Our review of The Crew has taken the form of a series of updates, written during the first week of the game's availability. Now, with many hours of gameplay under their belt, Mike and Jaz offer their verdict on this massive, sprawling driving game.
Ubisoft has been no stranger to technical issues of late, with Assassin's Creed: Unity creating more than a few headaches for the company. So with that in mind, I've been wondering whether the extremely complex The Crew would also have glitches. And yes it does. In the first three hours of play, I've had no less than two crashes that required a restart. Hopefully these are just teething problems and this trend won't continue. I'll certainly report further issues if they happen.
The first item on the agenda for me is to really get a feel of how The Crew's cars drive. After playing Forza Horizon 2 incessantly, my immediate impression is that The Crew's handling engine feels comparatively loose and strangely rubbery right out of the gate. I'm assuming this rather vague handling is simply to ensure the stock car you start with - from a choice of a Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and (my choice) a Nissan 370z - has plenty of room to improve as you pick up parts for it.
Having looked at the options, I think I probably need to fiddle with the control setup. Stock settings seem to be quite generous with the assists, which makes cars fairly easy to drive, but it also results in some strange-feeling handling behavior that can sometimes be useful, but other times can result in slides being cut short, or the car seeming to slow down during an attempted drift.
However, even though I have some reservations about the immediate quality of the game's feel, it is easy to drive and relatively entertaining, odd quirks notwithstanding. The race missions I've run have been quite close and exciting, and the smash-and-bash missions I've completed have been tense enough to have me squeezing my joypad until it creaks.
However, something I've run into (quite literally) a couple of times while on a mission is ambient traffic. Yes, it's the nature of open world games, but some races can feel like a bit of a dice roll. Perhaps a truck will pull out in front of you at just the wrong moment - or maybe you'll get lucky and have a clear road. Like I said, that's the nature of this kind of game, and the risk of hitting other cars always needs to be considered when you're pulling off a dangerous move or flying around a blind corner at top speed, but even so. It's frustrating when some random car results in defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory.
So far, I've not been particularly enamored with the storyline. It just seems a bit weak, and I don't really like the main character. His motivations are made clear, but it all seems contrived and clichéd. The supporting cast members aren't particularly sympathetic either so far, and some are downright annoying. Fortunately you can skip all the cut scenes, which I most certainly would be doing if I wasn't reviewing the game.
Something I do find interesting about The Crew is the way that successfully completing missions, races, and skill tests results in your car being upgraded - but in very tiny steps. Unlike most racers where you tend to own a stable of cars, and upgrades are usually limited to tiers like street, sport and race, The Crew's upgrading system is far more macro. You're expected to stick with your car and customize it to really make it your own. I quite like this idea, although I wish there was more choice of cars at the beginning of the game. I'm not particularly keen on any of the initial offerings, and am saving up so I can buy a car I really do want to stick with.
But the good news is despite some hiccups, I'm looking forward to playing the game extensively tonight. Although The Crew cannot hold a candle to Forza Horizon 2's audio-visuals, its gameplay is interesting and varied enough to warrant continued play. And its huge world is deeply impressive, even if it does sometimes get boring having to drive a long distance to open up a new area. Even with challenges along the way, there's just not enough stuff to make the journey interesting - not even the ever-changing scenery.
Oh - one quick thing. A couple of times during point-to-point travel, all world traffic mysteriously stopped moving. No big deal, but yeah. Another weird glitch...
I've played the Crew in closed beta on PC and open beta on PlayStation 4, so my early hours are largely recap. The means reliving the trials of bearded hipster racer Alex, as he races to get his revenge against the people who killed his brother. The story is completely forgettable and taking a racing entertainment too seriously doesn't seem to work out; see the Need for Speed movie for more information.
Unlike Jaz, my copy of The Crew on PlayStation was a retail disc, not a digital download. So far, I haven't run into any issues with crashing. I did have a day one patch that was required simply to go online, but it was a relatively short speed bump in my Crew experience. Otherwise, we're running at 30 fps, though the starting mission felt like there were stutters here and there.
