The Crew BETA…our thoughts

This week we’ll be giving you our musings regarding the recently closed BETA for Ubisoft’s racing game ‘The Crew’.

the crew

For those of you who don’t know what ‘The Crew’ is; it is a shared world racer. ‘The Crew’ takes the formula pioneered by ‘Burnout Paradise’ and throws a MMO dress on it. Everywhere you look there are other players, and everything is integrated incredibly well and it all creates a very unobtrusive interface; want to join someone’s crew? You don’t have to stop driving; you can do it on the move. It really is impressive. Challenges are the same; missions however require you to stop in a circle to initiate; it’s not a major inconvenience but it is certainly jarring; especially as everything else is so streamlined and slick.

There is real variety to the missions however and they all feel different; it gives the game a real sense of diversity. RAID missions are off road races, time trials and chases (my particular favourite as they feel like Smugglers Run; a classic from the PS2) the cars all have a real weight to them and genuinely feel rugged. Road spec cars are nimble and can turn tightly, where performance cars are monsters they accelerate and brake aggressively . In the space of an hour I had done a road race, chased a dude across fields, “killed” some chick and got chased by my former boss…varied and exciting; just the way a good video game should be!

The most touted feature of this game however is the map size. Not content with giving the player, a city or a state, this game recreates the entire USA (excluding the off-shore states) and it is genuinely massive! Although the longest distance I drove was Detroit to Vegas it took quite a substantial amount of time (maybe 10 minutes including indulging in some challenges)…Ubisoft touted a mission that would take the player from the East coast to West and would take up to an hour and a half; I can believe that to be the case. The play area is impressive.

Not only is the size and scope of the map impressive; but the variety of the terrain is too! You go from city, to suburb to countryside in a very organic and natural way, much like Rockstar did with San Andreas. What Ubisoft have achieved here is a hugely impressive feat. My favourite feature is the little details; planes fly in flight paths, you’ll see more planes the closer you get to a major airport; just like real life! Climb a mountain and the weather changes, you can go from sunny to misty to snow in one ascent…the little details create the impression of a living world.

These little details are on the cars too; the damage modelling is more pronounced than in other racing games (coughgranturismocough) and while it is far from realistic; it is showing that car manufacturers are becoming more open to allowing video games show damage (as they should be to stop glamourising driving like a moron). Most impressive though is the real time reflections on the cars body work! These are particularly effective at night, you can see the traffic lights, other cars lights moonlight and other environmental details in your cars body work…it creates a sense of immersion and makes travelling around the huge map more bearable.

The map is full of challenges too, these are started by driving through the gates on the road, these usual follow the route you are travelling and do a good job in breaking up the travel time from city to city and state to state. Some are genuinely fun too; in particular the jump challenges; however they are hampered by the most hated of all open world traits; random occurrences. There were times when I was on the verge of getting a gold medal in a challenge and something would happen my car that was out of my control, sometimes it would be clipping a curb; sometimes this would have little-to-no effect but the one time you’re on to a winner, that’s the time it’ll cause your car to flip and ruin your gold run. It’s very inconsistent and annoying and it is a reminder that this is still very much an unfinished product.

There are other reminders too! At times the world seems dead, you can travel around in free roam and there will rarely be more than 7 or 8 cars on the road with you; others the roads are choc-a-block with cars that makes navigation a nightmare. During races the traffic does play a larger role; primarily because; I assume, it’s scripted that way to make races more dramatic. I understand that things are still being tinkered with, but I’d love to see a little more consistency with traffic both in-mission and free roam. The AI of other drivers is strange; at times they’d be hugely aggressive and force you off the roads. Other times they’d be timid and slow down to let you pass with seemingly no in between. There is severe rubber-banding too; story races seemed impossible to lose.

My biggest bug-bears and I’m sure both will be addressed before release is the handling model of the cars at low levels, the fact that rear view mirrors currently do not reflect the world, and the mechanics of how social aspects work. All these issues really break the immersion the game tries so hard to establish.

The car handling is stuck somewhere between arcade and simulation; which is fine, however it does not seem to stay consistent. There are times when it feels just right; but more often than not it flips between too much understeer and too much oversteer. I’m not sure what Ubisoft were trying to achieve here but it is a severe issue and needs addressed. At high levels it improves (each car has levels) and you do get used to the steering, but in a driving game it should be natural and not something to compensate for. The rear view mirror issue is just because they haven’t written the texture code yet; and is not a big issue; it’s just disappointing to be reminded your playing a game.

There are also a lot of other graphical bugs such as disappearing ground. And a number of unfinished effects that are particularly highlighted in the crash cam. Textures will require some more work but all of these are quite minor and should be gone for release.

What i’m not sure about is that the mechanics of the ‘crews’ changing before release. Right now  being in someones crew puts you in at their mercy. They can restart races/missions without you knowing – you’d be into a race and suddenly your back at the video; its jarring and smashes the immersion to pieces; surely Ubisoft will have to employ some sort of voting system for crews as to avoid alienating the members who aren’t in control. This is a massive shame as playing with others really does bring this game to another level; Ubisoft have to find a way to make this aspect work; otherwise this game will flop.

Overall the BETA for ‘the crew’ was enjoyable. It isn’t a revolution in driving games, nor has it ignited a sudden urge to preorder; it will remain on my radar however and I look forward to reading reviews; if they are positive then I’ll buy it.

Right now there is a lot of work to be done and I’m not sure there is enough time…hopefully there is and this game can live up to its huge potential.

I’ve just learned that it has been delayed until December 2nd. I wouldn’t be surprised if this date also slips to Q1 2015. I think for this game to hit it’s potential it will need proper fine tuned! Let’s hope it’s not released at 1080p to avoid an absolute shit storm…

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