There has been a noticeable dearth in driving games this generation. Even EA, the kings of annualized games, just re-released last year’s Need for Speed game in a version that I personally call the “Game of Last Year Edition.” And after the catastrophic mess that was the launch of Driveclub, and the pretty good, but ultimately underwhelming Forza Horizon 2, Ubisoft’s The Crew seems the last hope for a little while.
The main draw of The Crew is the ability to drive throughout the entire continental United States, coast to coast. And while the map isn’t exactly representative of the U.S., it’s a reasonable facsimile:
The first thing I noticed after enduring the dry tutorial and admittedly pretty opening cutscenes was how empty the starting city of Detroit was. I know, I know, hahaha, Detroit is bankrupt therefore no one lives there. Financial woes and jokes thereof aside, Detroit is still a city full of hundreds of thousands of people. So why is there almost nobody on the city streets at midday? The low population combined with the somewhat uninspired and bland cityscape makes The Crew feel absolutely empty. It’s almost creepy.
But that’s okay, right? So long as the driving is fun, we can forgive some of the graphical and design flaws, right?
You already see where I’m going with this.
The handling of the vehicles in this game is terrible. Everything is too stiff and cornering is damn near impossible. When I have to follow a guide on reddit in order to make the driving bearable, there is something wrong with your approach to driving. It’s not like it matters, though, because most of the races are piss-easy to begin with. The ability to get “back on track” at any time by holding the Circle button (as opposed to the rewind system in games like Forza) means that the AI tries to give you as much of a gap as possible so resetting after a botched turn won’t careen you into last place.
The online component of The Crew is…interesting. When you first start up the game, it plops you in the last place you quit and populates the city you’re in with other players in the same city. When going into a race, you can start a sort of matchmaking service that polls all players not already racing if they would like to race with you. What’s nice is that, even if you play with others, progression only matters relative to the AI racers. So if you need to be 1st in order to progress, it’s okay if two other players beat you, so long as you beat the computer.
That’s about all I could try of the online services, though. Nine times out of ten, the game would fail to connect to Ubisoft servers and drop me into an empty session, but that’s okay. It’s a beta, after all.
One of the things I was most excited about was seeing my city, Washington, D.C., represented in an exploreable environment that wasn’t a nuclear wasteland. Now, I didn’t expect Ubisoft to model every major building in the District. I wasn’t planning on driving circuits around the Jefferson Memorial or anything. And it was with that mindset, I sped off for one of the monuments I knew they’d model – the Lincoln Memorial.
The Crew launches on December 2nd everywhere except Japan, where it launches on the 4th for some reason.
Disclosure: This feature was written about the closed beta on the PlayStation 4, for which the author was issued a code from Ubisoft.