As technology grows and the power of our consoles grows with it, gaming continues to evolve. With this evolution comes competition and in this competition questions must be answered. Questions like: who has the prettiest faces, the boldest explosions or the biggest worlds? The latter was the question Ivory Tower believed they had the ultimate answer for with The Crew, but is bigger really better?
Everything about The Crew stems from one thing: ambition. Ambition can simultaneously be a person's biggest strength and their greatest weakness. Ambition drives people to go farther and push harder than ever before, but there is a line within ambition that dare not be crossed. A blurred point where things cease to be ambitious and start becoming disastrous. The very best walk that fine line gracefully, but Ivory Tower blew right past it at 200mph and didn't look back. A man's reach should exceed his grasp, but The Crew just doesn't manage to grasp what it was looking for.
Within the first few moments of playing, you're going to notice one thing: this place is huge. The game world laid out before you in The Crew is so impossibly vast and full of potential that you can't help putting your foot down and just driving. The map covers the entirety of the United States from Los Angeles to New York and everything in between. While the world is obviously not to scale, you will still be impressed with its scope. Driving coast-to-coast can take hours and doing so is a blast, especially without a load screen in sight. The feel for all of America's varying landscapes is captured perfectly here. While not as pretty as some of The Crew's direct competitors, driving from the mountainous woodlands of the north to the barren plains of the Midwest is an absolute treat. A build-your-own-adventure awaits as you leave Miami to check out the NASA space center, ride through the gator-filled swamps on your way to New Orleans, and blast at high speeds across the plains as you head for my home town of Dallas. If you can think of a landmark in America, it's probably in The Crew. All of the ones you couldn't think of are present as well and going on a grand tour to find them all is the height of the game's entertainment.
The Crew's world is huge, there is no arguing that, but it's what you put in that world that counts. This is where the cracks begin to show in The Crew because driving around and taking in the sights won't last forever. The content available breaks down into five main options: story missions, activities, collectibles, faction missions and PVP. Let's start with the first one; yes there is a story and yes like most of its open-world driving counterparts, it's terrible. You play as Alex, a professional driver and Gordon Freeman lookalike that enjoys running from cops and helping out his brother Dayton, the leader of super hardcore underground racing gang: the 5-10s. In the opening moments your brother is murdered with the frame put on you. Smash-cut to Alex in prison where he meets sassy FBI agent Zoe who recruits him to go undercover and take down both his brother's killer and a corrupt federal agent. The story is as cringe-worthy as expected. Across its 60+ main missions, it does eventually get tolerable but never fully grows out of its cliché and overused premise. The missions are slightly varied, however, from the standard A-to-B races and timed checkpoint runs to the infuriating "takedown" and "box smashing" events. Some of these missions are a breeze while others allow the slimmest of margins before a failure and forced restart. These completely random difficulty spikes usually lead you to turn around and upgrade your car, and the primary way to do that is in activities.
These activities come in the form of hundreds of random events scattered about the game world that, upon their completion, award you a new part in a certain category on your car. From new brakes to transmission upgrades all of these parts contribute to your overall car level, enabling you to take on tougher missions and faster opponents. The activities themselves vary from enjoyable distractions like driving quickly while staying on the road or performing big jumps to frustrating actions like smashing scattered objects or sticking to a very strict racing line. Success in these awards a ranking ranging from bronze to platinum, the higher the score, the better the randomly-generated part. It's a loot system that is overall very compelling and puts a new spin on upgrading cars but at the end of the day devolves into to players simply "farming" the easiest event types.
As The Crew has been oft to remind us, this is a social game through and through. Every race and event (even the story ones) can be completed solo or cooperatively. Bringing friends is an absolute must here and will make the dullest moments tolerable and the hardest missions much easier to complete. Balancing, however, is a thing of the past as player's car levels are not curved to match the other players or mission type in any way. This can be helpful when you are struggling on a mission with your level 300 car and you call in a buddy with a level 1200 machine of fury to breeze the level for you, but at that point you're not really playing the game any more. This disparity comes to its full realization in PvP races where, again, players will bring the best of whatever they have, and if you don't have platinum parts on every bit of your vehicle like the other guys do, the match may be somewhat one-sided. This huge difference between players usually results in two options: only play with friends at the same level as you or just play solo. Playing solo still requires a constant internet connection however, so if you're in an area without dependable access you'll find being kicked out to the menu screen becomes an all-too-familiar game feature.
There are bigger problems in The Crew than connectivity or content though... much bigger, much more sinister problems indeed. These issues come in the form of the game's economy and cars. You start out given the option to choose between a Ford Mustang, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Camaro or Nissan 370Z. Are you a huge fan of one of these four choices? Would spending the majority of the foreseeable future in one of these machines bring you nothing but happiness? If this is you, stop reading now and go play The Crew. You'll have a great time.
