Playing through The Crew feels a lot like going on a long road trip with the world’s worst backseat driver. Instead of running the experience by constantly stopping you to use the bathroom and question your driving; it’s constantly trying to bait you into micro-transactions and remind you that there’s a story here that you don’t care about. There is a good amount to love in The Crew, but sadly it’s marred down by a terrible story and a system that rewards both pay to win and cheat to win methods over skill. After nearly a week with Ubisoft’s online racer, The Crew didn’t satisfy my need for either a racing game, an MMO or a story driven experience; in fact, I never truly got the feeling that either the development team or myself knew what The Crew was even if it was very evident what it could be.
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The allure of The Crew is obvious from the start, set players loose in a virtual United States and allow them go on a virtual road trip. It’s a lofty goal but one that’s mostly met thanks to a huge map and a ton of things to do inside of it. Admittedly, the map doesn’t feature all of the United States (the Midwest is pretty much Detroit, and then you start heading into East Coast territory) but the amount of ambition by the game’s designer Ivory Tower and Ubisoft simply must be applauded. Hitting large monuments like New York City or the Redwood forrest are great moments, even if they’re led up to by a lot of filler and sparse. Regardless, driving through the world of The Crew and transitioning from city streets to snowy bluffs and forests is a great feeling. Even if the world doesn’t feel as alive as in a game like Forza Horizon 2, driving, and the love of driving are clearly at the heart of The Crew.
Ubisoft couldn’t leave well enough alone though and The Crew becomes less about the great american road trip and more about trying to copy every car-centered action movie trope that’s been trotted out in recent years. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s your basic “framed for murder now you’re out for revenge” story and yes, it feels as forced as you expect.It wouldn’t be so bad if The Crew used story the same way that games like Forza Horizon 2 did and used it as a mere way to get you to more cool locations and tracks to drive but The Crew insists that the story is front and center throughout the majority of the experience. Mindless chatter and insufferable cutscenes bookend even the game’s strongest sections but thankfully the can be skipped, it’s when the story starts to effect the gameplay that you start to see just damaging Ubisoft’s insistence on forcing a narrative onto The Crew can be.
I’ll admit that I don’t know much about the actual process of game development but I do know that if you’re making a racing/driving game you don’t want to make the player actively hate the act of driving. The game’s main story missions (read: when you’re not driving from location to location) can be broken down into two types; takedown missions and police pursuits. The later is marred by nearly psychic cops who can somehow tell your every move and won’t let up for anything. It’s the takedown missions though that do the most damage to everything that The Crew could be. Plenty of games require you to take out your enemy with force but The Crew’s tactics are questionable at best since only hits registered with your the very front of your car count towards damaging your opponent; seriously. It’s maddening to be following behind a rival, sideswiping them into walls, only to have them get away because a certain part of your car didn’t connect.
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For all of the stock the game puts into it’s campaign, it’s even more insistent that you try your hand at the game’s PvP mode, but spending even the smallest amount of time with the mode proves that it’s just as broken as the rest of the game. To be clear, you’re going to get most of your experience points in the competitive multiplayer modes, and that’s a fact that’s not lost on most playing the game. You never really shake the feeling that the difference between a win and a loss is based on car performance than the actual skill it takes to play the game. Even more maddening is the fact that unlike other recently released racers, The Crew doesn’t penalize players for aggressive driving, so most matches boil down to messy demolition derby matches rather than races. The Crew also features an admittedly cool feature that allows you to hold a button and instantly get your car back on course after a wreck and there were several times where I was thrown into a wall by another driver and then watched them teleport twenty feet down the track. Eventually I just lost all interest in playing The Crew.
Of course, if you’re not winning at The Crew, the game offers you another alternative to getting the parts you need to become successful; Crew Credits. Don’t get too excited, Crew Credits are just a much more friendly way to say micro-transactions; though the game does a decent enough job hiding this fact for as long as it could. Crew Credits are handled much the same way a gas station advertises a lower price for cash paying customers than those using credit, your upgrades cost a lot less when using Crew Credits than they do when using experience points and you won’t know that they’re asking for actual real world money until you go to try to use the credits. Prices are steep in The Crew too, with some of the game’s top rides fetching over $15 a pop, and don’t be that guy that’s spending $15 on a virtual car; don’t be that guy. This of course makes The Crew home to avery dangerous circle of needing to either pay to win or cheat to win, and that won’t do much for the game’s longevity.
The Crew could have been something special; it could have been a virtual love-letter to the great American Road Trip but unfortunately it’s just another cash grab that never seems to come close to reaching the lofty heights it aspires to. Every time you start to enjoy it, The Crew deflated it’s own tires with a terrible story or reliance on micro-transactions and you’re left wondering why you’re even playing it. In a year that Forza Horizon 2 came out and showed us what it means to truly be a driving game, there’s almost no reason to play The Crew.