My first time playing The Crew was marred by server outages, many of which came mid-race, and I don’t think I have to tell you how frustrating that is. That seems to be the name of the game for the last few months regarding major releases, hasn’t it?
Luckily, those issues seemed to be confined to one specific session right around when the game went live. For the most part, any connection issues were sporadic at best, if there were any at all. Before long, I had sunk hours into the game, enjoying myself as I raced across the entire country.
Let’s touch a bit on that before we get into the nitty gritty of the gameplay and visuals. The Crew presents the entire United States for you to drive across, with no loading times whatsoever. If you want, you can drive from the uppermost tip of Maine all the way down to the Mexican border in San Diego (which btw, is missing from the game). But this version of the United States is a weird, mutant version.
The map looks like the US if you were to ask a child to draw the country from memory. Cities and regions are placed in locations that are less about accuracy, and more of a “this city kinda sorta goes in this general area.” As a result, you’ll find weird discrepancies such as Las Vegas located somewhere in the middle of where Utah should be, Chicago basically in Green Bay, and a weird, bizarro shaped Florida. Florida looks like how I imagine it would look when it was part of Pangea.
Of course, The Crew isn’t concerned with Gran Turismo/Forza levels of accuracy, both in the environments and the cars. The US is clearly a scaled down version (can you imagine actually having to drive a to-scale version??), and as such, concessions had to be made on the overall map and city locations. For the most part, the different regions represent their real-life counterparts quite nicely, so your major cities will be littered with skyscrapers, dirty grafitti’d streets, trash along the roads, traffic, and the New England area, for instance, will be flush with maple trees and old colonial houses. As long as you have some basic understanding of US geography, you’ll know where you’re driving through most of the time. Driving through the evergreens of the Pacific Northwest feels like driving through the PNW because of the trees, the wetness, and the Space Needle off in the distance, and ultimately that’s what really matters.
The environments look pretty decent when whizzing by at a great speed, but when you stop to take in your surroundings, they’re not the sharpest textures. Like the representations of each various region of the country, each city is more a “greatest hits” of what that city represents than any real attempt at making the city appear accurate. Honestly, that’s fine with me; if I wanted accuracy, I would look at a map. The game is about fun and exploration and like I mentioned before, as long as each area feels right, I’m good.
The concept of an open world racer isn’t anything new, but on current-gen consoles, the first game that most people will be comparing The Crew to will probably be Forza Horizon 2. If this thought process is brewing in your head already, get rid of it. Other than the fact that both are open world racers, these two games could not be more different. It’s like comparing Call of Duty with the old school Rainbow Six games; just because both involve first person pew pew pew does not mean they are in any way similar games. If you go into The Crew expecting Horizon 2 on a larger scale, you will be disappointed. However, if you go into The Crew anticipating something more in line with Test Drive Unlimited, then that should meet your expectations a bit more. Like the TDU franchise, The Crew is much more arcade based and not as “serious” of a game as the Horizon series. It’s less concerned about detail and more about going crazy and having fun. Explore all you want, and cringe at the less than stellar story.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the Crew’s map (and the final thing about the map that we’ll discuss) is the fact that littered throughout the country are actual, real-life racetracks. So far, I found (and raced on) Laguna Seca, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sebring, and Pike’s Peak. I haven’t found any others yet, but I’m sure there are more. This makes The Crew stand out when compared to other open world racing titles. By incorporating actual circuits into the game, Ivory Tower has somewhat bridged the gap between a circuit based racing game like GRID and an open world racer. So you can look at The Crew like a mish mash of Test Drive Unlimited, GRID, and NFS The Run (if we’re going to throw crappy story into the mix).
As far as driving mechanics go, think more along the lines of NFS Rivals and less a sim racer. The Crew definitely encourages throwing yourself into a corner with a lot of sideways tire squealing, with liberal doses of nitrous thrown in for good measure. There are three levels of assists available for you virtual racers, with heavy assists for the lowest setting, and no assists for the highest. I went with the middle setting, “Sport,” since no assists makes everything handle like go karts, which just isn’t realistic for about 90% of the cars in the game. While I like having no assists for sim racers, a game like The Crew just stops being enjoyable when you’re sliding all over the place like you have greased tires or something.
You can play The Crew as a single player game. While the marketing has pushed The Crew as a MMOCarPG that is best enjoyed online with others, by yourself, The Crew is still a serviceable game. But keep in mind, the single player campaign is bogged down by a weak story and repetitive missions. Side missions are spread out to make the main story seem more meaty, so expect to spend a lot of time hunting down data centers (think Far Cry’s comm towers) between the story missions. Of course if you’re anything like me and simply enjoy driving around this virtual America simply for the pleasure of driving, then the single player campaign might take forever to finish. I think I started the story, then got distracted for 2 whole days just cruising around the country. Honestly, that’s incredibly enjoyable for me. The Crew is totally worth $60 to me as Roadtrip Simulator 2014.
