The Crew

EDGE - - CONTENTS - Pub­lisher Ubisoft De­vel­oper Ivory Tower, Re­flec­tions For­mat 360, PC, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

360, PC, PS4, Xbox One

Of the var­i­ous event types, rac­ing fares the least badly, prov­ing for the most part inoffensively lack­lus­tre

Early on in The Crew, the grand vi­sion of de­vel­op­ers Ivory Tower and Re­flec­tions be­comes clear. It’s dur­ing the pre­ren­dered in­tro, in fact, as throaty, V8-pow­ered cars tear through New York, the streets teem­ing with pedes­tri­ans and ve­hi­cles. After an ex­tended chase across a grab bag of recog­nis­able US lo­cales, the cam­era pans back to re­veal four play­ers form­ing a crew, just as another quar­tet does the same on a nearby road. Then the cam­era pulls out again to take in a whole city’s worth of driv­ers go­ing about their business, and then once more to show the en­tirety of North Amer­ica rid­dled with dozens of street-rac­ing gangs. It’s a pitch for the great­est open-world driv­ing game ever con­ceived, but much of that prom­ise is sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­man­tled once you be­gin to play.

While it’s true that you share a sin­gle world with ev­ery­one who made the same for­mat choice, you’ll only ob­serve them in sharded groups of up to eight at any one time, plucked from those in your im­me­di­ate vicin­ity. That’s three more than Need For Speed: Ri­vals man­aged, but it still un­der­mines the sense that the world is bustling with other play­ers, much less crews. More frus­trat­ingly, while we oc­ca­sion­ally find our­selves driv­ing along­side seven other hu­mans, it’s more usu­ally two or three, and some­times none at all.

When you do find other play­ers, how­ever, form­ing a crew proves pain­less. You can bring up a roster of those in your ses­sion by click­ing the right stick at any time and in­vite them into your gang, and most story mis­sions can be played in co-op. If you’re not cur­rently in a group, choos­ing the quick co-op op­tion will no­tify ev­ery player in your ses­sion and form a new crew, not just a one-off group, from ev­ery­one who ac­cepts. It’s easy to leave a crew once a mis­sion is over, even if you’ll have to dis­cover the knack through trial and er­ror, but it’s a lit­tle ir­ri­tat­ing to have to go through the process each time you find your­self part­nered up with a player you’d rather not spend any more time with. Still, while you’re bound to­gether, any un­locked mis­sions can be started by ev­ery­one in the group, re­gard­less of where they are on the map, and when you’re play­ing with a good bunch of play­ers, it proves an ex­cel­lent fea­ture.

You’ll want as much backup as pos­si­ble if you’re go­ing to trudge through the unin­spired, frus­trat­ing story sec­tions. The Crew’s plot is a col­lec­tion of clichés de­liv­ered with less nu­ance than even a Fast & Fu­ri­ous movie, and the mis­sions them­selves will leave you non­plussed. Of the var­i­ous event types, rac­ing fares the least badly, prov­ing for the most part inoffensively lack­lus­tre even as you wres­tle with the stag­ger­ing rub­ber-band­ing and un­re­al­is­tic cor­ner­ing abil­i­ties of your op­po­nents, which puts you at a clear dis­ad­van­tage. You have to place first in ev­ery event, too, and fail­ing to achieve this won’t even net you a smat­ter­ing of con­so­la­tion ex­pe­ri­ence points or car parts; the race ends sim­ply, and un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously, as soon as the lead car screams across the fin­ish line.

Play­ing co-op­er­a­tively with other driv­ers shifts the odds in your favour, since only one of you needs to win in or­der for ev­ery­one to get through. The setup works well, al­low­ing more ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers to help newer play­ers beat mis­sion ob­jec­tives that are just beyond the reach of their ve­hi­cles’ abil­i­ties, and or­gan­ised crews can even work to­gether to run in­ter­fer­ence on AI rac­ers while a des­ig­nated driver takes the che­quered flag.

Almost any ex­ces­sively steep chal­lenge en­coun­tered can be cir­cum­vented in this way, and some by lev­el­ling up your car through re­play­ing ear­lier mis­sions, tack­ling PvP events, or at­tempt­ing the var­i­ous short chal­lenges that pep­per the map. En­tered au­to­mat­i­cally once you pass through a set of float­ing blue start­ing gates, chal­lenges take in a va­ri­ety of driv­ing dis­ci­plines, in­clud­ing the likes of slaloms and high-speed tests,

DriveClub- style line hold­ing and more un­usual ac­tiv­i­ties such as hill climbs that re­quire you to power up dif­fi­cult ter­rain as quickly as pos­si­ble. But grind­ing won’t soften the blow of the mis­sions that re­quire you to step out of your lev­elled-up car and into a loaned ve­hi­cle, sev­eral of which pro­vide some of the most egre­gious dif­fi­culty spikes we’ve ever en­coun­tered in rac­ing games.

One of the worst of th­ese takes place right at the be­gin­ning of the game, when you’re in­tro­duced to raid­spec cars, the game’s most rugged ve­hi­cle con­fig­u­ra­tion, for a Take­down mis­sion that re­quires you to ram an AI driver into sub­mis­sion. Your ef­forts will be thwarted un­til you re­alise that your tar­get moves along the same route ev­ery time and only slows down enough for you to make con­tact at pre­de­fined mo­ments. Clearly you’re sup­posed to use your ni­trous boost to close the gap, but it’s in­ef­fec­tive un­less the mo­ment you open the valve co­in­cides with a con­trac­tion of that in­vis­i­ble rub­ber band. Even then, you’ll make an in­fu­ri­at­ingly small dent in your op­po­si­tion’s health bar.

