Never drive alone.
That’s what Ubisoft want us to believe and if we’re all being honest, that’s exactly what we want from a game. We want a decent racer that can bring plenty of competitive and cooperative friend action, something which gets the hairs raising on the back of our necks. Something that is fast, exciting and down right exhilarating. Does The Crew deliver?
Well. Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes.
You see, after plenty of hours of gametime, I’ve managed to get into a bit of a relationship with The Crew. It’s become my second wife and much like the first wife, there’s a bit of a love involved. But I also get dealt a fair bit of hassle as well.
The Crew is much like a marriage in many respects. But one without a honeymoon period of any length or significance.
I first experienced a hands on play with The Crew at EGX 2014 and whilst I enjoyed the multiplayer events that I was lucky enough to get involved in, there were major tearing issues and screen stutters that ruined the whole experience. It was shortly after that when Ubisoft decided to delay the release date a little in order to get things working to a satisfactory standard. I’m pleased to say, that the vast majority of those graphical issues have seemingly been resolved. Yes, there is still the odd rip, the odd stutter but for the most part these are limited to the odd second here and there and really don’t affect the overall experience at all. Indeed, if you sit with the intro movie for a little while you’ll be chomping at the bit to get started because that really does set the scene for what is to come.
And that is a bit of racing across the United States, taking in every terrain you can think of, participating in numerous skill games but most importantly, having a bloody good bit of fun whilst you do so.
You play as Alex Taylor (voiced by the current videogame luvvie Troy Baker) who after witnessing and then being tried for the murder of his brother, comes back to the scene in an attempt to infiltrate the criminal gangs and dodgy cops that are threatening to over run the States. That’s about the jist of all you need to know and being honest, the story is neither here nor there, at the best of times keeping you pointed in one direction whilst at the worst being highly laughable. I would have been more than happy if the accompanying story had taken a bit of a back seat if I’m honest, with its continual pop ups and repeated hype building dialogue not bringing anything worthwhile to the table.
With most open world environments however, you are basically free to do what you will and with over 900 different activities set across five very differing regions, where you go next is, to a certain extent governed by your own explorative mind. If you so wish, you can set out on a journey from New York to Las Vegas or beyond, taking in the sights, the sounds and the thrill of the ride. The only thing stopping you from doing as you will is the amount of time you have left in the day! Whilst the main story is obviously the big event to hit if you really want to start proving your worth in the racing scene, it is quite happy to sit patiently in the background for when you are ready to get involved a little more. It’s fairly easy to get distracted with The Crew because of the sheer number of events on offer. Whether you go out on a search for the latest hidden cars (find enough of them and you’ll be able to get a new car in your garage) or the large radar stations that uncover even more riches then the choice really is yours.
As well as those hidden little gems, numerous side events are positioned lovingly on both the main and back roads that fill the United States of America and you’ll find these a draw no matter whether you intend to or not. Just drive through the open ghostly gates and the event will immediately start, giving you the chance to prove your skills in the world of the slalom, high speed getaways, hill climbs or many other events. Each will give you a bronze, silver or gold medal at the end of it, alongside some much needed bucks and experience points, both of which are crucial to your path ahead.
Your choice of car in these events is critical and the ability to switch between your sport, dirt, performance, raid or circuit spec vehicles is crucial. Bringing up a small menu and then quickly navigating to the car you wish to use takes no time at all and is a joy to use, so if you’ve only hit a bronze on a hill climb in a sports spec vehicle, then within a matter of seconds, you can be attempting the exact same event but in a better, more suited spec car. It’s all about those gold medals you see and you’ll find yourself attempting and reattempting them all over the course of time.
You’ll soon get to feel exactly where and when you need to use each vehicle spec and whilst the main story missions throw you directly into the best car for the job, the side events and overall exploration of America can be done in anything you so wish. Buy a car, tune it up and kit it out with a decent set of visual and performance upgrades and the world is indeed your oyster. The addition of numerous perks help give you something to work towards whilst even more awards (with numerous ones available for each action taken in each individual city) should settle even the most hungry of stomachs. The data on offer is immense and should be a real draw to those who are concerned in more than just racing.
Just make sure you’ve got enough in-game cash for the many vehicle upgrades that are on offer as otherwise you may get tempted into the seedy world of microtransactions. Enough said about them the better though.
