One of several playable titles being shown off by Ubisoft at PAX East was The Crew, an open-world racing title which combines arcade-style driving action with large-scale multiplayer and role-playing elements. After spending a bit of time with the current build of the game though, I left with mixed feelings.
The Crew is seemingly Ubisoft’s answer to the Need for Speed and Test Drive series, offering forgiving physics and an objective-based storyline set in a hug, explorable landscape – in this case the entire country of the United States. The developers, Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections, clearly wanted to incorporate elements that made those and other racing titles successful but, in the process, produced something that’s not terribly unique or exciting.
Running on PC and using Razer-made Xbox 360 controllers, their demonstration piece at PAX East was limited to two modes. In the first, several players were set up in a multiplayer lobby and were tasked with zipping through city streets, from checkpoint to checkpoint, vying for the best time. The car models, a MINI Cooper and Dodge Challenger among them, all looked accurate but didn’t seem to crumple or deform with realistic damage when slamming into walls or other vehicles. The racing itself was straightforward, with streets that were easily navigable and vehicles that were responsive to braking and drifting. For an extra bit of arcade-y fun, all cars can activate a nitrous boost with the “A” button that provides a temporary burst of speed.
Visually, the city we were racing through looked nice enough – the nighttime sky gave way to some nice lighting effects and the gritty design of the streets and building gave a sense of realism to the experience. There are plenty of pedestrians going about their business as well, but you can’t harm them (even if you try). Much like in Driver, people outside of vehicle serve no purpose other than an aesthetic quality as they will manage to move out of the way of your out-of-control vehicle without fail. There also seemed to be a police presence in the game with cruisers on the streets and helicopters flying overhead, but they didn’t seem to have any bearing on the gameplay itself. Overall though, the game currently looks very “last gen”, as it doesn’t stand out as anything that couldn’t be seen on an Xbox 360 or a PS3. Hopefully there will be some additional work done to give The Crew the coat of polish it needs to stand out in the market.
Once the street race was completed, a Ubisoft staffer set us up in a co-op mission in which one person controlled a target car and the other players were all tasked with immobilizing it by inflicting enough damage. This objective was more difficult than it first seemed due to the action taking place in an off-road area adjacent to a beach. Overshooting your target or turning to aggressively would often result in sliding off course due to the lack of traction in the sand or grass-covered areas or, worse yet, send you barreling right into the water. This is a mode that benefits from communication between teammates which was evident by the pursuers in my runthrough accidentally smashing into each other more often than the target while they gave chase. Assuming enough damage is dealt to the runaway car, it will tumble over and the match winner is declared as the player who caused the most damage to the enemy vehicle.
Granted this was only a small fraction of the experience the game promises to offer, but what I saw just failed to pull me in and get me enthusiastic about the project. Apparently, the mission variety and the gameplay time it offers to those willing to invest will be huge and the scope of the world you can drive in is absolutely massive. Hopefully, more gameplay and info will be released in the coming months that can really show off what The Crew can bring to the table. As of now it’s scheduled for a third-quarter 2014 release for PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.