Like Jaz, I can't help but compare my time with The Crew to my significant time with Forza Horizon 2, which was an amazing game. Handling-wise, the Crew does fall short on the precision side - it's far more loose and forgiving - but it's still a worthwhile driving experience. I am sad that The Crew falls far short of Forza Horizon 2 when it comes to visual car customization. It feels like there are more parts that change the physical shape of your car here, but when it comes to paint jobs, you can choose your primary color and preset decals. You can't change the color of the decals, which is a major shortcoming. I tried to re-create my FH2 ride with a black paint job and orange racing stripes. No dice.
The Crew is Ubisoft's design philosophy applied to a racing MMO. Head to an area, access a specific point, and unlock other events and collectibles in that area. In The Crew's case, this means racing events, takedown events, landmarks, and other skills challenges. Finish stuff and you get experience and gear on your current spec.
Yeah, spec. Every car in The Crew has access of a few of the different specs: Full Stock, Street, Dirt, Performance, Raid, and Circuit. These push your car in different directions for various events you'll find, above the basic specifications like weight and horsepower. There are even car levels.
The Crew annoys by starting off with an off-road vehicle and Detroit muscle car, neither of which had the handling I wanted. Imagine beginning an MMO and being forced to play a basic warrior before you can choose the stealthy mage or glass cannon mage you had your heart set on. Another slight speed bump. The starting lineup of vehicles gives you a bit more breathing room, but I would've preferred a larger selection of cars. As it stood, the Nissan 370Z was my preferred choice visually, but a bit too light. The Ford Mustang isn't the cut of car I want, but it handles within my usual range.
Once you get beyond the first few hours into general play, The Crew works out rather well. As long as the story doesn't rear its boring head, the "Car MMO" experience is pretty good. Driving from event-to-event, doing random skills challenges that pop up along the way, earning new gears and leveling up your car. There's no way to get a feel for the high-end or the endgame in The Crew though. Is everything going to consist of this on repeat?
Well, that's the point of this review-in-progress, I guess.
I put many hours into the game overnight, and I'm really settling in to how The Crew works. What's boggling my mind somewhat is just how big this game is. There are skill challenges, races, and missions everywhere you drive, and I've just unlocked Faction PvP – which seems to be a meta-game where players can participate by joining one of the game's five factions and competing in challenges in each of the game's zones. If your faction wins the most, that zone will fall under your faction's control for the following month, and you get to play special missions in that area. It’s certainly an interesting concept, and one that I'll be exploring over the next couple of days.
One of the big banner features of The Crew is that it's an automotive MMO. However, so far I'm somewhat underwhelmed by the way multiplayer mode works. I've elected to try "Quick Co-op" for some missions, but most of the time nobody responds. That doesn't really surprise me, because I've had requests to join someone on a mission, but I'm almost always on my way somewhere, or have something else in mind to do. Maybe once I've completed all the story missions, I'll go looking for co-op play, but so far I'm not really feeling like it's an important part of the game. And if, as I fear, later missions require multiple players, I'm not sure how much I'll like that. Hopefully I'll be able to complete the story on my own, and then start taking on challenges with other people.
I've played some missions in co-op mode, but it's extremely hit-and-miss. A couple of times my pick-up partner has been terrible and finished stone last, and another time the person probably accidently pressed co-op, because they just sat where they were until the clock ran down. That leaves only two attempts that seemed to be reasonably successful. Sure, that's the nature of pick-up play, but then again – that's also the danger of weaving it into a game. You really have to take a leap of faith with the players, and so far, at this early stage, it seems that most players are doing their own thing.
Something cool that happened last night was that I joined one of the PvP factions and was given a rather useful 100k in in-game credits to spend on a car and tuning options. I ended up driving around the country opening up all the dealerships so I could see what I could buy. To be blunt, I'm not over the moon about the car selection in this game. Sure, there are plenty of nice ones, but most of my usual Gran Turismo favorites aren't in the game – rally inspired cars like a WRX or Evo in particular. I ended up buying a Ford Focus ST for the fun of it. Once I tuned it up, it was actually considerably better than my 370z, so I think that'll become my car of choice.