But, if driving from LA to Maine doesn’t float your boat, you will undoubtedly need something more to keep you in this game. Yes, the story is painful to sit through, and while there are a ton of challenges littered throughout the game, you’ll soon realize that it’s basically the same handful of challenges over and over, just in different locations. However, like many other MMOs out there, the real meat and potatoes of The Crew does not begin until you’ve hit the level cap and endgame. Once you’re at that level, the game goes full MMO, with an emphasis switching from the story missions to collecting “legendary” loot and cars, and maxing out your rides with the best parts you can find. Think of Destiny or Diablo III where you’ll start hoarding rare items to build an uber-character to unleash into PvP. Same concept here; find all the best parts and build a fleet of ubercars to take on others. In fact, even The Crew’s competitive multiplayer is named “PvP,” not exacting terminology you see in racing games. That alone should tell you where the focus of this game truly lies.
So how is the game when it’s played the way it’s meant to be played? Well for starters, I had the PC version, where there aren’t a whole ton of players. I would say at any given time, there were probably a good 30 or so players…not exactly a teeming World of Warcraft-esque environment. I don’t know if the PC version has less or more players than the console versions, but either way, the online opponents are rather sparse. Luckily, a helpful popup menu will show you who’s close by, and you can send or accept crew invites without stopping what you’re doing. Kudos to Ivory Tower for not making players sit in a matchmaking lobby.
Joining a crew is definitely more fun if you’re friends with the people in your crew. You can do nothing at all except cruise the country if you want, tackle story missions together via co-op, or try your luck in the competitive PvP mode, where you’ll run into that overpowered car that you will never beat, but you’ll still earn XP and money regardless of your placing. It’s kind of like the whole phenomenon where all the kids on a soccer team get a trophy regardless of winning or losing.
The PC version of The Crew that I was given has a few Nvidia developed visual features, which makes this is the ideal version to get if A) you want the best looking version of the game available, and B) if you have a gaming rig up to snuff with a beefy enough GPU. The Crew on PC supports Nvidia’s new Dynamic Super Resolution feature, which renders the game at 4K then downscales it back to your monitor’s native resolution. Basically, it’s a poor man’s way of getting 4K-ish visuals without owning a 4K monitor. It’s quite resource intensive, so keep that in mind when you’re playing around with DSR. I’m able to run the game on maxed out settings in DSR, but the framerate takes a pretty crazy dip, and since the game is oh so buttery smooth in 60 FPS, I ended up disabling the feature. It’s nice, but not essential.
The Crew also supports Nvidia G-Sync if you have a G-Sync enabled monitor. For those that aren’t familiar, G-Sync is the ability to tie the game’s frame rate rate to the GPU as opposed to the refresh rate of your display. This results in a much smoother experience, though I’m not really noticing anything from a user’s perspective. I’m sure it’s all done “behind the scenes” and I’ll take Nvidia’s word for it, just don’t expect anything mind blowing.
If you have a SHIELD or SHIELD Tablet, then rest assured knowing that The Crew supports Gamestream. I should point out that I was unable to Gamestream during my time with the game since there was a known issue that Nvidia was working on a patch for. At the time of this review, I was still unable to Gamestream, so I will update with my impressions once I am able to play around with the game on my SHIELD Tablet.
Like Assassin’s Creed Unity before it, The Crew was developed under Nvidia Gameworks, a new development platform for for games and graphics. Under Gameworks, games can utilize the latest technologies to provide cinematic effects like realistic smoke, fur, and global illumination. In conjunction with Gameworks, G-Sync and DSR, The Crew also utilizes HBAO+ and TXAA, giving gamers an even sharper image overall with much better looking shadows. You can 4K and Ultra texture all you want, but sometimes a little more focus on lighting and shadows can give you a significantly better looking game, and I think The Crew looks fantastic for what it offers.
I want to finish this review with a number of things I noticed throughout my playthrough. Think of this as just a listing of quirks and other things I noticed.
- Tires will squeal when on dirt. It’s weird to hear that, and I’m wondering if it’s something Ivory Tower simply overlooked.
- So many Ford Explorers! It seems every other AI car is an Explorer of some sort. I own one, and must have seen my own car in the game at least 200 times (not exaggerating).
- A lot of events really push the product placement (Xfinity Speed Challenge, for instance)
Everything is pretty seamless as far as menus and challenges go while free driving. However, if you complete a challenge successfully, the game will actually stop, fade to black, and return you to the road. It breaks up the flow a bit.
- Cops are overpowered and your car level means virtually nothing. The AI seems to have a massive assist where you’ll almost always see an underpowered car right on your tail.
- IAPs exist in the form of Crew Credits, which is the only type of currency available for certain perks you can enable for things like increased XP, discounts on parts, etc. I can’t say I’m a big fan of this practice, but at least important parts of the game aren’t being locked behind IAPs. However, this does give an advantage to those with deeper pockets.
- The way the car “heals” itself is weird to watch, but at the same time, kind of cool. The next time you total your car, sit back and watch the car slowly patch itself up.
The Crew is a massive game that has the potential to cater to a wide range of racing fans, but it never seems to know what it wants to be 100% of the time. I always get on my wife’s case for starting 100 different projects around the house and not finishing any of them as opposed to starting one and seeing it to completion, and that’s what The Crew reminds me of. Does it want to be an online-only MMO? An open world exploration game? A story driven tale of betrayal and burning rubber? The Crew is all these things…it just isn’t all these things entirely.
The Crew is a fun game for me. I enjoy cruising around doing nothing and trying to find landmarks. That might not be everybody’s cup of tea, though. Those who are looking for a campaign focused game might find this to be a bit too repetitive and hokey. Those who are looking for an online-centric experience will get that, but again, it ends up being too repetitive and lacks any real incentive.