Developer: Ivory Tower
Platform: Windows PC, Xbox One, PS4
Expected Full Release: November 12th 2014
The Crew – Preview
These last few years, quite a bit of racing games have been released. Most of them however were additions to already existing series whilst most new projects are aiming to be realistic racing simulators. The guys over at Ubisoft and Ivory Tower must have noticed that and came up with a game that does something new. The Crew is an arcade racer in a very large open-world with a strong focus on multiplayer and RPG elements. We played the beta.
As a gamer I still remember the good old days with games like Need For Speed: Underground 2 and Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Something about those game just made them stand out: the endless customization possibilities, the vast open-world, the wide variety of vehicles and not-too-serious races. While The Crew seems to take quite a bit of elements from those games, it’s another game feeling really familiar when playing Test Drive Unlimited 2. TDU2 sadly didn’t live up to its expectations because of a lack of content and technical difficulties, mainly to do with its development studio (Eden Games) shutting down after its release, but it did have a vast open world similar to The Crew’s.
While I said the worlds were similar, I mean that mainly in sheer size. Driving through Ivory Tower’s (The Crew’s developer) United States is simply amazing. The map is insanely large and varied. It offers quite a bit of the US’ main cities and landmarks but also offers snowy mountainous regions, deserts, farmlands and everything in between them. Driving from one coast to another will take you roughly 90 minutes when in a hurry. Taking your time to check out things along the way will keep you on the road for multiple hours, simply traversing from east to west. Willing to check out everything there is to see on the map? Be prepared to spend days on end just cruising around.
The Crew is of course a racing game so let’s talk about that. It’s not a simulator in the classical meaning of the genre, we’ll get into that later. Car handling can be a bit floaty at times but cars generally do feel nice to drive. There’s something weird with the collision detection, similar to that in Watch_Dogs, which does allow even non-experienced racers to stay on the road. It’s those kinds of mechanics which do make you realize that the game is aimed at a broader audience. As mentioned earlier, not a simulator. However some things do make the game feel authentic. A detailed cockpit view for example adds a lot to that. The detailed environments contribute to that feeling as well and so do the car sounds. Sitting in cockpit view hasn’t felt this good in any game I’ve played in a long while. There’s a certain charm in just cruising around that way and to me that makes it more authentic than anything else out there.
The Crew clearly is a console game first, PC game second. That mainly shows in the controls, playing with mouse and keyboard feels clunky and frustrating while playing with a controller will make the whole experience way smoother. We tested the game using a force-feedback steering wheel, pedals and a manual gearbox and it all worked pretty well without having to set anything up. While there are some corrections to be made to the FFB (wheel went crazy each time I tried making turns while driving slowly), other things like driving off-road provided the effects you would expect on a wheel.
There’s some extensive car customization too. There are 5 vehicle classes but every car can pretty much be any class you want it to be. Those classes include street, off-road, raid, performance and circuit. In the beta only street and off-road were available. When having selected a certain class, you can start really customizing both visually and performance wise. There’s a decent amount of things you can do to make your car stand out which is quite important in a multiplayer environment. Most performance parts can be earned by doing races and challenges, much like you would loot items in a classic RPG. A mechanic of which I first had my doubts but it actually works out pretty well. While not providing excessive increases to your car’s performance or handling, earning parts does make you actively engage in races and skill challenges.
The multiplayer part was heavily focused on the marketing but wasn’t really accessible in the beta yet. When the servers were working correctly, I would encounter other players from time to time in free roam and did some co-op races but for some reason I preferred to play alone. Loading times in co-op were long and would cause game crashes. Those bugs will probably get sorted out before the release though. The good thing about The Crew is that you can play by yourself too. There’s an extensive 20h single player campaign combined with tons of challenges found scattered around the map.
The Crew is a game aimed at a broader audience which shows in specific design choices. I do feel that they’ve struck a good boundary between an arcade racer and an authentic driving experience. While it still requires a decent amount of work to be done before its release in November, it’s looking good. In the beta, I’ve already spent hours and hours just cruising around, discovering different landmarks and areas and the RPG elements will keep you coming back for more.