2014 was not the best year for publishing giant, Ubisoft. They did publish some quality titles like Valiant Hearts and Child of Light, but they are also responsible for both the most over-hyped game of 2014 and the buggiest game of 2014. However, towards the end of the year they published possibly one of the most ambitious racing games this side of the millennium: The Crew.
As much as I love racing games, I have gotten completely numb to the classic street racer story. It is pretty much the organized crime, revenge story with cars. Unlike other stories, you are not directly taken down a peg. Instead it is your brother, the leader of 510s, who is taken down and you are framed for his murder. From there, it is business as usual; you have to climb up the ranks and get your revenge. There is not much that can be said about the story apart from it is there and serves its purpose.
The heart and soul of The Crew lies in the cars and what you do with them. Like other street racing titles, you assemble a fleet of various performing cars. Unlike other titles, you can modify the performance of them using parts you win from story missions and the vast amount challenges in the world. To stand out from the crowd, Ivory Tower went with a role playing approach to help differentiate the cars and expand the gameplay. There is a selection of classes each with their own specialization. Some are best on tarmac, others on dirt. Some hit like Mjolnir, others fall over at the slightest breeze.
Ivory Tower capitalized on this approach by only allowing the starting cars to be modded to every spec, while the rest of the line up are locked to no more than two other specs. This allows you target specific cars for a certain spec as well as allowing for minimalist approach with only one car. However, I have noticed that some specs on some cars are only available for the AI cars. This is a shame as I would have liked to fully explore the limits of some of the larger vehicles.
As mentioned earlier, upgrades are unlocked by completing the plethora of challenges spread across the world. These challenges test various skills like staying on the roads while maintaining as high a speed as possible, maneuvering through a slalom course and sticking to an ever shrinking race line; all while dealing with the usual traffic patterns and other players. Yes, these challenges keep you in the world so it is possible to get interrupted by other players. I guess we have From Software to thank for that. At first I only enjoyed the jumping ones but as I unlocked better parts and focused my efforts, I started to enjoy most of them. There is still a couple I do not like but that is life.
Like traditional RPGS, the level of an upgrade you can equip is tied to your level. However, you can still unlock these higher level parts. Each part is ranked on your performance on that challenge, with gold being the best. What I enjoyed most was being able to set which ghost to challenge yourself against. However, I quickly got bored of seeing the gold ghost in my rear view mirror. Once you reach the maximum level, which will not take very long, the platinum unlocks are available across all challenges. These come with a caveat, the level of the part is random between 40 and 50. This makes getting all level 50 platinum parts very time consuming but very satisfying when you do.
One of the things which attracted me to The Crew was its promise of including a scaled down map of North America. I have to admit that initially I was skeptical as companies have a bad habit over-promising and not delivering. Yet Ivory Tower has delivered. The map contains six major cities, with a lot of famous landmarks including Hollywood, Mt Rushmore, The Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. While most other games pretend to offer an open world, The Crew actually does. Since the game allows it, you can drive off any road and into the wilderness.
This is where you see how much Ivory Tower thought The Crew out. First, and most importantly, the GPS line which hovers above the road continues to find the best route. The line is even able to avoid major obstacles like rock clusters, rivers and lakes. Next is the mobile garage which allows you to switch among any spec of any of the cars you have in your garage. This small feature is invaluable in a game as open as The Crew with only fives garages. Yes you can fast travel to the garages and back again but why waste time like that?
With these types of game design in mind, it makes you wonder why the police department AI is shoddy at best. I’ve played my fair of Black Box’s Need For Speed: Most Wanted and the police in The Crew is considerably cheap and unfair by comparison. While your car is subject to the laws of physics (thanks to the Havok Engine), the police simply do not care. Not only do they accelerate to match your speed in an instant, they are also able to make you spin out with their magical momentum engine. This is made even worse as they seem to have tires made from magnets, making them the ultimate unmovable objects. If a couple stop in front of your car, you are better off allowing them to take their course than resisting.
As the name suggests, The Crew is a game which has a large social aspect. You can choose to from a crew with other players. In this crew you can go through the story missions and make things easier. You can also battle other crews in 4-vs-4 races if you would rather be semi anti-social then you can join in traditional online races. Creating a crew is extremely easy, you simply send an invite to another player and that is it. The best part is that you do not have to leave the crew to do missions or challenges.
If you do not fancy dealing with other players, you can join the five factions and participates in faction missions. These missions are often very long, one I did lasted almost two hours. Though they do reward you with a substantial amount of XP and cash. They also increase the reputation of the faction which boosts the login bonus. This gives an incentive to get involved but most people will just join the faction with the highest reputation to maximize their cash flow.
Speaking of cash, the money you earn from missions and challenges serves only to purchase new cars, visual modifications and the initial spec conversion kits. If you do not feel like going through the motions and earning the bucks then you can purchase a separate in-game currency which can be used in the same roles as bucks. Yes, The Crew has micro-transactions but they act to remove the less enjoyable parts rather than a shortcut to success. You could go out and buy the best car but until you reach a certain level, you will not be able to set it to spec. This means that it is useless as every mission requires spec’d cars and the challenges will not unlock parts for stock cars.
The Crew is one of the few stand out racing games out there at the moment. Not only did Ivory Tower dream big but they also delivered on their vision. Nearly everything about The Crew is well thought-out and executed. However, it falls short of being great by having shoddy AI and an acceptable story with under utilized missions types.
This review was based off a purchased digital copy of The Crew: Gold Edition for the PC.