then go back and try again. As with a lot of RPGs, overlevelling makes a massive difference. Many is the time a change of only 15-20 points to your current car will turn an impossible grind into a carefree waltz.

Whateva, I do what I want!

Whateva, I do what I want!

Levelling your character, shockingly by finishing missions and challenges, as well as finding landmarks and doing just about anything at all, also has an impact on your cars. At some levels you will get a blanket increase to all cars, at all levels you will earn more perk points, as well as buy them with in (and out of) game money. These can be put into things such as faster acceleration, cheaper cost for customisation parts (like that swanky, fluorescent yellow paintjob you always wanted) and my personal favourite, GPS assistance. A veritable Godsend for some of the missions, at level three (maximum) it gives a racing line with colour coded segments to indicate not only position, but best speed to traverse a given area both in or out of mission, with optimum efficiency.

Other perks are more multiplayer based, and seem to be entirely useless at the moment as it's well-nigh impossible to find other people most of the time. Sadly, the same server issues which plagued the beta are still very much in evidence, meaning everyone in the universe just pings out of existence the moment you enter an even remotely populated (by players) area. Which is just ironic enough to be amusing, albeit extremely disappointing, as the game is most certainly at its best when simply cruising around, for fun, with a friend or friends. Which, thankfully, if you do have (or manage to find) the game is now at least capable of keeping in your session (lobby) when you do have them.

There is a lot, a hell of a lot, of content here. Both in terms of story and the physicality of continental America itself. The map is, of course, not fully to scale, with the vast majority of cities and towns removed completely, and those that remain radically smaller than their real life counterparts. But this in no way diminishes the genuinely astounding scale, and attention to detail, of the world you will inhabit. Driving from one side of the map to the other, even at speeds consistently exceeding 120mph (really, who uses kilometres?) will take comfortably more than an hour of real time.

Oh man, that taco is coming back out at full throttle!

Oh man, that taco is coming back out at full throttle!

Whilst the variety of cars is both lacklustre and mindboggling at the same time. Something of a theme with The Crew it seems, to be a constant contradiction. You see, the number of cars to actually purchase is woefully uninspiring. But with the various spec kits Street, Dirt (I hate Dirt spec!), Performance, Raid and Circuit, offering some diversity in both performance and physical appearance. Coupled with the, again laughably small, amount of cosmetic customisation options it actually gives a great deal more variety than a cursory glance would suggest. Or a thorough examination for that matter. Despite this, when you really dig deep and look into it, even with most cars being limited to generally only two or three Spec kits, the total number of combinations is, let's say, ultimately acceptable. Though expect many more cars to appear later, as DLC add-ons.

Story missions and random challenges, on the other, are certainly not in short supply. Though they do lack in variety, and not just because it's a game about driving. Though there are some attempts at being inventive, everything really does ultimately boil down to driving from x to y within z time frame. Sometimes it's counting down, sometimes it's counting up (stay away from the expanding ball for a long enough time to be good) and sometimes you have to crash into things along the way, but eh, drive around. Which wouldn't be too bad, if the cars didn't noticeably, and I'm sure deliberately, handle very differently in Free Drive and during a mission.

I swear, cars that handle like a dream when you're driving for fun have their tires replaced with blocks of ice the moment you try to do something actually game related. Something which is never more apparent than during a Dirt spec mission. Something which the game has a bizarre, terrifying love affair with. And makes no fucking sense at all. I mean, it makes sense in the context of the mission. Such as driving through the mountains to find someone, or tail someone and so on. But for a game that's selling itself on freedom like this, forcing you to use a specific type of car just for shits and giggles, especially one that is made of paper mache in the middle of a bloody hurricane! Is just mystifying. It would have made far more sense, for the majority of them, to have a suggested 'best' Spec, rather than enforcing it.

You don’t have to wear that dress tonight.

You don’t have to wear that dress tonight.

For example, there was a mission around the mid-point of the campaign where I, for some inexplicable reason, suddenly had to race a guy in a sports car by driving a Dirt Spec car and taking off road shortcuts. Because, on the road, his car was far faster than my Dirt Spec. But never mind that full kitted out formula 1 racing car I had sitting there, collecting dust, in my garage. Why on Earth would anyone want to drive that piece of junk? Clearly this was the perfect solution...never mind the fact the goal was to beat the guy to win his pink slip (and thus ownership of his car) because they needed a four door (this car only had two) to drive a Mother and son out of the state, by having them in my car and following someone else in his car...look, I played it, and it still doesn't make any more sense than that.