I made some visual mods to it too, and that was quite fun. However, the result of doing this feels slightly old-fashioned. Not in terms of the game, but the look of the cars. Many of the styling cues seen to be culled from the early Fast and Furious era, with excessive wings and aerodynamics, and speed holes up the yin-yang. I'm a little more aesthetically drawn to the Q-car style of a low profile look, so today I'm going to see if there's any way I can de-wing my car and make it feel more like stock, rather than something from a 00's Need for Speed game.
Like Mike, I'm finding the visual customization options fairly weak. There are plenty of stickers to choose from, but it's nothing like what you can do with Forza cars, where you can make a car look however you want. For a game that's essentially an MMO and expects you to stick with your cars for weeks and perhaps even months, I want more than simply choosing a color, and a preset bunch of decals that I can't move or change at all. It just feels like this part of the game is lacking. A shame, really, because I think being able to customize your car's look completely really helps make it feel like your own.
I just hit level 21, and feel like I'm making good progress. Something that's helped alleviate the tedium of travel between unexplored territories is fast-travel hopping. If you fast-travel right to the edge of an explored area, you can drive over the border into the next zone, unlock it and then fast-travel to the edge of that and rinse/repeat until you get to your destination. It certainly speeds up some journeys that would otherwise be pretty damn long.
I've been enjoying the missions so far, but I'm beginning to wonder just how much the gameplay will hold up over time. Racing is fun on road, track and dirt, and there's variety in terms of mission objectives… but there are fundamental elements of repetition in play. I dread getting long point-to-point missions where tight timing means the kind of collision with an ambient car that I was talking about yesterday can deep six your race and result in a required restart. That can get quite frustrating if it happens a couple of times.
I've also had a couple of instances where I've somehow aggroed the cops while finishing up a mission. When that happens, the completion window pops up, you're given no chance to escape, and you end up basically having to pay the fine. If it'd happened once, I could overlook it, but I just endured it for the third time, so it's a definite annoyance - or I'm just that unlucky. It just seems like a design flaw: either I should be given a chance to escape the cops once the mission windows are closed, or the game should automatically clear my wanted level. Losing money and not being able to do a thing about it is not fun.
So far, I own a Nissan 370z, a Ford Focus RS and a BMW M5. While the performance-oriented BMW is clearly faster than the other two, I'm not noticing a huge amount of difference in terms of handling characteristics. They all drive largely the same way. The only time I've felt a really big difference is between dirt and street specs, where the off-road suspension delivers a far softer ride with more body roll. I'm not sure what developer Ivory Tower could have done here to improve things, but a little more oversteer characteristics on the RWD cars, and a tad more understeer on FWD might have at least helped differentiate them somewhat in terms of feel.
The big question at this point is how much am I really enjoying this game? It's weird, but I'm not quite sure. Certain elements I'm having fun with, but others less so. Most of the missions are fun, but improving my car is beginning to feel like a bit of a grind. I understand car upgrades being slowly eked out to ensure that players don't max out their cars immediately, but sometimes it just feels too slow. Also, the upgrades are so incremental that you don't really feel any immediate difference when you get one. Over time, your car clearly improves, but when you're experiencing that improvement a piece at a time, it's difficult to appreciate it.
For me, the most rewarding thing is hitting a level milestone – like level 20 – and being able to buy specs for that level. That's when you do feel a big difference, and it comes across like you've achieved something. However, these milestones are few and far between, so most of the time it feels like you're just slowly slapping pieces on your car and improving at a snail's pace. Ultimately, I think it would be preferable to have fewer, bigger upgrades. That way you'd be able to properly appreciate the improvement in the performance of your car.
I'm still not liking the story much. That's probably because I also don't like the main character. Both he and his handler seem humorless, and their banter isn't particularly engaging. Other supporting players seem pretty douchey, and I'm just not particularly motivated to help any of them – especially when they tell me to kill people for no reason other than to find out a nugget of information. The whole story just continues to feel contrived and clichéd. It's definitely one of the weakest aspects of The Crew so far.
