The Crew has a slightly bigger scope than most racing games out there. While many are about just getting in first place, this one is about doing that while also going on a nationwide road trip across the United States. Unlike National Lampoon’s Vacation, you’re not out to go to a theme park. Instead, you’re playing as Alex Taylor out to avenge the death of his brother, Dayton. Alex is framed, thrown in jail, but an FBI agent named Zoe gets him out and so now you’re working with the feds to get the rogue agent who helped set you up and killed your brother.
The storyline is straight out of an ’80s TV movie of the week, with no memorable characters and far too many of them being straight-up stereotypes. This kind of stuff didn’t really work a decade ago when Need For Speed tried to put in storylines for dramatic effect and it failed – the same went for Midnight Club. Going for storylines in a game like this rarely works, and the last game to try, Need For Speed: The Run failed. This at least has solid talent behind the roles, but the material they’re given is paper-thin. Troy Baker plays Alex reasonably well, but there’s no depth to the role and unlike Trevor in GTA V, there are no personality traits to exaggerate. He is a generic Caucasian male with brunette hair and he’s out for revenge. You’ll run into a lot of racers who talk with stereotypical voices and shout stuff. There’s nothing here to enjoy as if it was a film, and the action big and bold enough to give it a pass like a Fast and Furious movie.
That leaves the racing as the game’s main draw and that’s a really tricky thing to cover. While the driving is fairly fluid, there are a lot of really strange issues with collision that hurt the game. You’ll have large street races and run the risk of hitting traffic. Normally, you can nudge a car and you’ll be fine. Here, you could nudge a car and then get wrecked. If you have a huge head-on collision, a little cutscene plays out that can’t be completely skipped. This results in a lot of wasted time too. We’ll be covering that a lot as we go on.
You might bounce off, but that’s rare. A single wreck will probably put you out of the running thanks to the fairly unforgiving AI. This is one of the toughest racers I’ve ever played and it’s one of the most user-unfriendly experiences out there. Since it’s always-online, there isn’t a replay function. This means that even if you’re playing solo, you’re out of luck if you make one mistake. You have to restart the whole race and go through the pre-race stuff and then hear the same mid-race banter over and over.
Making matters worse are all of the breaks in the structure. Between races, you’ll come across gates to race through or smash, jumps to land and so forth. These bring up it’s own menu that takes up time to load, despite just flying on-screen. It covers the screen way too much and the whole UI is cluttered. Once the large mid-screen results stuff moves away, you’ve got the basic UI. The bottom-left shows your speed and results, bottom-right is your GPS with a waypoint, location, and distance to your destination. You’ve also got a gigantic light trail guiding you along and a left hand-side menu showing plays. Everything’s just too busy, and while I can get that this is supposed to be the era of folks being distracted by shiny things and phone apps
When The Crew isn’t acting as its own worst enemy, it can be fun. When things gel, and they do when you’re doing co-op and having fun while getting a massive XP boost for being social, it works. The janky parts of the concept melt away then, but it’s a false feeling of positivity. If that feeling kept going during solo play, it would be one thing – but all that does is shine a brighter light on how un-fun things can be then. The flaws start showing up more noticeable. Loading times are absurdly long at times, with just the startup taking around a minute after you load your data. With this being an always-online, you will be kicked back to the main menu after a period of inactivity, so if you need to run an errand mid-race, you’re out of luck.
Other issues crop up too because of the phone-heavy nature of the menus. GTA V nailed this right and even GTA IV did an okay job with it. Here, you’ve got a cell phone to get through everything, but you can’t do some simple things easily. Let’s say you hop online and you’ve got a player who’s got the mic right on a crying baby in the background. If this is a story race, I absolutely don’t want to hear that because it’s distracting even if I can read the subtitles. To avoid that, you can’t just hit something on the d-pad to select the player, instead, you have to go through the cell phone, hope you find the right option, then use the left stick to select the person, and then navigate another couple of menus to mute that person. It’s incredibly unintuitive and with this game being so reliant on co-op, it’s something they need to fix down the line.
While The Crew has many issues, it does at least control really smoothly and I love the RPG-style progression system. In real-time, you can upgrade your car after winning a new part, and that’s one of the rare examples of efficiency in the game’s design. Every co-op race I had was also lag-free, and for a racing game, that’s a huge deal. When you’ve got poor netcode, you wind up with folks flying all around and it’s just distracting. Here, you get a smooth experience and a gigantic XP boost for actually building a crew – even if it’s just a short-term one made up of folks online at that particular time.
Visually-speaking, the game looks solid, but rarely rises above that. Frequent close-ups of the road textures show that there’s no real depth to them and that goes for dirt as well. This was evident in the various betas and I was hoping it would be cleared up – it hasn’t been. The cars look fine, but not spectacular and that goes for the lighting effects too. While the saturation of green and red traffic lights is impressive, that’s about it. I suppose some graphical quality had to be sacrificed for the open world, but I wasn’t expecting this kind of drastic drop-off. Forza Horizon 2 has a large world and looks far more impressive.
The Crew’s audio peaks with crashes and the voice work. The former are nice and violent, with head-on crashes sounding particularly deadly. The latter is pretty good, but never rises above being serviceable. You never care about the plight of the characters and the cast can’t work miracles by adding subtext when there’s no substance to draw upon. The soundtrack is the least memorable I can recall in the sense that I honestly remember absolutely nothing about it. It’s all just generic rock and none of it stands out.
The concept of the Crew is a lot better than the execution in its present form. The betas showed off an iffy storyline and solid racing, and that same verdict falls upon the final product. The racing action is reasonably well-done, but the plot that envelops it isn’t. It’s a throwback to a bygone era in the worst way, as gaming storylines have progressed a lot in the past few years, and something that isn’t even on the level of a summer popcorn flick isn’t going to cut it. The always-online nature of the game leads to some issues, and the game’s many UI issues combine with them to form some really annoying problems. The saddest thing is that The Crew isn’t bad, it just underwhelms to such a degree that it’s impossible to recommend right now. If the UI gets a bit of an overhaul and there’s some tweaking done to make it more user-friendly, then that could change.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of The Crew for the PlayStation 4 provided by Ubisoft.