This kind of WTFery persists throughout the whole of the campaign as well. It starts of well enough, starting a story about a murdered brother, who started a driving business (just go with it) called V10s that was co-opted by a corrupt FBI Agent and a homicidal maniac called 'Shiv'. And you're the murdered guys brother, working for another FBI agent, out for revenge and...okay, it's really dumb from the beginning. But it's presented well, with some absolutely gorgeous, pre-rendered cinematics and solid voice cast.

But along the way it mostly forgets about the revenge part, which you'd think would be kinda' a big deal for the bland, bearded, white-guy protagonist. But instead it focuses on a bunch of side quests that are, supposedly, all about getting more recognition within the V10s, earning a new tattoo and new rank. Which they are, don't get me wrong, but until right near the very end, Alex doesn't even mention his brother. And when he does, it's very much a “hey, remember that brother that was killed?” kind of moment. Followed by a lot of moral lectures about revenge and murder and blah blah blah.

Up, up and AWAY!

Up, up and AWAY!

But here's the thing. For all its flaws, which you can be assured, there are many, many more. A list far too lengthy and nitpicky to print in its entirety. Despite all this, honestly, it's a fun game. The problems it has are pronounced, almost gamebreaking, but it's still fun to play. Buying new cars, kitting them out, levelling them up and just roaming around the map to see what you can see is a really engaging experience. It is one of those rare moments when the simple act of playing a game genuinely justifies its existence entirely on its own. Like the web-slinging in Spider-Man 2.

The game is gorgeous to look at. Genuinely it is. With a staggering amount of variety in environments, weather (sadly not dynamic) and a day/night cycle that lead to moments where you just stop to look at your surroundings. One of my personally favourite places to be, is the Nevada meteor crater. Just park up on one edge and watch the sun rise or sink over the opposite side hundreds of metres away. The end result is an interesting, intriguing game in concept, but an enormous, shamefully missed opportunity in execution.

The Verdict

In closing, I cannot, in good faith, recommend you buy The Crew in its current state. Not at full price. It could be worth it, and frankly should be worth it, all the elements are there. But it just comes across as another, typical, by the books formulaic Ubisoft title that was unwilling to genuinely commit to what it so desperately wanted to be. Not a good game, not really, but an enjoyable one that, long term, you will not regret buying. As long as you go into it willing to look past the disappointment of what it should have been.

Case Review

  • Free Drive: Though the physics of driving are wonky at best, the act of doing so is oddly relaxing.
  • Replay: Every challenge and mission, every single one, can be replayed at any time to earn a better score.
  • Scale: There are no two ways about it, the map is huge.
  • Visuals: I kid you not, it is breathtakingly beautiful.
  • Cars: Whilst spec kits add a lot of variety, the overall selection still feels decidedly lacklustre.
  • Gameplay: Drive here, drive there, drive somewhere else. The missions and challenges attempt to add variety, but don't really change anything beyond the core experience.
  • Multiplayer: I'm sure it would be great. If it worked.
Score: 3.5/5
A catalogue of missed potential that, nevertheless, has a certain charm to it.
Comments (4)
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Posts: 3290

Now, for that price yes, yes I do certainly recommend it. And I'd say, if you actually can find someone to crew up with, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. So go for it man

Posts: 223

Great review Bob with which I completely agree. I found the Gold Edition (standard game + season pass) for £28 on Amazon (digital download) - the game alone was priced at £22, the season pass alone was £19.99 yet the bundle was £28 haha, so I took a gamble on it and went for Gold - much like an Olympic dolphin wrestler.

The game is not without it's many flaws and I've yet to be brave enough to "crew up" with random interneters, but as you mentioned - the game looks stunning. The city environments are just your standard affair with each one looking pretty much the same overall, but when you go cross country through the desert or snowy mountains - wow!! Just a shame that it's full potential wasn't reached.

Posts: 3290

Even at a the standard price I'd still recommend caution. But yeah, Ubi's new pricing system is kinda' taking the piss just a tiny bit

Posts: 1548

The price. It's just too damn high.