The Crew (PS3, PS4 (Preview system), 360, One, PC; Reflections; Ubisoft)
I’ve been watching this game like an eagle since it was announced last year at E3. Here we are, the developers of my favourite driving/racing game of last generation (Driver: San Francisco) creating a game that basically fits one of my life dreams and one of my favourite racing subgenres, the open-world driver. And I was very much hoping I could get my hands on one of the console closed betas so I could see whether this game is everything I hoped it would be and am still hoping it will be. What I really wanted from this game was a next-gen Test Drive Unlimited, with the taut driving of Driver San Francisco and the joys of driving across the US in a Ford Mustang for hours and hours while ignoring my friends who want to me to actually do productive things in the game.
What I wasn’t hoping the game would be was a mess of server failures and issues and no-one in my ‘session’. For a game so built around online infrastructure and the social experience of exploring the US in cars, playing it as a solo game feels weird. Its not the biggest issue to me, because I will quite happily play it on my own (when the servers will let me in), and there’s more than enough to do (when the servers will let me in), and the world still feels alive with just me in it (when the servers will let me in), but for this game to really represent the continuation of the idea of social open-world racers like Burnout Paradise and Test Drive Unlimited and things like that, it needs to have that netcode down. I get this is a beta, so its designed to stress-test these things, and the game is still a month from release, but it feels more like the netcode is non-existent than that its not tested, which is a bit of an issue at this point. I’d really rather not have the game come out to some Battlefield 4, or even Driveclub, level server issues, especially if Ubisoft won’t be letting me get onto the game without being able to access the server, as they currently do with the beta (obviously, I understand they will likely change that for release because there will be offline players, but still).
But now I’ve got that negativity out of the way with, its time for me to gush about the game because barring the online failings that I’m hoping they’ll fix up, I am already in love with this game. I’ve basically only spent time in Detroit, with brief drives through and in Chicago and St Louis, so I’ve not even really come close to leaving the Midwest portion of the map, and the scale of the game is already astounding me. Just this small area felt bigger than a lot of open-world games I’ve played in my time as a gamer. Which I just find crazy. And there’s even some room for environmental variety as well even just in the Midwest, considering the cities all felt different and I was driving a truck over dunes on a beach in one of the early missions and I’ve spent plenty of time driving through gorgeous forests, and I know there’ll be deserts and plains and hills and everything else tucked away all over the US. I’m going to be trying to drive from Chicago to (New York to Miami to LA to) Seattle during the weekend, which I’m reckoning will be a good solid 2-3 hours of straight driving, and the prospect of seeing the slightly compressed US over the course of such a trek sounds so nice to me, as someone that always loved just cruising on Test Drive Unlimited or loved picking the absurd 10 minute courses on Gran Turismo just to get into the feel of the driving and immerse myself.
On that idea of immersion, this game kinda reaches Euro Truck Sim levels of that for me. Test Drive Unlimited often felt very aimless because generally you weren’t given much of a sense of where you specifically needed to go, whereas Euro Truck Sim is a very clear ‘cruise from A-to-B’ kind of game. And I think The Crew really hits that nail on the head. Just get into the gorgeous cockpit view and put an objective on the map, and follow that blue squiggly line in the sky and enjoy the ride. That’s not to say the game doesn’t do things other than cruising well. Its just that I know I will spend my time in this game cruising; racing is cool and everything, and time trials have some appeal, but I just want to drive around the US in gorgeous muscle cars. I am a simple man with simple tastes like that.
Of no surprise to me, the gameplay itself is pretty tight. The cars have this wonderfully balanced handling that feels like a better Need For Speed, honestly. Its drifty, but not excessively unrealistically drifty. It makes you feel like you’ve really pulled off something impressive when you throw your car around the corner without really fucking it up by hitting stuff or under turning or losing speed, and then you just throw down your boost bar and pull some Fast & Furious style moves to flick yourself into the lead. It feels fun and arcadey enough to not be another competitor to Forza Horizon 2, but still realistic enough to make pulling tricks off feel satisfying and not like its just Giant Burnout Paradise. Honestly, I had been worried after people had said they didn’t think much to the handling in the PC beta and the first console beta, but proof is in the pudding and the pudding was delicious.
The last thing to discuss here I guess is the game’s presentation, as thats likely done by all accounts now. Graphically, it is the most beautiful game I’ve seen this generation, and really feels like a step up from all the last gen racers I put a lot of time into. Also, they’ve avoided crippling sun-blindness which EA never seem to dodge as they love the Frostbite engine so much. The UI is a bit imposing and a bit in your face, so hopefully there are options to reduce the size of that, but its a fairly minor complaint. The soundtrack seems good for the tone of the game and the feel and everything, but honestly, I’ve had the 70s Road Trip playlist lined up on Spotify for months waiting for this experience so I don’t really care. The sounds of the cars are gorgeous. Even though I’ve only driven a Mustang. But this is basically a Mustang simulator, and if you don’t believe that, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, your taste and your perception of cool.
Basically, this game is everything I wanted it to be, but its still got some room to fix up and look sharp in the next month. My pre-order is going seriously now though, and my hype will only continue to flow from my mouth and fingers like lava from an erupting volcano. Then, come December, I am going to drive and race in this gorgeous immersive world so much that I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to the real world.
Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.