Where the hell is my preorder content?
That's what I want to know. I haven't mentioned it yet, because I thought I'd give Ubisoft time to fix it, but I - and seemingly many others - cannot currently access preorder content. Basically, preordering the game gave you a couple of codes for three cars (of which one, the Mini Cooper S, I was really looking forward to using), and a cash bonus. Despite using the codes (and Sony now registering them as redeemed), the content has yet to appear in-game.
Ubisoft has recognized that this is an issue and have said they're working with Sony to fix this as soon as possible, but as of now, no ETA has been given.
I know these things happen, but off the back of Unity, the timing of this is very unfortunate. It's not a disaster - at least we can still play the game - but it is really annoying to pay for something and then not get it. And the longer I keep playing the game, the less useful this DLC is going to be to me. I'll keep you posted, but for now it's yet another technical hiccup with Ubisoft's name on it.
Ubisoft has finally given a (vague) date for the preorder DLC that I (and many others judging by the 33 pages of forum complaints) have been unable to unlock – and that's next week. That's pretty shabby in my book, and I'm hoping that Ubisoft will have a make-good for that. I'll have likely finished the storyline by that point, and the cars won't really be that useful to me any more.
I know games can sometimes have technical issues, but when you preorder a game specifically to get something – in my case the Mini Cooper S and extra in-game cash – and it's not available as advertised, it's hard not to feel anything other than annoyance.
Oh, and speaking of technical issues – there seems to be problems with missions involving running over crates. I've run two of these so far, and each one has crashed twice for a grand total of four restarts over the last 24 hours. Again, not a huge deal, but simply more evidence that perhaps The Crew should have been delayed into 2015, as it doesn't seem to have been quite ready to ship. The game was patched last night, so hopefully it'll be more stable over the weekend.
Ultimately, I'm not surprised that Ubisoft wanted to get the game out before Xmas to capitalize on Holiday sales – I imagine units sold would have been far weaker in January. It just sucks to keep running into these glitches in what feels almost like a paid Beta at this point.
Okay. Enough about the technical issues, and let's get back to the game proper.
I've hit level 40 now, and am getting into the latter stages of the storyline. A new character popped up who's quite interesting and entertaining – but again, their back-story feels contrived and their motivations unoriginal. Video game writers need to read more books methinks. There are so many ways protagonists can be motivated that don't involve either their friends or family being put into jeopardy, or being killed off. Sure, tales of revenge are compelling, but they feel so well worn at this point.
Still, lack of original story aside, the missions themselves have continued to be entertaining and sometimes quite challenging. The game has a big positive in that if you do find a mission is too hard, you can go and farm Skill Challenges to boost your car and improve its performance. It doesn't take too long, and with some missions, such as when you're chasing down a target vehicle, a little extra speed is all you need to turn it from a frustrating chase to one where you can stay on your quarry's tail.
Now that I've leveled up most of my cars, their handling has improved quite considerably over stock. The way cars drive is very arcade-like, and they're generally very predictable and consistent. Most of the time, high-speed driving is just a case of flooring it, and late-braking into corners. Cars seem to have plenty of grip, and it's very hard to oversteer – they simply run wide if you carry too much speed into a corner. Cars also respond very quickly to control input, so braking and changing direction is very immediate. Ultimately, The Crew drives very well, in a simple, arcade-style way – especially once you begin to level up north of 20.
I have noticed that the car's speedo seems hopelessly optimistic in terms of how fast you're going. It might indicate 150mph while you're flying down the middle of a city street, but it doesn't feel like it. I get that The Crew isn't a realistic game, but even so – what the speedo says, and the sense of speed the game gives often seem way out of sync.
I've done plenty more exploring, and have opened up pretty much all the urban areas at this point, plus ribbon-like connecting points between them. Doing this has really given me an appreciation of just how big the game is, and what a great job Ivory Tower has done in creating a believable world. Driving through the night and watching the sun come up can be exceptionally stunning, and some areas – particularly the deserts outside of Las Vegas – are quite phenomenal. If you look too closely at particularly built up areas, you can see the repetition of buildings, and that some roads don't quite make sense in terms of the way they're put together, but the overall impression is excellent. The Crew certainly raises the bar for open world gaming in terms of size and scope. Forza Horizon 2 is still a far better looking game, but it doesn't have anywhere near the variety or is close to the size of The Crew.
