Putting it as briefly as possible, The Crew is a massive racing game full of challenges, an enormous main campaign and a playing area which allows some of the more demanding races to take place over more than four hours, comfortably without seeing the same stretch of road twice. It’s an always-online MMO of sorts, providing competitive and cooperative multiplayer options with friends and random players. It lets you carry out almost every race, escape or other mission alone or with other players, and provides an impressive array of vehicles to save up for, customise and race with. In short, it’s mostly brilliant.
The voice of Troy Baker is always appreciate in a game, and this time he turns up as a guy framed for killing his brother, using an FBI connection to infiltrate the 510 in order to get to the guy who actually did the killing in the first place. The storyline ticks along nicely and introduces a range of characters which, while carrying the stereotypes of a plot like this, have good personality and give the missions a sense of purpose and urgency where they need to. With a campaign of the size of this the storyline isn’t going to be a thrill a minute, but it does a far better job than the likes of Destiny which (as our multi-writer review clearly showed) made no sense at all during its lengthy missions.
The playing field is enormous, with the whole of the USA compressed into a driver’s playground which takes hours to drive around its perimeter. Many large cities are in place, with Chicago, New York and Las Vegas among those available to explore. They’re not photo-perfect reproductions, and don’t match the layouts of their real life counterparts, but they each have the right look and feel, and there are recognisable landmarks in each location such as the massive arch in St Louis which some of the more travelled players will enjoy tracking down. Between each city though is miles upon miles of open road and countryside to explore, with challenges to complete, secret cars to find and satellite dishes to hunt out in order to reveal the location of the nearby challenges. Small towns will crop up from time to time as well, not offering a great deal but fleshing out the map and meaning you’re not just driving from big city to big city for no reason. Some of these cross-country routes are beautiful too, taking you past the likes of the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls as well as hours of coastal and mountain roads. The challenges you’ll find around the place include slaloms, speed tests and hill climbs, each offering upgrades on your current car which will start to prove essential for keeping up with the increased challenges in the main campaign.
The cars themselves fit into a range of categories, and require you to buy the main stock model before setting them up for their intended purpose. Once you own the base model you can use it to buy kits which give you an off-road Raid car, a super-fast Circuit car and so on. It’s not all available from minute 1 of course, they get unlocked as you level up, so there’s always a reason to keep plugging away. Most missions require a specific type of vehicle to be used too, so balancing your time spent in each type of car will be an important step towards being an all-round driving legend. With the various challenges scattered around offering improved parts for your cars, it’s good fun to just drive round for an hour completing them and beefing up your kit without even touching the main missions. In this respect it’s very similar to other open world MMO-style games, but it somehow feels different when your transport consists of four wheels instead of two legs.
A while into the game you unlock factions, letting you sign yourself up to one of the game’s more MMO-like aspects. Every player who has reached this point will be in a faction, with the initial two options expanding as you make further progress. Each time a new faction crops up you’re given the chance to swap, but doing so resets your reputation within the factions. There are two uses for these, one being an extra set of missions to earn your reputation and a few extra bucks to spend on stuff, and the other being a lever for competitive multiplayer. The first of these are reminiscent of traditional MMO raids, one-off missions which you can do alone or with others in your faction. You might be getting from A to B in a certain time, escaping from the police as quickly as possible or reaching a destination without wrecking your car. The size and scope of the missions varies from a few minutes up to an eye-watering and cramp-inducing four hour tour of America’s finest landmarks, something which only the most dedicated will complete but also reap the rich rewards of. Some of these missions are a bit long winded and dull though – spending 20 minutes driving 45km to somewhere with the only condition being a limit to car damage means you can drive at a pensioner’s pace and still get every bit as much reward as getting there in half the time. Races and escapes are great fun, but the less intense tasks don’t offer much by way of excitement. The competitive options are quite cool though and work well, letting you race in faction vs faction events as well as free-for-all races. It often takes a while for a race to fill up with players, but once you get a decent group together it’s excellent fun.
A lot of people seem to be struggling with the handling of the cars, and it’s fair to say it’s a mixed bag. Some cars don’t turn as well as you’d hope, others have very slippery back ends which make controlling them a tough task, but he’s the thing that has annoyed me about these complaints: you can test all of your cars before driving them. When buying my first car I found the only one I could get round a corner well was the Nissan, so I bought that one, but others have found more success with one of the others on offer. It comes down to your driving style and what you’re used to, and giving plenty of possible cars to try out and buy means everyone will find something to suit them. Personally I found the handling to be more than acceptable, and even when it got a bit wild a little tweak in the sensitivity settings sorts most issues.
I’ve read a lot of negativity about The Crew, but I don’t really understand most of it. I haven’t seen any connection issues on the PS4 version, I don’t see an issue with the handling and considering the size of the game I don’t know why some people don’t think much of the visuals. The main issues I found were more to do with the missions themselves – racing for half an hour then messing up the last corner and coming last is incredibly frustrating, and the distance based missions are pretty looking but fairly boring. But build up a crew of you and your friends and send all four of you into a series of missions and it’s great, and an experience which isn’t too far removed from Burnout Paradise at times.
And let’s face it, any game which has a strong comparison with that can’t be bad.
Reviewed on PS4