The Crew Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
2014 was a rather mixed year for the racing genre, from the highs of Forza Horizon 2 to the lows of DriveClub’s disastrous launch. With the absence of a Need For Speed game this year, a new IP has entered the fray in the form of The Crew, from developers Ivory Tower. So, has this brand new racing game mixed things up and left its mark on the genre? Yes it has, but for all the wrong reasons.
Racing games are never really praised for their stories, but The Crew takes the term “throwaway” to a whole new level. You play as Alex Taylor, a racer who is framed for the murder of his brother by an FBI agent known as Special Agent Coburn. After five years in prison, Alex is given the chance to leave prison and clear his name by hunting down the leader of the 510 Motor Club, Shiv, who is Dayton’s real murderer. Obviously Alex accepts this offer and then begins his search for the two people who ruined his life by climbing the ranks of the 510 Motor Club. The story might sound mildly interesting on paper, but once you actually meet Alex Taylor in-game, you’ll be running in the opposite direction. Alex is one of the most boring and unlikeable videogame characters we have met in recent history, not even the voice work of Troy Baker can save him. In fact, we can’t remember any character throughout the whole game that didn’t come across as a bit of a douche. All in all, The Crew’s story is dumb, over the top and only serves as a distraction to what the game is really about.
The Crew is about driving fast cars all over America, and it accomplishes that in possibly the most boring, frustrating and repetitive way possible. Players will compete in a variety of different mission types, including: point to point races, delivering cars, destroying other cars and drag races. But the problem isn’t the race types themselves, it’s the unfair rubber-banding AI and horrendous car handling. No matter how much better your car is, or how good your driving skills are, your opponents will always catch up with you no matter what. And to make this even worse, car handling is the worst we have ever experienced in a videogame. The controls replicate similar racing games, with acceleration and brakes mapped to the triggers, and nitrous can be used with a press of the X button, but the problem is that every car feels like a tank on the road. The controls are unresponsive and take a lot of getting used to, and this lead to us crashing far too many times in the early hours of the game. Crashing only garners cosmetic damage and does not affect the performance of your car most of the time, but in the car delivery missions we mentioned previously, colliding with something can have a serious effect on the outcome of the mission. In these particular quests a damage meter is displayed on-screen which depletes after every crash you suffer, eventually resulting in a mission failure if it empties. A damage meter combined with awful car handling made for some of the worst gaming experiences we had in 2014.
Unfortunately The Crew’s repetitive design doesn’t stop at its gameplay, it also bleeds into the world design. Yes that’s right, Ubisoft have somehow made their open-world template fit into a racing game too. The player must find and drive up to data stations spread throughout the world, and upon doing this a small part of the world map will be uncovered, revealing the events and challenges there. At least in the likes of Far Cry 4 this procedure is actually a little bit of fun as you solve a small puzzle to get to the top of radio towers, but here you simply drive up to a satellite and that’s that. It requires no thought or skill and the quicker Ubisoft overhauls their open-world design, the better.
The main selling point of The Crew is of course the ability to drive across a condensed version of America, with many cities to visit in-between. While we could visit places on the map called Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, we never really felt like we were there. This is because every city has a complete lack of life. We could be driving around the game’s representation of New York and the streets would be almost deserted, with very little traffic and so few pedestrians that we could count them on two hands. Of course it isn’t realistic to expect every street to be full of hustle and bustle due to the limitations of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but to see some of America’s biggest cities so devoid of life almost defeats the object of the game. Yes, you can drive all over America, but why would you want to in The Crew?
Another game that is borrowed from heavily is DriveClub, in the form of its challenges. Spread throughout the game’s large open-world are multiple challenges that will test different aspects of the player’s driving skills. A few of these challenges include: a speed challenge that tasks you with getting as far away as possible from a certain point on the map within a time frame, a jump challenge which gives the player a certain distance they must reach after driving their car off a ramp, and a hill climb, where you must drive up to the highest point of a hill while gathering points. While these skill challenges are fun at first, once you’ve completed one of them, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Repetition sets in fast and eventually you’ll be dreading every one of these mundane and dull skill challenges. However, you can’t really escape these challenges because they link into one of the best things about The Crew.
Completing story missions and skill challenges levels up both the player and the car you’re driving separately. Levelling up your car is done by equipping new and better parts you earn through races, with each event offering a bronze, silver and gold part to earn depending on your performance. Player level ups are also based on how well you do in a race, where your performance is translated into a certain amount of XP. The best thing about the levelling up system is that the parts you win are equipped on the fly directly after the race concludes. There’s no need to go back to a safe house, a garage, or a tuner. The upgrade is applied immediately and you can be on your way to the next event with your new found enhancement.
But if you do want to change the specifications of your car or edit its appearance yourself, then you’ll feel right at home here too. You can customise your car to five different specifications, these being: street, dirt, performance, raid and circuit. All five of these specifications apply to different race types found throughout the world, and once again a spec change can be made to cars on the fly. In terms of cosmetic modification, the player can for example, change the colour of their car, switch up bumpers, adjust the interior and fit new rims and hoods. It’s a shame to see such a good levelling up system and car customisation in what is otherwise a very poor game. The upgrade system and car customisation were the main factors in us progressing through the story as we were always promised a new modification that would benefit our car in some way. And while the challenges are all very similar, they do give you something to do during the drives between locations and an upgrade that could be the difference between first and second in the next race.
Throughout The Crew’s development, it was heavily marketed as a game that would blur the lines between single-player, multiplayer and co-op, in a world where you’ll never be alone. However, this feature seems to be almost completely absent in the final product. The majority of the time our single-player world was populated by other human players, but there is never much point to it. For a game that is called “The Crew”, you’re never actually encouraged to form a crew with the players in your world. It is possible to form a crew with three other players, but there’s never much of a point to doing it. It feels like a useless feature.
While a persistent online world is an interesting and enticing feature in any game nowadays, it does come with its drawbacks. The Crew requires an internet connection at all times, otherwise you cannot play the game. If your internet drops at any point during gameplay, you’ll be booted back to the title screen, and this actually hindered us when we were trying to review the game. Despite having a stable internet connection the game would not progress past the title screen on a few occasions, so we can only assume that the Ubisoft servers can also affect when you can and can’t play the game. If this is the all-digital future that developers, publishers and console manufactures want, then they may want to rethink their strategy a little.
It’s clear to see that The Crew had potential, but the promises it made just simply aren’t realised in the final product. While the thought of a digital America to drive across is certainly exciting, The Crew does a very bad job of executing on it and building an interesting environment to drive around in and discover. And when the bland world is combined with an easily forgettable storyline and the worst car handling we have ever experienced in a videogame, it’s easy to understand why we did not have any fun with the game. The levelling up system and car customisation are the two good things among an otherwise hugely disappointing feature set. The Crew promised so much, but delivered so little.