I’ve spent the last couple of days burning rubber in the American Midwest, or to put it more accurately, I’ve been playing The Crew Beta on my PS4. For those not in the know The Crew is Ubisoft’s attempt at the arcade racer with the addition that you can join your friends – or perhaps complete strangers – to work together when tackling various missions all across the continental United States of America. Though I would have liked to experience that part of the beta, server issues and constantly empty sessions kept cooperative play behind the garage door.
So instead, I’m going to write about the solo content of The Crew, and the first feelings that came to mind when I started it up. It is rather reminiscent of Ubisoft’s other franchise that revolves around driving. I am of course talking about Driver, a series that was all about the cars and navigating those through crowded streets while racing or trying to take people down, and the thing is that I can’t help but feel The Crew started life as a Driver title. I wasn’t alone in thinking of that iconic series either as my brother wandered into the room, saw me playing The Crew, which he hadn’t heard of, and asked if the beta was a new Driver game.
The question, then, is why does The Crew remind me so much of Ubisoft’s other driving franchise. The most obvious answer is because they’re both about driving cars around cities, but there are plenty of games like that and none of those cropped into my head while driving through The Crew’s Detroit.
One answer is the visual design of the game, which really reminded me of Driver: San Francisco. From the car design to the lighting, the map design to the challenge icons floating in the air, all of these things feel like they’ve been lifted from the last game in the Driver series. That’s not all though, because even the game’s soundtrack feels like an extension of what was in San Francisco, with the similar mix of rock, indie, and some funk part of the playlist.
The story almost feels like it has been lifted from the original Driver, where you have to infiltrate a gang to bring down a couple of powerful figures. During one of the opening sequences I wouldn’t have been surprised if the main character, who looks a little like Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s Adam Jensen, was confronted by Driver’s John Tanner in the interrogation room when discussing what the situation was. In fact I wouldn’t be shocked if he did make an appearance, even a small one, due to how easily the plots of both games could merge together.
Then there’s the gameplay and most of the challenges in The Crew are things that have been done before, or have been inspired by Driver. Remember the slalom challenge from the first Driver? How about that on a long stretch of road with traffic coming both ways in The Crew? Still, that’s easier than the original game. There’s also ramming vehicles until their health depletes, which featured quite heavily in Driver.
Even the vehicle handling feels similar, but slightly worse, in The Crew. It feels too arcadey unlike the other series, where it was arcade-like enough but still gave you decent control. In The Crew’s beta, the car almost always feels like something you’re fighting against, as if you’re wrestling control back from a virtual passenger. It’s a vain hope, but hopefully that’ll get sorted before next month’s release.
I’m pretty convinced that The Crew started life as part of the Driver series, but was branched off into a separate brand during development. Instead, you’ve got a game that has borrowed so much from Driver you can’t help but stack up The Crew against it. The Crew is an ambitious title and I can see how it could be great when working together with others during a race, or embarking on a road trip from New York to Los Angeles. But should you decide to go for a quiet drive alone in virtual USA, don’t be surprised by what you encounter if you’ve played the Driver series. You’ve been down this road before.