Get­away events re­verse the places of cat and mouse and set you on the run from ag­gres­sive po­lice or gang cars. You’ll find your­self just as out­matched, your pur­suers able to close huge gaps with un­canny bursts of speed and to come to a halt in an in­stant. When they do it right in front of you, you’ll stop too, trig­ger­ing a short count­down to your ar­rest, which usu­ally leaves you too lit­tle time to re­verse away. You can al­ways ram po­lice and gang cars, but do­ing so is a con­sid­er­able risk given that their health bars are nearly as ro­bust as Take­down tar­gets, and how eas­ily they can bring you to a halt. But more frus­trat­ing is the way that new pur­suers will of­ten spawn in front of you just as you’ve bro­ken free of the pack, plung­ing you back into the chase. And while the game as­sim­i­lates much of Ubisoft’s fa­mil­iar open-world tem­plate – not least the need to find Data Sta­tions in

or­der to re­veal mis­sions and lo­ca­tions in an area – it fails to bor­row Watch Dogs’ abil­ity to hide from he­li­copters un­der bridges or in tun­nels.

All that said, mis­sions at least feel hand­crafted. Set-piece events punc­tu­ate races, whether it’s sim­ply a crop duster fly­ing over­head or some­thing dra­matic, such as an avalanche. And some events ex­hibit a burst of cre­ativ­ity, such as a race that places you in a dirt­spec car and tasks you with beat­ing a much faster street car by tak­ing ad­van­tage of of­froad short­cuts. Mostly, how­ever, story mis­sions are un­sat­is­fy­ing and even the best ones still sub­ject you to the game’s un­pre­dictable col­li­sion de­tec­tion; a head-on crash with on­com­ing traf­fic will be brushed off one minute, be­fore the mer­est con­tact with a verge sends your car cartwheel­ing across the ground in an un­skip­pable slow-mo crash cutscene. Hold­ing the re­set but­ton will re­turn you to the track a lit­tle way back from your calamity, but should your AI op­po­nents suf­fer any such in­dig­nity, they’re granted a res­pawn far­ther up the road.

Such un­sport­ing de­sign is enough to make you want to put as many miles be­tween you and the cam­paign as pos­si­ble. Thank­fully, in a game that also fea­tures a con­densed North Amer­ica to ex­plore, that’s en­tirely pos­si­ble. And for all The Crew’s mis­fir­ing com­po­nents, almost ev­ery­thing is pushed to the back of your mind once you’re out on the open road with a friend or three as you make your way from New York to Los An­ge­les while the sun dips over the hori­zon. This dis­tilled US is a re­mark­able achieve­ment that packs in lots of road trip des­ti­na­tions worth fan­ta­sis­ing about, in­clud­ing many ma­jor ci­ties, Route 66 and Yosemite Na­tional Park. But it’s the un­ex­pected dis­cov­er­ies you’ll make along the way that thrill: a gi­ant model of a cow, a colos­sal crater, or the Morn­ing Glory Pool in Yel­low­stone.

Dis­cov­er­ing land­marks such as th­ese will pull you off the planned route reg­u­larly, as ge­o­graph­i­cal fea­tures, or the dis­tant light from a small town at dusk, pique your in­ter­est. What’s more, re­gions feel dis­tinct as you pass through them, the light­ing, colour scheme and even traf­fic (what lit­tle of it there is) sub­tly chang­ing to re­flect each state’s makeup and biome. Ex­plor­ing such a vast map so packed full of character is a plea­sure.

But even th­ese gains are un­der­mined by the ar­gu­men­ta­tive cam­era, by pop-in, and by jar­ring alias­ing is­sues. There’s so much to see and yet the cam­era re­mains stead­fastly locked on a hor­i­zon­tal plane, so any­thing taller than a storey is im­pos­si­ble to view un­less you’re hun­dreds of me­tres from it. Land­mark icons are sit­u­ated by most lo­ca­tions of note, which of­fer a few sweep­ing views of the area in ques­tion when ac­ti­vated, but they’re a poor sub­sti­tute for an in-game cam­era that points where you ask it to.

Per­haps its omis­sion was a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to stop you ex­am­in­ing the muddy tex­tures too closely. While mo­ments of gen­uine beauty ex­ist, they oc­cur in the con­text of a game that oth­er­wise sim­ply can­not com­pete with its con­tem­po­raries when it comes to visual pre­sen­ta­tion – a symp­tom, per­haps, of the seven-year de­vel­op­ment cy­cle. It’s in stark con­trast to that crisp in­tro­duc­tory se­quence. If you fin­ish the main cam­paign, it even plays again, serv­ing as a re­minder of what The Crew might have been if only it were as­sem­bled with the same at­ten­tion to de­tail.

The Crew’s US is packed with as­ton­ish­ing views, even if it’s tough to ma­nip­u­late the cam­era to take them in prop­erly. Even after hav­ing un­der­taken sev­eral coast-to-coast road trips, you’ll want to plan more

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