The Crew Wild Run is out in a matter of hours and, as timing would have it, I have recently finished the vanilla version. Has there ever been a better time to publish a review to a year old game?
In October last year I took part in the BETA for The Crew and wrote my thoughts here. While I enjoyed it I also had some reservations about the game, specifically some technical issues that reared their head throughout the BETA including texture issues and general bugs. Thankfully all of these have been ironed out and The Crew is a genuinely great arcade racer.
For the uninitiated, The Crew is a shared world racer that takes the foundations laid down by Burnout Paradise and Need For Speed Most wanted and adds a layer of MMO like elements on top. Throughout the pre-release Ubisoft were very keen to emphasize the gaming world; which is the entirety of the continental United States.
And the world is massive! The best way to illustrate this is with the mission where you have to race from New York to L.A. and it takes 90 minutes (but can be done in an hour with a top-tier car). The change in scenery, terrain, weather conditions, road conditions and the number of other cars (both player and AI is absolutely staggering. It is a reminder that you are playing a game wholly designed for the new generation. When you consider that all this occurs without loading screens, freezes or pauses – the world of The Crew is an amazing feat of programming and Ubisoft should be proud of their achievement here.
The technical achievements don’t begin and end with sheer size though, the world is incredibly organic, cities gradually give way to suburbs then countryside. Traffic patterns also follow what you expect of the world, it thins and subsides the further you get from a city and gradually builds back up as you come back to the urban landscapes.Weather; while not hugely impressive, also follows patterns that make logical sense. As you climb up mountains glorious sunshine gives way to drizzle, rain, fog and eventually snow and ice (if you climb high enough). Wildlife is also present and although their AI is nothing more than run away from cars, it is cool to see species where they should be, Bears are in forested areas, cougars are in mountainous regions and deer roam in lush green fields. It’s these little touches that make The Crew seem like it is taking place in a living, breathing world. The world is also full of things to do, story missions, challenges for experience and car parts, hidden satellite dishes and cars, racing circuits, landmarks and places of interest, The Crew’s U.S.A is heaving with things to do and see. The racing itself is spread over a number of different driving disciplines and with any car being able to be outfitted for any class there is the potential to create some great car collections that will be unique to you:
- RAID spec – off-road racing with larger, heavier vehicles.
- Dirt – rally cars and events.
- Street spec – street racing cars – agile and quick.
- Performance spec – high performance street cars Ferrari etc
- Circuit spec – purpose-built for incredible speed and control, only used in racing circuits.
The variety in missions here is incredible! In one session I had raced Leguna Seca, raced cross-country smashing drugs, chased a bus Chase HQ style, did a point-to-point challenge and beat several long jump records. It is incredibly exciting when a new event begins you never quite know what to expect. Challenges are similarly varied and encompass speed, handling, slalom, long jumps and racing line awareness.These challenges begin and end seamlessly, you drive through a gate if you want to take part in the event and it begins. It is an incredibly streamlined experience that makes you wonder why other games cannot implement a system similar to it. Even when you succeed and gain a new car part the delay is literally 1 or 2 secs as your car upgrades. It is amazing to see.
Now that we have gotten beyond the technical aspects of the game, we can talk about the actual game. First things first, the story is a real non-event, it is a cliche-ridden revenge tale that would not be out-of-place in a fast and furious movie. Even the end (which I won’t ruin here) had me laughing in its Vin Diesel-esque cheesiness. What the story does though is navigate you across the map and unlocks all the major cities – it is a great tutorial for the main game – teaming up with others, leveling up your cars and taking part in crew missions and PVP events.
Once the story ends the USA becomes the players playground (although there are no barriers before this part) your knowledge of the game really allows emergent gameplay to occur. I have had so many great moments happen because of the community, I had an impromptu race across the rocky mountains, a demolition derby in a field and high-speed crash competitions much like in Burnout 2. The social aspect of The Crew is brilliantly implemented and is the very cornerstone of the playing experience.
Players in your vicinity are clearly visible on your map, in game using icons and if you push R3. This list is constantly refreshing so you have the closest 8 players to you at all times. This means you can join them and their crew with the push of two buttons, and you do not have to stop driving. Like the challenges it is seamless.However, there are times when they do get in the way of your game. You can choose to help out other crew members with missions and if you agree, you are now at their whim. They can restart and cancel events without your knowledge, which means you get a black screen (for 3 seconds) and get thrown back to your last position with no warning. It is incredibly disappointing when the rest of the game is so slick.
There is also a noticeable delay in things when you are playing missions of events with others, it is very common to see cars teleport across the road and react very late to a shunt or side swipe. While this has no effect on the events outcome it is very noticeable and can throw you off a little, but much like changing vehicle class can be compensated for. The strange thing is that there is little to no evidence of any of this in free-roam.
Another disappointment is the games graphical engine, while it is fine, it seldom really impresses you. Fine is the best description of how The Crew looks. The cars look fine; although they do reflect their environment in real-time and it can be impressive when you put down the controller and the game enters its “show off” mode. After playing Rivals I was a little disappointed how this game looks in comparison and while it’s not ugly, it’s just “fine”.Overall though, with so much good content, a handling model that provides variety and consistency, a solid frame rate and multiplayer options that put many more established franchises to shame. The Crew is a great arcade racer that’s the best in its class on current hardware. And also the best since Burnout Paradise was released in 2008.
The release of Wild Run looks set to only improve the experience and I for one will be in the front row eagerly awaiting it.