The Crew had the potential to be a brilliant arcade racer. There’s a huge amount of content on offer, not to mention an open world bigger than any I’ve ever explored before. The Crew can be seen as a blend between Need For Speed and Burnout Paradise – it sounds like the perfect formula. However, it’s hugely let down by a few inconsistencies and poorly implemented multiplayer.
The Crew is massive; there are no two ways about it. The USA depicted in the game will take you hours to explore and along the way you will stumble across a few famous locations which have been presented to a tee. There’s the Grand Canyon, Kansas Speedway and Great Salt Lakes just to name a few. Aside from the famous locations visually the game looks great, and I’ve been a little surprised to see the game getting heavily criticised for its appearance. There may be a few jagged edges here and the and the occasional glitch, but considering the scale of the game you can only be impressed.
While there is no dynamic weather system in place in the entirety of The Crew (there is, however, snow and ice in the Upper Rockies and a damp road in the Everglades) there is a day and night cycle. The sunrises and sunsets produce some of the best vistas of The Crew. The glisten of the setting sun off the road as you meander through the Grand Canyon has certainly been one of my highlights of the game.
In some open world games the map can feel a bit barren and empty – not in The Crew. You can’t drive for more than 30 seconds without a mission or skill popping up on the road ahead of you. There’s a great deal of variation to these race events. There are faction, player vs. player, skills and, of course, story missions to complete. Within these the objectives vary too. Some story missions will have you completing a street race while in others you’ll be hurtling cross country trying to complete a raid run.
Each objective is tailored to a different car type. Your street, performance and circuit cars are perfect for track racing and diving between the busy traffic of The Crew. Whereas your dirt and raid spec vehicles are great for off-road racing.
Despite this, the story is uninspiring. It’s just too cliché. You play as Alex, who’s been framed for his brother’s murder. Enter the FBI: they’re willing to bust you out of prison so you can go undercover and expose the 5-10 racing crew and then take down Shiv. He’s the man running the crew and the man who killed your brother. As you’ve already guessed you’re only in it for the revenge. To get to the top of the 5-10s you will have to work your way from the bottom and beat the top racer in each state.
It’s very unoriginal and something we’ve seen countless time before, and what makes it worse is the failed character development. In each state a new character will join your crew, each coming to you with a rather tragic story about their dealings with Shiv. However, once you move onto the next state their completely forgotten about and you won’t hear from them again.
It’s The Crew’s RPG elements that stand out most for me. There are hundreds of skills dotted around the map to complete, which all help improve your vehicles specs. Some of these challenges will have you slaloming down a busy highway, keeping to a racing line down mountainous roads or even jumping off a ridiculous ramp.
You’re given a medal (gold, silver or bronze) depending on your performance. A gold medal will land you the best new part for your car. As you equip new parts your vehicle’s car level will increase. The car level is the best way to determine the performance you’ll get from that vehicle. You will also get XP from various missions which help you level up. For every 5 level ups you achieve every vehicle in your garage has its car level improved.
There’s in game cash to spend on new parts, cars or visual upgrades for your car. Although there aren’t many cars on offer (you’ll mainly keep to five cars for the whole game), there is a great deal of visual customisation on offer. The faction events earn you reputation as well. As your reputation increases so does your cash flow, meaning every time you load up The Crew you get a small cash reward.
It might be all well and good having a racer packed with content but how does The Crew handle? Not well… at least at first. The first hour of The Crew is a painful experience. The handling is arcade through and through. Steering will feel unresponsive and you’ll find you have no grip whatsoever in a corner. If your coming straight off the back of playing Driveclub or F1 you will have a big shock, that’s for sure.
Saying that, as you work your way through the game the handling starts to feel natural, except perhaps for the off-road portions. I’ll admit I absolutely hated everything about the racing during the beta and the early stages of the game. Now, however, I love it. Yes the drifting and speed might be outrageous but it really is bundles of fun, and you can’t ask for much more from an arcade racer.
Off-road you might find your vehicle has a mind of its own though. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a raid spec car, if you go over a jump the landing will be spontaneous. When I say spontaneous I mean the car will either spin out completely or somehow manage to flip over.
The main issue with The Crew’s racing though is the rubber-banding. The AI drivers are infuriating; even writing about it makes me tense. I’ve never played a racing game in which the AI has cheated so much. It doesn’t matter whether you have a car level 200 times higher than them they will always find a way to catch you up and force you to make a mistake.
During some missions where you have to chase and destroy another car, the AI inconsistencies become clear. The acceleration they achieve is out of this world. In the same spec car with a full tank of nitro they managed to create a 100m gap in the space of a few seconds. I know it’s meant to increase the longevity and challenge of the event but when it is that blatant it really is just annoying.
Aside from the AI drivers making it a frustrating experience the traffic placement is another that will have you scratching your head. A blind corner is your worst nightmare. Whether or not the road has been empty so far you should know that as soon as your start a drift into a corner there’s suddenly going to be an oil tanker or school coach waiting for you around the bend. It’s a certain crash and time lost.
Thankfully The Crew does have a ‘back on track’ reset for when these things happen, but even this is inconsistent. During a time trial I accidentally went off track behind a barrier through a fault of my own. After pressing reset the game respawned me off track behind a immovable barrier over and over again, forcing me to restart the event. Another example was during an off-road event where upon resetting my vehicle I suddenly found myself gunning off a cliff. Its things like these that detract from the overall experience.
The Crew was pitched as online racer, but I don’t feel it does enough to get you actually playing online. There are only ever 8 other players in the same world during The Crew, and when you take its scale into consideration, that really isn’t much. Every story event has the option for co-op online but when you begin this no one ever responds or accepts the invitation. It would be more effective to invite more than just the 8 players in your lobby, as the majority of the time you have no other option but to play it solo.
The game doesn’t do a great job at explaining the PvP events either. These are your standard online multiplayer races. These events are found at different locations across the map, and they are probably the most engaging and challenging races you’ll have through the entirety of the game, but for the most part of The Crew I didn’t know what they were. You can expect a smooth experience online, but every now and then you’ll notice a few players jumping and lagging, but it is nothing major.
Luckily creating a crew is easy enough, and once you’ve got a band of friends together the challenges and events become that little more competitive and the game overall becomes just that bit better. If you want the best out the game you really want to have friends who also have the game.
I really want to love The Crew. The in game world is absolutely huge and it’s filled with a great deal of content – it looks brilliant at times too. Although the handling takes some time getting used to it does feel natural as the game begins to open up. Despite that, the driver AI can be infuriating at times, as with the traffic placement which I refuse to believe is a coincidence. The online doesn’t feel well integrated either and the story is uninspiring. If you know that you have friends playing The Crew it could turn out to be a great arcade racer, but if you’re playing solo for the majority of it, it will no doubt start to feel lifeless and lacking a bit of soul.
Version tested: PS4