“The Crew” sets out to be a massive, multiplayer racing game unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. You can form “crews” with anyone and take on other factions for money. Or you can drive from New York to Los Angeles in a single sitting. You can buy a Chevrolet Camaro and fit it with a lift kit and big tires to go offroad. “The Crew” promises so much.
Yet, in actuality, it delivers so little good content.
What “The Crew” does have going for it is an idea: exploring the U.S. The virtual world is scaled down from the real thing, of course, but the sheer size of the map Ubisoft has created is absolutely astonishing. It took about a half hour to drive from Chicago to New York: That doesn’t sound impressive, but consider that you could get across the entire map of other games in that time.
The biggest draw for “The Crew” is its multiplayer mode, but there’s also a huge number of story missions to complete throughout the country. It’s definitely enough to keep you busy for a while, if you’re a solo player. Joining multiplayer matches was easy and fluid, when I could find people playing. But this is a brand-new game, so the population will grow soon.
Aside from these things, there’s also -- well, not much to say. Nothing nice, at least.
It’s hard to know where to begin. “The Crew” is super-ambitious, but it falls completely flat in execution. Sure, the world is big, but there’s nothing impressive in it. Yes, there are missions, and you can drive to representations of U.S. locales to eat time -- but the scenery is just so boring. All the towns look depressing and generic, aside from obvious geographical monuments (Gateway Arch, Cape Cod, etc.).
Ubisoft could have made the locales at least feel distinct with local radio stations/music. Imagine Eminem and The Temptations in Detroit, Chuck Berry and Nelly in St. Louis. Maybe the Beastie Boys in New York. Perhaps Fall Out Boy in Chicago. Instead, there’s 30 or so random tracks built in (with Lorde’s “Royals” making an appearance for some reason). Thankfully, there’s always the “import your own music” function, because you can listen to “Royals” only so many times on a cross-country drive.
Can we talk about how the game looks? I know I was sent a PlayStation 4 copy, but I have a hard time believing this isn’t a project from four or five years ago -- it’s completely outclassed by “Forza Horizon 2,” as described by Eurogamer. Pavement looks OK, but the cars are jagged and lack a surprising amount of detail on next-generation consoles. Cutscenes look nice (prerendered stuff almost always does), but the bulk of the game isn’t attractive.
So the world is boring and ugly. That would be a bit more excusable if the rides were entertaining. But they’re not good, either.
Now, granted this is an arcade racer and not a racing sim -- I’m not expecting “Gran Turismo” -- but the physics make absolutely no sense. It’s like the cars are made from elastic gummis; the rear ends swing around with minimal steering inputs, bobbing and weaving like the chassis are jello. They never properly settle in corners, and they won’t hold a drift.
They’re hard to rein in, so you’re going to hit things. Often. Again, that’s to be expected in a game like this. However, it’s never clear what’s going to damage your car or slow you down. Grass slows you down like a sand trap, but hit a telephone pole and your car bounces off like a kid on a trampoline. Pedestrians flail away from your car like they’ve just discovered spiders in their bathrooms. Wildlife glitches away. Stop signs can literally stop you.
The physics problems don’t end there. Even high-powered rear-wheel drive cars can barely powerslide. They can’t even do burnouts or donuts! But it doesn’t matter what configuration your car of choice is, they all handle like low-powered, high-grip, all-wheel-drive cars. What’s the point of having a Nissan R34 GTR if it has to handle like a Nissan 370Z?. Everything is supposed to be just as good as everything else in “The Crew” -- and that’s made for a collection of boring, questionably detailed cars.
Then there’s the uneven, ludicrous difficulty. It’s just not fun -- cops are overtly aggressive, ganging up on you and slamming you into oncoming traffic, even at low wanted levels. The fact they can keep up with a 200-MPH supercar in their standard-issue Crown Victorias is preposterous in itself. I’m willing to suspend some disbelief for an arcade game, but when 130-MPH cars are pulling hard past a Ford GT -- it’s nonsense. The same goes for the knockoff Volkswagen Passats keeping up with a race spec GT at 240 MPH: These moments are just scripted nonsense to create tension, until you pass some kind of imaginary line. Never mind that the cops have such an idiotic sense of justice they may as well not exist. Speed past them at 150 MPH? That’s OK! Nudge a fence? “Dispatch, we have reports of a reckless driver, pursuing suspect.”
Police officers and story hitmen aren’t the only dim-witted, cheating adversaries: Race opponents get random bursts of speed to catch you in a straight line, even if you’re much faster than they are, just to make the finish closer. Everything you win comes from a battle of attrition, not skill.
You’ll get a reward for every race you clear, but it takes so long to grind for meaningful amounts of parts/upgrades/money. Even with your own crew, it’s gonna take a long time to buy other cars (of which there aren’t enough, about 40 in total). A basic, “fullstock” (the term the game uses for a completely unmodified vehicle, well, except for the nitrous oxide installed for some reason) 1967 Chevrolet Camaro costs more than $250,000.
Or you could spend a few “Crew Credits,” which you can obtain most easily through microtransactions. Nobody wants to buy a $60 game and be greeted with microtransactions. , as indicated by commenters at NeoGAF. But that’s the only way to grow your car collection without slaving away for weeks.
Now, there is a story in “The Crew,” although it’s one on par with the corniness of any recent “Need For Speed” game: generic white dude (in this instance outfitted with beard and oversize glasses to be trendy) gets into trouble. Attractive female law officer shows up to spring him in exchange for help with revenge. Most of the side characters are pretty terrible, but Eric Tsu is an entertaining sociopath at least.
And you always have to be online to play. Even for solo missions. Plus, you have to also sign into Ubisoft’s annoying uPlay service that nobody likes, as suggested by commenters at Kotaku.
“The Crew” is like “Need For Speed” with an open world, fewer cars, ugly graphics, uneven difficulty and bad physics. If you want an open-world racing game, “Forza Horizon 2” is still the one to get right now.