The Crew is an online, open world racing game that can be played solo or co-operatively/competitively with other players. Actually, ‘racing’ game isn’t the best way to describe The Crew. It’s more of a ‘driving’ game than a pure racing game. The open world of The Crew is an impressively large representation of the United States, allowing you to seamlessly drive from East to West Coast.
There is a story, of sorts. You play as some guy called Alex(?), who wants revenge on some other guy who killed his brother or something. But to do so, he needs to work his way up the ranks of a criminal organisation. This involves travelling to the major zones of the game world – The South, The Midwest, The East Coast, The West Coast and The Mountain States – and completing a series of story based missions.
These missions vary between time trial checkpoint challenges, 1 or 3 lap races, police escapes, item retrieval/destruction and vehicle takedowns. There’s not a fantastic variety of objectives, but by continually mixing these mission types from one to the next, and by introducing new car specs and environments, they never get too stale or repetitive.
That said, there’s nothing here that’s particularly great, either. The police escapes aren’t very exciting, and the item retrieval/destruction missions are more irritating than fun. The vehicle takedown jobs are easily the worst as you tediously chase down another car and ram it until its ‘health bar’ drops to zero.
Thankfully, the time trials and races are pretty good fun, and that’s where the game shines. Which is why it’s such a shame they only account for about 20% of the main mission content. Also, it must be said that the story of The Crew is forgettable and bland as f**k. It serves to point you from one game zone to the next, but don’t expect to be invested in the story or characters. You just won’t care.
Being a Ubisoft open world title, there’s a lot of side content to be found outside of the core story based missions. But like many open world Ubisoft titles, it’s largely meaningless and entirely skippable filler. I do like the way it’s integrated, however.
There are hundreds of free roam ‘challenges’ that you’ll find as you traverse the world. These may involve taking a stunt jump, weaving between virtual posts or simply driving super fast for as long a stretch as possible. Like the core missions, completing these challenges awards experience that levels up your car, as well as a part to improve its performance. These are graded on a Bronze, Silver or Gold system depending on how well you perform.
In addition to these challenges there are also points of interest to visit and secret car parts to discover, which when combined will unlock a special vehicle. And, being a Ubisoft open world title, there are of course radio towers to reveal the location of local side content. But is any of the side content really worth your time? No, unfortunately not. It’s fun to do the odd challenge as you’re driving from one story mission to the next, but that’s about it.
As you progress through the game you’ll unlock new car specs – Street, Dirt, Performance, Raid and Circuit, each with its own benefits, style of play and cosmetic customisation. Some cars can be built for multiple specs, but others may be limited to only 1 or 2. You can switch out specs and cars on the fly in the open world, and missions will select the appropriate vehicle for the terrain.
In terms of handling, The Crew leans more towards arcade than simulator, but even after sinking a lot of hours into the game and completing the main story missions, I still feel like the car handling isn’t quite as responsive as it should be. But before I start getting too negative, I have to say I did have some fun with The Crew. Exploring the map, completing the missions, attempting the odd side challenge and customising my cars was all decent enough to hold my attention.
Okay, now onto my issues with the game. The first is the UI, which is a convoluted and irritating mess to navigate. You learn to live with it, but you’ll never enjoy using it. The damage model in the game is horrible. You get these nasty white ‘scratches’ on your car regardless of where you take a hit. Cars also ‘self-heal’ over time anyway so it doesn’t matter how badly you maul them.
The music selection is awful. Awful. There’s a very limited number of radio stations with an extremely limited selection of tracks. I wasn’t expecting GTA style stations with fake adverts or talk shows, but for a game that’s entirely about driving, I’d like a far more varied and extensive selection of music to fill the void.
The car parts upgrade system is basic as f**k and is simply a case of parts with ‘+6 to acceleration’ and small stat increases like that. It doesn’t make tuning your car particularly engaging as you’ll always simply use parts that increase the overall car ‘level’.
The car cosmetic customisation fares better, but once again, for a game which is all about cars and driving, what’s available feels remarkably limited. The fact is, I had more fun tuning and customising my cars in GTA V than I did in The Crew. The damage model was also much better, as was the car physics during crashes.
I can’t run over pedestrians. I can’t run over pedestrians.
Buying new cars also feels like a grind, and the selection isn’t even that good, with many vehicles locked behind micro-transactions. The Crew, which is a game all about cars and driving, does a piss poor job with the things that really matter – car choice, car tuning and cosmetics. I could forgive the dismal music selection if they got the important stuff right. GTA V did this stuff better and that was just a small part of a much larger game.
Graphically, The Crew is a decent looking title and performance is solid considering the impressive size of its open world. But the game does suffer from some unfortunate server lag that can be rather distracting whilst driving. Also, as impressive as the open world is, most of it does only exist to serve as a long drive from one mission to the next, and you’ll always want to fast travel where available.
I actually got The Crew for free, so I suppose the question is – would I recommend paying for it? Is it worth it? Maybe on sale, I suppose, if the notion of a massive open world driving game appeals to you. And it probably is the best massive open world driving game out right now. But it’s also a game that falls far short of its potential and cuts too many corners in the areas that matter. Not a bad title, but disappointingly limited.