The main hook with The Crew, the aspect that people latch onto when they first hear about it, is that you can drive from one side of the abstracted USA to the other. In fact, when I first played the PC beta last month, that was my only real goal with my time in the game, to drive coast to coast. It turns out that there’s a whole lot more to the game than that.
For one thing, there’s an actual story with cinematics and dialogue that runs throughout. It’s certainly not going to be the best story in the world and the little that I’ve seen of it has been really quite cheesy, but it serves a purpose in first gradually introducing you to the races and events of quite a complex world, before leading you all the way around the game’s rendition of the USA.
Wherever you are though, you’re always connected and online, so that the world is populated by real people as well as AI. In that regard, it’s the same kind of dynamic MMO mould that we see in Destiny, and it comes with a similar focus on co-operative play. Hopping into a game with your friends in a Crew of four is quite simple and easily accessed via the smartphone-like menu system that you can call up as you drive around.
You and your crew – a temporary gang that lasts for the duration of your gaming session – are able to take on all of the missions in the game, but it really is co-operative play rather than competitive, even if your instincts scream at you to try and beat the car alongside you, no matter what.
It might be as simple as dealing collective damage to the Takedown target or only one of you needing to cross the line in first place, but I particularly enjoyed the co-operative twist to the point to point racing, in which only one person needs to cross a checkpoint for the whole team to do so. This leads to some interesting tactics where one person follows the twisting and turning road down a hill, while another tries to blaze through the redwoods to get to the finish line quicker.
When it comes to the competitive side of multiplayer, you’ll be able to take your crew in to duke it out with another team, but after a while, you will be picking regional factions to ally yourself with and race for in the overarching metagame. Each of the game’s regions – the East Coast, West Coast, The South, Mountain States and Midwest – will go head to head, with the faction that wins the most points and reputation in a given period then gaining certain bonuses and perks. It’s also in the factional races that we see some of the longest races, topping out at an event that will last around 4.5 hours!
As with any racing game though, having a great selection of cars to drive is important, with The Crew featuring a healthy catalogue of licensed vehicles, ranging from fairly standard sports cars like the Nissan 370z all the way up to supercars like LaFerrari. However, what’s truly impressive and what really broadens the gameplay possibilities is how all of the cars are customisable and upgradeable.
It’s not just swapping out cosmetic body parts and picking from custom paint jobs, but full blown overhauls of the vehicles that make them much better suited to different styles and types of driving. Though not all classes are available for all cars, you can upgrade from the stock vehicle to Street, Dirt, Perf, Raid and Racing classes. Even within these classes, you then want to earn better parts from completing races and the on-the-fly challenges that are dotted around the world.
Perf and Racing really push on the tarmac specialisation much more so than Street does, with body kits that emphasise downforce and engine power, but it’s with Dirt and Raid that the whole of the world that’s open to you is unlocked, by allowing you to head cross country and still maintain a semblance of control over your vehicle. Though there is a vast webwork of roads spread across the map, this fills in all of the gaps in between.
They’re naturally suited better to one task or another, and so you’ll be hitting the streets with your Perf car one minute, then switching over to a Dirt car that better suits a point to point race that might head a little off the beaten track. The Raid cars really come into their own for the full blown wilderness, best suited to the Takedown missions where you chase after a target and try to crash into them enough times, or driving off road to find remote landmarks like the Meteor Crater in Arizona, just one of a few hundred such landmarks to find.
One qualm I did have is with the handling, which I found difficult to get to grips with. It may depend on the car and the spec, but I often found the controls to be woolier and looser than I would have liked. I adapted to it as I played, certainly, and this is generally a game that doesn’t require absolute precision as you might do in a racing sim, but it’s a complaint I saw prominently in the user forums during the beta and it could be a sticking point for some.
I did find also racing off road to be quite frustrating, simply because of the nature of the tricky and bumpy terrain. Thankfully, you can quickly reset to track or closer to your takedown target by holding a face button, but even though this knocks points off your final tally which could determine who has the highest score and therefore wins in PvP, it feels like a kind of cheating.
Though I have a couple of doubts, The Crew also has a lot of potential. The draw of the open world and the clever way in which co-operative play is woven into every activity are particularly compelling, and taking part in races with and against each other is bound to be a lot of fun.