Ubisoft's new online racing game, or "CaRPG" as The Crew cleverly referred to as, launched this week and yet there are no reviews. Unlike the sketchy embargo date on Assassin's Creed Unity reviews - without a doubt to hide its issues for as long as possible from the community - the review process for The Crew is being held up justifiably since it really is an MMO in a lot of ways and must be experienced as such. It's a very interesting one too from our limited time with the game so far.
Eager fans had several chances to participate in betas for The Crew to help stress test its servers and features before launch and we imagine anyone who's followed the game's development and marketing closely, those who perhaps pre-ordered the title, should know what they're getting into - a very large game.
We started playing The Crew on launch day and put more hours into it today, but if you look at our in-game map, it appears we've barely scratched the surface. From the get-go, Ubisoft proudly showcased and highlighted the sheer size of the game's map, a truncated version of the United States in its entirety. Sort of. Several major cities are present and it takes less than an hour to drive from coast to coast. Still, the map is huge, bigger than the total environments of Far Cry 3, Forza Horizon, GTA V, Need For Speed Rivals, Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim combined.
While it's easy to get lost driving between major destinations, there's a Hollywood-esque story that's designed to pull players through. So far, it's not a very good story, but it at least serves successfully as a way direct players across the nation and gradually introduce them to the game's different race/mission types, car types and challenges. And a lot of these things, alongside open-world free driving, can be played against or cooperatively with other players who form crews.
Most of the time we searched for co-op partners we don't find any, but the few times we did it enhanced the experience in a big way. Even while playing the game solo, there are indicators on screen, in the sky and on the map to signal where nearby players are. Gone are old school matchmaking systems of traditional racers. In The Crew, players can chase down and bump into other players driving around, and at the click of a button (the right stick), can quickly see who's around and invite them to party up.
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It really is genius, and when combined with the story and progression offering a better sense of purpose, The Crew is one of the first arcade racers in a long time that feels addictive. A lot of that has to do with the RPG elements since your vehicle is essentially your character, a character that levels up with everything you do. Even when driving from location to location, especially on the longer road trips from city to city, there are all sorts of challenges on the way and just driving through markers activates them.
If you mess up a big jump or miss a few marks on your slalom challenge, you can instantly retry. When you're done, you usually get a little upgrade and at the click of a button can equip it, boosting up the level of your vehicle. If it's a lower level item, it's sent to your garage for use later. When finished, you're right back on the road, albeit after an annoying little load time which pulls you out of the game. Load times, while mostly short, are unfortunately far too frequent. Even jumping to the map to set a waypoint and jumping back, players will have to wait a few seconds.
As for the driving itself, The Crew encourages players to become a Jack of all Trades, so to speak. There are five different classes of cars, or "Specs" as they're called in-game. These cater towards racing styles from off-road and street driving or to performance and circuit racing. The missions provide vehicles of the required class if you don't have your own and stock vehicles can be transformed into any of the Specs.
The game is forgiving when it comes to bumping other vehicles and the environment but direct hits on cars will pull you out of the action with a little cinematic and slow you down big time in a race. And that happens a lot since the missions seem to intentionally throw obstacles at you to prevent players from getting the silver or gold tier reward in the challenges on their first try. It may take a while to get used to the intensely slippery car handling, which we're still trying to learn, and the missions so far are surprisingly challenging, especially in the Raids, where players are tasked with chasing down and bumping an enemy vehicles multiple times within a limited amount of time. It can be frustrating until you master shortcuts.
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The Crew will change the way you think about racing games and will push the genre forward in ways that will make car games exciting again. Forget about doing loops for the sake of getting another car to do the same loops. The Crew gives players a reason to go from one place to the next, constantly letting them evolve through progression with in-game earnings that are always making your ride a little better while also improving your entire collection of vehicles.
We've been stuck with a starter vehicle so far since the in-game currency earnings are minimal at best and we're holding out in case we need to upgrade soon. This review in progress is currently a 'first impressions' piece and once we explore most of the map, finish the story, try all the cars, modes, etc. and really experience the online-only offerings, we'll be able to add a score.
As a quick note, while we dig the map system, the indicators and HUD can sometimes be messy or overlap, or you can jump into a challenge that takes you a different direction than a previously set GPS waypoint path which is confusing. Graphically, the game has its moments, especially at high speeds on the open road, but it looks a little dated when you stop take take a look.
Overall though, we're engaged with the cool presentation values that fit well with the soundtrack and visuals. We're just scratching the surface though so stay tuned for more and share your thoughts!
The Crew is now available on PC, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.
Header image from art by hakeryk2