Reviews
The Crew

By Jorge Figueiredo - January 28th, 2015

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With the release of both Forza Horizon 2 and Driveclub at the end of last year, one would think that everyone’s racing needs were met – but this is not the case. While both of those proved themselves to be great videogames, one would be remiss if they did not try out Ubisoft’s The Crew. While perhaps not as pretty as Forza or as technical as Driveclub, The Crew brings new meaning to the term “open world”. Sure, it’s not perfect; the game occasionally suffers from repetition and a silly story – but if you love arcade driving games it is probably one of the most fun titles out there in the genre – and the social aspect makes for some really great experiences.

The game begins with you sitting in the driver’s seat of a pursued vehicle. You play the part of Alex Taylor, a man who is fantastic behind the steering wheel of practically anything, and whose older brother Dayton is the founder of the 5-10 Motor Club, a gathering of like-minded drivers who participate in Detroit’s illegal street racing culture. It is clear that Dayton recognizes his younger brother’s skills, as he takes him to a private meeting for the purpose of being able to hi-tail it out of there if something goes South. Of course, the meeting does not go as planned; Dayton ends up dead, and Alex is framed for his murder. Eventually, Alex gets out, and is approached and recruited by the FBI to take down the new head of the 5-10s: the man who actually killed Dayton. Alex is a somewhat willing participant, and infiltrates the 5-10s in order to grow his rep and climb the ladder in order to deal his brand of justice.

Let’s not kid ourselves here: the story is cheesy and ridiculous, and the single-player campaign feels like it could have been part of The Fast and the Furious. However, there are a lot of side missions to keep players busy – and I mean a lot. It’s hard not to admire the sheer spunk of co-developers Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections when one considers the sheer scope of everything that they tried to accomplish in this title. Can you drive from one corner of the country to the other? Yes! Do you have to stay on roads? No! Is there a lot to do! Oh my God, do you even need to ask? Just look at the freakin’ map! The game starts relatively small and then expands at a ridiculous rate to envelop the entire United States. Trust me: if you commit to this game, then you will be playing for a long time.

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The selection of cars is not massive – but you will have a lot of fun.

The initial stages of learning the controls is something of a trial-by-fire experience; however, since the game plays fast and loose with the laws of physics, it is not very hard to stumble your way through the first few events without too much difficulty. Once you are recruited by the FBI, Zoe (the agent who has taken an interest in you and your skills) will fill you in on a fair number of different aspects of the game. Sadly, you may have to suffer t‎hrough some exposition before you get to the meaty information, but it’s par for the course.

Story missions unlock as you unravel the plot, and can be any practically any type of race. These missions are divided up into different race classes (street, dirt, raid, performance, and circuit) and you will have to drive accordingly. Most of them will allow you to play in either solo or co-op – though there are a few that are strictly solo. Co-operative mission‎s can be entered with your existing crew (which consists of friends or randoms that you invited to join you prior to the current mission), or you can have the game find you a crew if you happen to be playing lone wolf (though, truthfully, this never really worked out well for me). Winning missions results in experience (which increases your in-game level and unlocks perks), special parts (which improve vehicle performance, raising the level of your vehicle), and cash (which gives you the opportunity to buy better parts and other customizations). There are multiple levels of achievement (bronze, silver, gold, etc.) which dictate the level of reward. Story events are usually accompanied by cinematics, to help keep the game on point in regards to the overall tone.

One of the most important elements of The Crew are Data Stations, which are radar dishes that you can find to further embed yourself in the underground driving network. The general locations of these Data Stations can be seen on the map, and can be found more specifically by driving in the area of one of the indicators and paying attention to the “hot/cold” beeper. When you are on the fringes of the area containing one of these special locations, the symbol for the Data Station will appear in the lower right-hand corner of your screen next to your map; a beeping tone will be heard, and the map will display a red flash that points in the general direction of the Station. As you get closer, the flash will become yellow, and then green – and the beeping will become more frequent.‎ Once you “claim” a Data Station, the surrounding are on the map will become absolutely littered with side quests and other important locations.

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Graphics are a little odd – but the animation is smooth.

‎Side missions are single-shot racing events that give you the opportunity to gain extra credit and new parts – these are important since the story missions alone do not seem to get you to where you need to be later on in the game. These “optional” events are straightforward, and they each begin when the player passes through a virtual gate, marking the beginning of your short driving quest. Unlike story missions, these side missions have no cinematics or lead-ins, so they are entirely player-driven (ha!), and can be triggered by accident if you happen to drive through the gate. During these events, a gold-medal ghost car is rendered, to show a possible path to attain a gold ranking. I suspect that there are so many event to not only help you get your car up to story-level speed, but to also appeal to as wide an audience as possible. One certainly doesn’t have to be good at every single event to be successful in the game – but it certainly helps to break up events that you may not be as strong in with the occasional good one. It’s also nice to have a good number of options to choose from (and there are a number of each type of raced scattered across the country, providing varied routes and terrain), since it encourages practice (and trust me, you will need it).