Whilst The Crew can be completed and enjoyed fully alone, Ubisoft want you never to do that. They want you to team up with friends, team up with enemies or indeed team up with strangers across the world in the most socially connected racer of all time. And for the most part, they’ve succeeded in bringing us something that is easy to use and great to handle with others. Every mission you come across can be attempted in solo play or via co-op and it just takes a quick hit of a single button to send the mission invites out across the world. Whether you get anyone to reply and join you is however another matter as even with the sometimes dodgy servers being active, I’ve found many racers seem to be content with taking on the gangs of New York by themselves, something which you can do easily as long as your car is up to spec.
If you do manage to join a co-op mission (or have a few friends running alongside you), then things work flawlessly, changing slightly from the normal solo event to something which is a bit more exciting for all involved. A normal ‘escape the cops’ will quickly see one racer need to get away whilst the others attempt to ram and batter the police into submission. It’s the best way to make sure you ultimately succeed and without help from others, there are times when you’ll find yourself needing to grind away at smaller events in order to achieve success at the bigger ones.
Include the option to race for and against other factions in huge, hour long (sometimes longer) races and if you’re more inclined to see the world with a friend or two, then The Crew is a perfect offering and more than worthy of its name. All this depends on Ubisoft getting their servers stable though, because without them, it’s all a bit of a dead duck.
Everything you see and do in The Crew is recorded in a wealth of statistical banks but whilst I have a few issues, this is my one major major gripe; in fact being something which very nearly ruins the entire experience. Whilst the online servers for the racing side of things can be slightly hit or miss, the stats which should be saved from one game session to the next are obviously placed in the equivalent of a chocolate teapot. In a word, they aren’t saved. Ever. For a game that prides itself on the sheer size and scale of things on offer, this is highly disappointing, very nearly being enough to stop anyone serious about exploring the States from continuing any further. A prime example of this comes whenever I take in a landmark. Ubisoft have thrown many real world marks into The Crew and it’s a lovely way of learning a little more about the land of the free, but if I find ten landmarks one day, the very next time I go to visit my statistics, all memory of the last session has been wiped, giving me next to no idea what I need to do next to complete the set. It’s verging on hell for numbers freaks and without sounding too harsh, is a mess.
Similarly, other bugs see cars disappear from plain sight and waypoints suddenly give up the ghost whilst on a road trip. One further massive issue for me is the way The Crew works with the Xbox One as an all round media device. Part of the charm of being involved in the next generation of gaming, especially on Xbox One, is that we are able to leave our game for five minutes whilst we get a snack, watch a quick bit of TV or the like. This works perfectly, with every other game I know happy to sit in the background for a while. Not The Crew. I’m guessing it’s due to its ‘always on’ presence but if you even think about getting distracted for anything more than ten minutes, you’ll be delighted to hear you’ll be thrown back to the main screen with any recent progress lost. Seeing as some of the races can go on for a fair length of time, it’s criminal that this is the case. I know we are playing online and can’t leave a multiplayer match for any length of time, but there are times when I just want to play The Crew alone and certainly expect to be able to pause the game occasionally. The whole issue is a right pain in the arse and I’d have loved to see an offline mode included. Especially when the servers are currently so dodgy.
Additionally, if you’re expecting a racer that handling delightfully from the get go then you’ll be disappointed. Initially any car you get is a bog standard drive and it’s not until you hit that car with the huge number of upgrades that are on offer does it begin to feel anything like a responsive racing machine. The handling is seriously twitchy and floaty to begin with but stick with it and plough a few hours into your ride and you’ll begin to find something that is much more enjoyable. I found that a few tweaks of the default settings in the menus also helped a great deal although the constantly squealing of the tyres is something that looks set to stay no matter how far you upgrade. Fans of manual gears will also struggle as this severely limits any rear view action you may like to take in; not so helpful when a big part of the game focuses on exploring the land around you. For someone who usually sits in a cockpit view with manual gears trained and ready, it’s come as a bit of a disappointment to have to move to a bonnet view and use the auto box on offer. It works fine, but there’s just that feeling that something is missing.
So, a bit like a marriage I’ve learnt to both love and hate The Crew in equal measures. The racing is top notch rubberbanding and will appeal to all arcade race fans, whilst those who enjoy a bit of sim action will, without question, hate what Ubisoft have done. Personally, I love the adrenaline rush that The Crew gives, taking me right back to the days when Project Gotham, Midnight Club LA and the older Need For Speed games were race kings. If you’re expecting realism then step away right now.
Overall though The Crew is a huge, fun living breathing world filled with planes, trains and automobiles but at the same time, it’s a racer that brings plenty of frustration and annoyance. If you are after a new hot speed merchant of a game and have got bored of either of the Forza offerings, then The Crew should see you good for some time to come.
Never drive alone? We don’t plan to……but the servers need to hold up under the strain!