The Crew is Ubisoft’s newest attempt at setting an extra stake in yet another type of open world game. This time, they’re going for (what they really want you to believe how seedy it is) world of street racing. There’s an absurd amount of side stuff to do as you fit into the boots of a former driver turned undercover agent, but as the old saying goes and proves true yet again, quantity does not trump quality.
Spanning the United States from coast to coast and making extensive use of creative license of its geography, The Crew really does deliver on the promise of featuring a lot of ground to cover. The story carries you from city to city, and as you “discover” and unlock new locations, you’re swiftly able to teleport yourself along across the ‘States. But on your first visit, you’re required to actually drive point to point, which in itself is an interesting prospect, given the ridiculous amount of roads that are in the game. That potential unfortunately goes nowhere, due to how unexciting it is to drive anywhere in or outside races.
The game does its best to distract you during these trips, by throwing little mini-games like slaloms and ramps your way via a parallel to augmented reality that’s akin to what Ubisoft delivered in the last Splinter Cell game. Sometimes these markers pop out of nowhere making them difficult to drive into or around them. The navigation system is also worked into the game in a convoluted manner. While you’re driving, blue lines appear in the world pointing you to whatever checkpoint is next, doing its best to change and adapt to your driving. At high speeds, though, this pinpointing tool stumbles onto itself, pointing you to anywhere but your destination if you happen to veer out of the planned route — something that the game expects you to do during certain events like outrunning cops or chasing computer controlled cars. Ironically, relying too much on these lines instead of looking at the on screen mini-map is a sure fire way to mess up.
Screwing up is also very easy to do during actual events due to how uneven the driving is. It feels very loose and at times restrictively unresponsive, leading to what would be avoidable in any other modern racing game. That’s coupled with a physics model that never quite comes to grip with itself whether or not it wants to be realistic or arcade-like, stopping your car on the dime during a crash or further ignoring Newton’s laws at a whim by simply not registering bumps, friction or catastrophic crashes among cars heading on opposite directions, basically turning your vehicle into a tank that really wants to be a bicycle.
Then again, said car can be customized up to a point to make it somewhat more drivable or as close to it as the game possibly allows you to, according to a different type of modification class, depending on the type of event you’re taking your ride to. While the idea of configuring a particular set of wheels for a certain type of race is cool, as in you’d be able to have a kit of specialized cars, The Crew‘s implementation of such feature is annoying. To buy more parts — outside of earning them via events, which works well, grading your performance and awarding better gear the higher the tier you place — you have to spend in-game money.
The problem, though, lies with the presence of a second set of coin bought with real world clams. Much like the free-to-play formula of a mobile game, The Crew‘s in-game currency value plummets, with upgrades costing an absurd amount in comparison to just throwing real money at the game. Sure, actual money should obviously yield instant rewards, but a better balance model would’ve been welcome in this case.
Playing single player mode makes the laser focus on multiplayer apparent. After a somewhat forgettable prologue sequence that introduces you to the story and its protagonist, through missions that are scripted to be easy to finish, once The Crew gets going, computer controlled opponents’ reactions are just as aggressive and prone to rubber banding as they are if you were playing with other people. It makes some of the solo races downright frustrating, especially the longer events that can be failed down at the wire, forcing you to start over and possibly fail again.
Finding friends or joining random people to race against should have been The Crew‘s strongest and most polished component. Given its name, having players build a solid group to tackle all of the content the game has to offer is the obvious aim here, but even that is held back due to troublesome interface issues. Menu options don’t make your choices very clear and the back button on the PlayStation 4 controller world map is cluttered, making it hard to pinpoint events you’d want to bring buddies to, let alone find the option to challenge anyone else who happens to be online with you. Directly in world, though, finding and choosing event options is relatively more manageable, but ultimately falls into the same vicious cycle of having you go to the map and marking a far away location down.
Even though the promise of a huge map is mostly fulfilled in the game, offering a large variety of cities and environments to drive across, as well as a bunch of stuff to do, it’s the laundry list of issues that bog everything in The Crew down to a screeching halt. As a first stab at a new franchise, Ubisoft has a lot work ahead of them. And if they’ve proven in the past, it’s that they’re very good at improving on ideas via iterations. As a standalone and fully priced game, however, The Crew is a sometimes entertaining but often flawed racer that’s way behind the competition.