As I stated at the top, this is an arcade racer, so if you are considering grabbing The Crew to give you that technical racing fix, you’ll be disappointed. The physics, while decent enough, do not really approach the levels of finesse that games from the Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo franchises do. For instance, you can drive like a maniac in a straight line, and unless you run into a wall, drive into a river, or hit another car (or tree) very hard, you won’t stop. In fact, you can even hit trees going full blast, and your car just shifts a little to the side. Engaging in a fatal collision will treat the player to an animation (which can be skipped).

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The cops are all RoboCop. It’s the only explanation.

There are a few other negatives, too. For one thing, AI can be exceedingly odd (and frustrating) at times, and cars that should have no right being able to catch up from being so far behind manage to do so (especially the police); also, there are moments where random civilians will do the strangest things, like decide to change lanes by making their cars slide almost perpendicular to the direction that they are travelling in (just to get to the next lane). Another odd issue occurs when you finish a mini-game at a score higher than one you previously attained: your view will go dark and reset your car at a dead standstill, regardless of how fast you were travelling. Strange rendering glitches accompany the odd AI behaviour to give players a freak show of weirdness as cars spin out of control for no reason, float, or flash in and out of reality – and multi-player seems to amplify these issues. Folks used to tons of cars will find The Crew somewhat frustrating with it’s limited offering, and the ongoing berating from the FBI officer for not being at a high enough level to participate in local events gets old (most of the time my level was exceedingly high – much higher than the events I was thinking about entering). And finally, if there is a way to change the default view, I haven’t figured it out yet. Yes, having to hit a button twice isn’t the biggest deal in the world – but it would just be nice to start the game for once without having to change my view.

Those are a few of the issues – but as bad as they sound, I still believe that The Crew is one of the most fun driving games that I have ever played. Yes, the physics are not the greatest – but making them too realistic would probably cause a lot of frustration, and this game is all about fun. Yes, the graphics are a little dated (hyper-realistic cars against an aged backdrop) and they can be glitchy – but the sheer size of this thing makes that a forgivable “offense”; not to mention the damage and dirt modelling, plus the music and the great sound effects definitely help to make things better (and the voice acting isn’t bad). Yes, the AI can be frustrating, but you can simply try again – there are not many races that are so long as to cause anger at losing them after a significant time investment (although, there are a couple), and your damaged car can be repaired for a very reasonable fee. Sure, there are not a lot of cars, but you can modify the hell out of them, piece by piece (with cool animations to boot). This allows you to really get to know your cars well (and yes, they do handle differently), and you can take them for a spin across a number of different types of terrain. What’s even better is that rather then burning your funds on new cars, you can buy kits to modify your rides to become different classes, which means that you can get a lot of mileage out of a single vehicle without breaking the bank too badly.

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Some pretty sweet modelling here (dirt and damage).

Hooking up with friends (or strangers) in The Crew is easy and fun. In-game voice chats are supported between crew members and any one of the crew members can rope in the others ‎to participate in missions. There is something to be said about being able to hedge one’s bets by enlisting comrades to run interference in an important race, and it benefits everyone involved (as the favour can be returned later). The game makes it very easy to keep track of each other, as well, so when you’re both out hunting for hidden car parts or radar stations, you can see each other in the map and can usually fast-travel to each other if you have both explored the same areas (otherwise, you can fast travel as close as possible and drive the rest of the way). I heard that there were not many people to play with at launch, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, as I get invited fairly frequently to engage in races with people I don’t know.

I could honestly go on and on about The Crew. The long and the short of it is that it is not a perfect game. Slightly dated graphics, glitchy behaviour, and repetitive game-play might be something that players will take issue with. However, if you would like to play a driving game that involves arcade-like fun (which this does – in spades), RPG elements (upgrading your car by accumulating experience), a passable story (with kick-ass missions), a huge (I can’t stress that word enough) open world, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, then The Crew is for you. You’ll most likely end up playing it in Single-Player mode most of the time, keeping up with the weekly challenges and occasionally playing with friends – but there is nothing wrong with there, since there is a lot of playing time packed into this title. The Crew is available for the Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.

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