After playing for four days, The Crew has definitely grown on me. Initially, I wasn't quite sure whether I liked it or not, but now I've had some time to really settle into things and get used to it on its own terms (rather than comparing it to other games), I think it's well designed, offers a great challenge, and packs a ridiculous amount of things to do. Whether or not its appeal will hold up after the story mode is complete remains to be seen, however. I'm just not sure yet of the greater point of the end-game, other than to simply play it. Of course, that's true of any MMO, but most of them, like Destiny and WoW, have vast amounts of end-game gear to farm for. I'm not sure exactly what The Crew has in store beyond the cars that are immediately available. Leveling them up and kitting them out might be enough for some players, but for me, it won't.
I've never been so frustrated at an arcade driving game in my life. When you kick off in The Crew you car controls like the trunk has been filled with angry children who are shifting around to make you crash. Your basic car in the starting Street spec doesn't feel precise at all. The early levels were confusing for me because I felt like Watch Dogs controlled much better. Some online players are already sharing their steering input options in order to get the handling under control, but I couldn't find anything that worked for me.
I was struggling through each race… until I won some parts. Once you get some part in your ride, things start to clear up. Handling and braking improve dramatically by time you get to around level 10 in the game. Even then, taking on a few Skills challenges for parts was rather necessary for me just to have a basic experience with The Crew.
The problem is this is completely a design issue and not something Ivory Tower could've fixed with its seeming aim. The Crew doing double duty as a racing game and MMO causes issues, at least in the beginning. In an MMORPG, I'm fine with starting as a weak warrior with no abilities and working my way up to being an absolute badass. In The Crew, basic handling is shot until you get parts and that's simply not fun. You're gritting your teeth to get through to the good part of the game. In contrast, Forza Horizon 2 throws you into a supercar with wonderfully tight arcade-style handling from the get-go.
One thing that's odd about this handling is it's less of an issue in Raid and Dirt specs. The game let's you try these specs early on, but you can't unlock you first (Dirt) until level 10, which is some hours into the game. Once I hit level 10, I never wanted to go back.
Dirt is absolutely amazing. Floaty steering is less of a problem when you riding on rolling hills in heavy wheeled ride. It's here that the "MMO" actually works somewhat. You can drop into a Spec and roll around the country, doing Skills challenges and joining other players in races and missions. Unfortunately, you'll still have to mess for other Specs occasionally to power your way through the game's story.
Wrapping this all up, I'm conflicted. I love the sheer scope of The Crew, but I feel the game loses its way a bit.
The handling issues that plagued me before are a distant memory, but I still find Dirt and Raid are where The Crew's real strength is. Having a mini version of the United States to race across is cool at time, but I find I spend more time in the outskirts, smashing my way through fences and cornfields, or wandering through the desert. Sadly, I couldn't make a Dirt spec BMW Z4 or Aston Martin V8 Vantage. My dreams are dashed.
Speaking of cars, the non-DLC roster of cars in The Crew is pretty anemic. The BMW is your No Import and Tuner cars are almost completely absent. You have two Nissans (Skyline and 370z), but no Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Mazda, Lexus, Audi, Volve, or Lotus. Even the number of trucks isn't all that impressive. The developer wanted to dive heavy on the Detroit Muscle car scene, but it makes the car list feels tiny.
Hopping online - I only had a few issues with disconnects - to finish a few Skills works as advertised. I'm not strong on the way the game tries to keep you in a Crew whenever you quick join someone, but I know Ivory Tower's heart is in the right place; the developer is trying to promote a more social style of play. Unfortunately, that goes up against my curmudgeonly veteran MMO player nature: if I wanted to remain in a Crew with random players, I'd prefer more permanent Clan-style option. As it stands, you're stuck with the animal-themed universal Factions you can run in for PVP.