For those that are still with us, the way The Crew handles its cars is a truly innovative and one of a kind experience. Where most racing games have you constantly buying newer, hotter, faster rides across your play time this game instead puts you in a car that you continuously upgrade, making it viable in all the game has to offer. From the most intense high-speed dashes to offroad smuggling events, you can truly tailor your ride to do anything. This allows you to establish a connection with what you drive, making it less about a car and more a representation of you. Your character is truly your car, and watching it go from a stock muscle car to the hardly recognizable 1000 horsepower off-road killing machine enhances that connection. This great and innovative idea is then completely and utterly destroyed by several ruinous game mechanics. First, those four cars mentioned earlier? Those make up the majority of the cars that can make the entire journey across all five race types. Couple that with a terrible in-game economy and the result is that the car you pick in the beginning is more or less your only car for the game. Yes, you can purchase other vehicles but they can only perform in specific race types and cost more money than you will likely ever earn within any reasonable time frame. Sick of your Ford Mustang and want to hop into that Alpha Romeo? Simple, drive your mustang for twenty hours, buy that ride you desperately want, use it for 20% of the races and hop back in the Mustang for the other 80%. For a game so massive in scale there are only around fifty cars to choose from, most are never going to be affordable, and when they are they will largely go unused.
But you've been stuck in that Camaro for 38 hours now and you simply can't take your eyes off that Pagani Huayra, surely there's a way you can have it right? Enter the microtransactions, perhaps the evil puppet master to nearly everything that is wrong with The Crew. Go ahead, buy that performance supercar... for thirty dollars. Want those platinum parts? Kick in another twenty. You get perks for leveling up and a lot of them provide very useful bonuses. What's that? There are a lot more perks than you could ever get by leveling? Twenty bucks should be enough to cover unlocking them. In an always-online world where only the best players are competitive and the levels aren't adjusted to match the competition, you'll start to put the pieces together. You realize why fancy cars cost over a million currency but races only pay out one to two thousand at a time. The game you already spent full price for just went pay-to-win. Microtransactions aren't new and are often explained away by allowing those without the time to get to max level to pay their way to success. Sometimes this formula ruins the atmosphere, other times it makes sense, but after 60 hours invested just to buy a mid-level car you can't use for the majority of races... things become a problem. Had the cars beyond the starting few been playable for all of the events in the game, then they might be worth it, but instead you find yourself stuck in the middle of a war between bad design and greedy exploitation. The loser in this war is you.
To its credit, however, The Crew is a very polished experience. Glitches and bugs are very rare and mostly occur server-side from Ubisoft. Failures to connect or dropped games do happen irregularly, but logging back in never seems to be a problem. One major bug stands out at the moment that prevents players from completing the daily or weekly challenges and since there are achievements tied to both of those, that can be a bit annoying. Graphically the game performs admirably without ever being exceptional and runs at an impeccable framerate throughout. Perhaps the biggest technical marvel of The Crew is its load times. Sure you can drive coast to coast without ever encountering a load screen but because of how daunting that task is, most players will just fast travel. Warping from Miami to Seattle takes on average under ten seconds and jumping around in the same region of the country is near instant. Ivory Tower put some real magic under the hood to pull off its seamless world and it should be commended. Maybe it's a shame having to credit a game for actually working as intended, but with so many of its competitors hitting the streets completely broken this year it's good to see something that plays correctly.
Like the game as a whole The Crew's achievement list is equal parts brilliance and infuriating nonsense. Earning the first few hundred Gamerscore should come somewhat naturally as you race through the campaign and dabble in a few extras. Earning the rest depends entirely on how popular you are versus how crazy you are. Ten achievements require you to play with friends and perform various feats. Some are fun, if not time-consuming, like driving coast to coast or touring each region or landmark together. These can take several hours each, so make sure you've got some buddies that have the time, but road trips like this with friends is, at its core, what The Crew was made for. Then enter your crazy achievements such as earning a platinum medal on every single campaign mission, completing the majority of challenges or getting gold on a whopping five-hundred different skills. While those few are for the purists, the players that plan to spend hundreds of hours in the continental playground, let's not forget the Indy Car Racer achievement. This requires a player to drive around a large oval track two-hundred times just for the sake of the achievement itself. No other benefits to be gained here, just a test of one's mettle in how many hours they dare commit towards completion. It's not clever, it's not fun and it's one of the poorest examples of what an achievement can be, especially when it's weighted at a whopping 100G. The Crew has been released to the public for nearly a week and six of its achievements haven't been unlocked by any of TA's most hardcore gamers. By most accounts the list is terrible and with a world so full of opportunity in every way, it may be the biggest letdown of them all.
For years developers have been hunting the white whale of being the biggest and the best. Like Captain Ahab's fabled story, this hunt can often lead to ruination. Sure you've done a lot of things along the way and certainly have some stories to tell, but The Crew sits as an empty shell, capable of housing so much more. For every pretty vista or famous landmark virtual America has to offer there lies a sinister microtransaction to hold it down. Every fantastic leap forward in car customization or character progression is held back by the weight of bad design. Ivory Tower has proven, especially with these new consoles, that big, bold worlds are out there and a bright future of gaming lies ahead. When those games come we here at TA will celebrate and play along with you, but that day is not today. America may be the land of opportunity but today it was opportunity squandered. Such a shame.
The reviewer spent approximately 40 hours playing through the campaign and many of its social events earning 25 out of 50 achievements. This review was completed using a physical copy on Xbox One provided by the publisher.
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