E3 2013 delivered plenty of excitement for racing fans. The two biggest genre franchises both have upcoming new editions, with Gran Turismo 6 providing a current-gen swansong for PS3, and Forza 5 firing an opening salvo for next gen racers on Xbox One. But the biggest surprise of all came in the form of upstart new PS4 title Driveclub, whose demo delivered more fun than the both of them put together, as you can read right here.
But the high-speed thrills and spills didn’t stop there. Two other notable racers were also on display at E3, but neither fall into the same traditional racing category as the previously mentioned, finish line-obsessed trio. Nope. These other two are a breed apart: a pair of racing rough-housers that fall squarely into the arcade combat category. And they are Ubisoft’s brand new The Crew, and the latest addition to Electronic Arts’ almost 20-year-old franchise, Need for Speed: Rivals. Neither gives a damn about the checkered flag. Instead, they’re far more interested in serving up larger-than-life racing action in the form of missions, combat, and utter destruction and mayhem that plays out across a massively multiplayer, non-linear, open world environment.
Slated for PS4, Xbox 360 and PC, The Crew is being developed by Ivory Tower in France, with help from UK-based Ubisoft Reflections. Both teams have plenty of racing chops, with the Gallic group having Test Drive: Unlimited and Need for Speed: V-Rally on its resume. The British development team’s pedigree can be traced all the way back to the 1995 classic, Destruction Derby, and continues across three generations in the form of the Driver series, the most recent of which was Driver: San Francisco. I played that game a lot when it was released in late 2011, and thought I could feel some of its DNA deep in the obviously very early demo of The Crew that was playable at E3. Perhaps I’m just fooling myself, but it did seem to be familiar, both in its looks and the way it handles.
The game was being shown as a four-up multiplayer demo, although when it came to my turn, the network failed and the whole thing had to be reset (at which point I discovered that although I had an Xbox One controller in my hands, the game was running on a Windows 7, Hewlett-Packard PC dev kit). Unfortunately, the network couldn’t be restarted, so I ended up playing a single-player version of the game, which was good enough to get a feel for the action. I’d already seen three other sets of people playing while I waited, which gave me the gist of how the player-matching system works, so I don’t think I was missing out on much.
The Crew is focused on all-out action, with the game hooking up players dynamically almost the moment they start playing, ensuring that there’s plenty of human-to-human competition. Car combat comes in a variety of formats, and I experienced point-to-point racing, some versus smash-and-bash combat, and a single-target takedown scenario. Apparently, many more competitive formats will be added during the game’s development, and if Driver: San Francisco’s hugely fun multiplayer combat is anything to go by, I imagine this will result in plenty of variety. The game has heavy customization aspects, and we’re not just talking new rims and a spoiler. You can pretty much monster out any car you want, turning it from a sleek street racer into a jacked-up, off-road, armored combat vehicle capable of dishing out (and taking) lots of punishment.
Looking at the demo, The Crew feels like it’s still early in its development cycle. It lacked the rich, meticulous next-gen lighting and detail seen in other games on display, and the gameplay had a few rough spots, mostly experienced when driving through certain parts of its destructible urban environments. That’s not a criticism at all – I’m just reporting exactly what I saw. Ultimately, l walked away impressed, It’s clear the game has plenty of potential, and if it’s fully realized, it should result in an auspicious debut.
While The Crew felt a little rough around the edges, Need for Speed: Rivals felt slick and polished to a tee. The product of Ghost Games, with additional help from Criterion, Rivals is clearly coming out of Hot Pursuit territory with its pedal to the metal. This is cops and robbers on steroids, and will be immediately familiar to anyone who has a history with Criterion’s franchise-revitalizing take on high-speed chase-racing. Only this time around, the graphics are even finer, there’s even more detail, and the overall lighting and atmosphere is really quite exquisite.
I played a six-up demo, with a trio of us in police cars, and the other three playing civilians. Of course, we were all driving high-performance exotics, identical except for the requisite roof-mounted red and blue lights and sirens on the vehicles driven by those on the right side of the law. As soon as the demo started, I was immediately given some simple, point-building goals to achieve, which of course went out of the window the moment I saw a civilian driver fly past me, likely in pursuit of his own goals. I switched on the sirens, and a chase was initiated. Automotive anarchy ensued as I tried to smash my target off the road, taking shortcuts, jumps and off-road excursions in an attempt to catch my quarry. I ended up getting nailed at an intersection by another driver, which probably yielded him points, and both he and my target driver disappeared off into the sunset having successfully evaded me.
So as you can tell, for Hot Pursuit fans, this is business as usual - but with several layers of extra icing and some seriously fat cherries on the top. The Autolog system is being overhauled and updated, there will be several new kinds of gameplay modes, and the environment seems bigger, richer and more sophisticated than ever. I walked away feeling highly satisfied, and with the distinct feeling that this game will be a day one purchase.
In terms of comparing NFS: Rivals and The Crew, while they’re clearly in the same arcade-racing-combat genre, they’re going about their business in subtly different ways. Both are geared to deliver continual multiplayer challenges via player hook-ups, but Need for Speed is more tarmac based, with its focus on pursuit and racing, while The Crew’s more open-world, more varied mission structure and drive-anywhere feel takes it in a different direction. That’s great news for fans of vehicular mayhem, because it looks like you’ll have two clear choices to suit your particular gameplay style, or if you want the full feast, you can stuff yourself on both without feeling like you’re eating too much of the same thing. I just hope both can get their recipe just right – because this early taste was extremely tantalizing.