The world Ivory Tower has built here is impressive. The problem while it has highlights, it also has vast expanses no one cares about. This remixed US is fun to drive across a few times, but after a while, you'll just teleport to specific missions. The cross-country trip is more for showing off than something you'll actually want to do again and again.
I also agree with Jaz that endgame is a problem. If you're playing an MMORPG, you play to endgame to do dungeons and raids. Raiding is many players' only aim, running intricate boss encounters for better gear and weapons. In The Crew, later races are definitely fun, but what's next? Running those same races over and over again for better Platinum parts with no particular visual addition to your cars? Faction Wars? What if you're not in PVP? I don't know the answer, because The Crew doesn't have anything I could really call a boss encounter. Ubisoft is adding further missions to the game, but I don't know what they could add to keep them from being repetitive.
Jaz is kinder to The Crew than I probably would've been as primary reviewer. I had high hopes for the title and maybe Ivory Tower can stick the landing with a sequel, but The Crew isn't a game I'm necessarily looking forward to returning to again and again. Early handling issues, a small car roster, dull story, and repetitive missions ultimately bring the title down.
After a somewhat inauspicious start, The Crew has grown on me over the last week. I finally got my pre-order DLC over the weekend (although it's pretty much useless to me now) and the game has become more stable than it was at launch – it hasn't crashed since Friday.
The Crew doesn't necessarily do anything brilliantly – other racing games beat it on almost all counts except for the size of its environment – but it nevertheless delivers a solid driving experience. The story mode is quite satisfying, and offers a decent challenge. Beyond that lies a giant, sprawling automotive theme park that packs plenty of activities, from skill challenges to PvP. The big question is, of course, whether or not that content is interesting enough to keep people playing. At this point, I'm not so sure.
The game feels like its very impressive environment was created first, and then the designers had to fill it with endgame content, but simply didn't have enough ideas and variety to do it justice. Sure, there are lots of things to do, but it all becomes rather repetitive after a while – as does driving around the continent. It's not often that a game feels too big, but The Crew does. It's a wonderful-looking world that's simply too sparsely populated.
I like the idea of the game's different driving disciplines, but it just doesn't go deep enough into any of them. There just isn't enough competitive content to feel like you can specialize in any of the driving types. It all ends up feeling somewhat superficial and cursory, because the challenges are way too much of a muchness.
That said, I have enjoyed going through the story mode, and despite a few missions being frustrating for reasons I've explained above, the overall experience has been a satisfying enough for me to feel it's been worth the time and effort I've put into it. However, I just can't see myself going back to the game again with much gusto. The activities it offers just aren't exciting enough to hold my attention. There are too many other racing games I'd prefer to put my time into – GT6, Forza 5 and Forza Horizon 2 to name but three. Perhaps it's unfair to compare The Crew to those, but all of them are essentially MMOs, and all of them are competitive racers – just like The Crew. Sure, Ubisoft's game might have the edge in terms of a broad spectrum of activities, but when it comes down to truly compelling racing, The Crew just isn't polished or buttoned-down enough to compete with those three games. It's more of a highly sophisticated arcade game with an inventive storyline that's fun to play – but whose endgame content feels like filler.
Ultimately, The Crew is a laudable effort, but one that feels like it needed more development time. Perhaps if developer Ivory Tower kept the map, spent their time filling it with really compelling racing series in all disciplines, and made travel a more interesting and engaging experience (perhaps taking a leaf out of Forza Horizon 2's book), a sequel could finally realize The Crew's considerable potential. As of now, it simply falls short, making it a solid, decent, and fun racer – but not an outstanding one.
Not always consistent, but when it's at its best, The Crew looks impressive.
The engine sounds are rather weedy, but the selection of songs and ambient sounds are good.
It can be a little slow navigating The Crew's sometimes cumbersome interface, but it gets the job done.
The story mode is solid, but after that, although The Crew feels like it offers a lot to do, much of its endgame content is repetitive.
The Crew is a vast, expansive driving game that packs a solid story mode and tons of things to do. However, much of its endgame content feels like repetitive filler.