Forza Horizon 2 vs The Crew - E3 Comparison

Forza Horizon 2 vs The Crew - E3 Comparison

Two open world driving games were showcased at E3 - Ubisoft's long-awaited The Crew, and Microsoft's surprise entry, Forza Horizon 2. How do they compare and contrast?

This time last year I was playing The Crew with an Xbox One controller in my hand, when suddenly it crashed to a Hewlett Packard-branded PC desktop. Of course, it was a development system, but even so, it was somewhat surprising.

That it crashed, however, was not. The game felt very early: a couple of basic racing demos that showcased The Crew's open-world environment and nascent handling engine, and map and mission screens that gave some insight into the considerable scope of developer Ivory Tower’s vision.

The Crew is set in a miniature USA. This is an industrial zone somewhere near Detroit.

A year later, and the game’s clearly running on an Xbox One, rather than being piped out of a locked box. It's also looking far more polished, as you'd expect. The demo is surprisingly similar in concept to what I played twelve months ago, however: a road race followed by a mission that involves chasing down an enemy car and smashing it to pieces - a journey that takes place almost exclusively off road. So it’s good that I’m driving an RUF 3400 with jacked-up suspension and extra-chunky dirt tires, then.

A racing sim this is not: The Crew is an arcade driving game that encompasses a variety of automotive missions of every flavor you can think of, from dirt to track, from combative to solo skills, from pursuit to flight. It all takes place within an open-world environment in the form of a compact United States of America, and it's big. A coast-to-coast drive will take you around 90 minutes, depending on whether you decide to stop somewhere to see what’s going on.

Driving a Mini in Miami, The Crew style.

In many respects The Crew reminds me of the more recent open-world Test Drive games - which is understandable since developer Ivory Tower’s team includes people who’ve previously worked on that game, as well as Need for Speed and V-Rally. Only this time around, the game is far, far larger and more complex than anything they've done before, and incorporates comprehensive multiplayer options that drive it deep into MMO territory. While the game does have a single-player mode, it’s the multiplayer PvP online races and missions, as well as team PvP competitions that’ll give the game its long-lasting appeal.

Getting ready to race in Times Square.

As with most racing games, The Crew offers players the opportunity to customize their cars, although it takes it much further than most. Success on road, track and dirt awards experience that can be invested in cosmetic and mechanical upgrades, and almost any car can be modified to tackle any kind of mission. So that jacked-up, off-road RUF I was driving can naturally be outfitted with a track kit if I wanted to take it circuit racing, or given a street tune for a transcontinental drive. Visual customization options include bodykits, stickers and even interior modifications. Players have plenty of latitude to personalize their cars - something that the developer deems important considering the game's multiplayer and social/team components.

In terms of its handling, The Crew is tuned for arcade-style play: it’s lurid and larger than life. However, it still manages to articulate the characteristics and feel of different cars extremely well. It's generally predictable and tight enough enough so that good drivers will be able to learn to work effectively within its parameters to continually improve their skills. However, it’s also slightly forgiving, and doesn’t unduly punish heavy-handedness with the sort of braking understeer/lift-off oversteer/loss of control that you normally see in racing sims. It’s basically a get-in-and-drive game that welcomes all, but seems to have a quite high ceiling for mastery. It’s an approach that seems to work well, and helps The Crew differentiate itself from its more straight-up driving game competitors.

Both The Crew and Forza Horizon 2 feature plenty of off-roading.

Jumping into Forza Horizon 2 after playing The Crew is quite the contrast. The second spin-off from Turn 10’s acclaimed racing series was a surprise announcement at E3, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Already looking slick and polished, it feels like a more serious and realistic proposition than Ubisoft’s nascent driver. While the cars and landscaping in The Crew are high quality, Forza’s vehicles and environments are a good step ahead - very similar to those in Forza 5. Reflections and lighting is the key here: where Forza often sparkles with realism, The Crew comes across as comparatively flat. Ubisoft’s driver just doesn’t have the depth and detail that Forza Horizon 2 has. Both games have variable weather and lighting conditions, but again, Forza delivers by far the better visual experience.

But while Forza is more visually impressive, The Crew is a far larger game. That’s not to say Forza Horizon 2 is small, but its Southern France/Northern Italy maps are not as expansive as The Crew’s. Like The Crew, Forza affords players the opportunity to make off-road excursions, although it feels slightly odd in some cases. A representative of developer Playground Games showed off this feature during a presentation, crashing his Lamborghini Huracan through a fence, and then driving across several cornfields and through a copse before breaking through another fence to get back on the road. I asked whether or not there was any damage modeling in the game, since the Lambo seemed untouched other than a light coating of dust, and was told that it does indeed - but the reason why the Huracan took no damage is because the demo driver is really good.

Forza Horizon 2 lets you take your supercar off-roading. Which means you can expect several pages of "don't do this in real life" legal stuff on the loading screen.

That just didn’t sit quite right with me. I’m fairly sure that crashing a couple of fences and driving across fields and through a bunch of trees would probably result in some damage to the car. But then, I can understand why the developers might need to give some leeway here: taking off-road shortcuts is integral to some races, and it wouldn't be much fun if your car fell to pieces 100 yards into a field. None of this is bad - it's just that Forza Horizon 2 looks like a serious driving sim, and it's easy to forget that under its photorealistic skin, is a driving game that's only pseudo-realistic.

Forza's handling feels like a Forza Motorsport game with many of the driving aids turned on. However, the assists don't blunt performance like they do in the racing game and instead seem to help you maintain control without a loss of speed. It feels good, and the two hands-on sessions I had with the game gave me the impression that Forza differentiates cars’ handling characteristics quite well.

Forza Horizon 2 features incredibly detailed cars: graphically, it's a step ahead of The Crew.

Like The Crew, Forza Horizon 2 is multiplayer and combines PvP pick-up races with mission-structured competition. Forza’s Drivatar system supplies the opponents if there’s no competitive human(s) in the mix, and the developer’s objective is to make Forza’s driving and racing as seamless as possible. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy, and missions include races against trains and planes, and the chance to find hidden cars and achieve specific map objectives.

Center stage are Forza's Horizon festivals, which are spread across the map. Players can visit these as individuals, or as part of an up-to-1000 member club, and show off their cars and skills. These events also double as social hubs: meeting points for players to organize races or talk about their cars.

Forza Horizon 2 features a huge selection of cars, from hot hatches to exotics.

Speaking of cars, Forza Horizon 2 features some 220 of them, which looks likely to dwarf The Crew’s “more than 40.” Even if you charitably take into consideration that Ubisoft’s game enables far more drastic customization, from bone stock to Mad Max-style combat cars, it's still a huge difference.

In terms of their fundamental gameplay, Forza and The Crew are both open world mission-based driving games of an arcade bent, and their Venn intersection has some commonalities in terms of their social nature and synchronous/asynchronous PvP racing. But despite those similarities, each game goes about its business its own way. Forza is more about point-to-point racing, whereas The Crew offers a variety of more open driving styles. Forza looks realistic, and The Crew goes larger-than life. Forza is a celebration of cars and car culture, while The Crew pushes the limits of what can be done with them.

Taking shortcut through fields is something you can expect in Forza Horizon 2.

What’s for sure is that each game looks interesting in its own right, and I'm looking forward to playing them both. Fortunately we don’t have to wait long to do so: Forza Horizon 2 is released at the end of September this year, and The Crew follows just over a month later on November 11. Expect reviews of both.

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