The Crew Comes Out Tomorrow. It Probably Won't Be Very Good.

I had the good fortune of being accepted into both betas for Ubisoft's The Crew, one of the last big games of the season, and (what I believe to be) Ubisofts last big game of the calendar year. I started this write up after the conclusion of the second beta but decided against it, but decided to put my thoughts up after Ubisoft publicly told consumers to disregard early reviews of The Crew.

Additionally, the games lead designer Serkan Hasan stated "For The Crew, we've reaped the benefits of a long term beta program, designed specifically to push our infrastructure as far as possible in real world situations, with thousands of players from all over the world playing the game at the same time,".

In all fairness, Ubisoft said that early press of the game would be useless because "While we fully anticipate that you might see some reviews immediately at launch — largely built around the preview sessions we facilitated during the past months or the limited content of the closed and open betas — they won’t be based on optimal conditions or reflect the finished game,".

Which is also true. So I'll just talk about way the game plays, and not focus on things like online play. But as far as stress testing the game and all that, I can say this--between both betas, I only ever encountered about fifteen players, and all in the same gameplay session. The one time I managed to complete a mission with players in my session, the game locked up after it and wouldn't let me access the map...or do anything besides drive my car.

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That's what's expected in The Crew. It's a driving game, but whereas it seems like the big mainstays of the driving-game genre sometimes don't even have drivers in there cars, The Crew is different in that it has a story. You play as Alex Taylor, who is a well-regarded street racer. You're framed for a murder by a dirty cop, and you go to jail. Some time later you're approached by a female detective who wants you to infiltrate the street racing crime syndicate the 510s to nab the dirty cop, her own personal beef. Alex agrees because he's equally interested in tracking down the man who framed him and put him in the penn., So for the first act of the game all you're hearing is people talking about "getting that 510 ink), which by the way is a police code for "Speeding or Racing Vehicles". Clever. Additionally everybody in the gang is ranked as V2, V4, V6, V8, and it feels...silly. I can't tell if it feels teenage or just uninspired, but it doesn't feel good.

For what it's worth, the cutscenes do look nice, and all the character models look like they have hair on their heads, which is a big step-up from the aquatic creatures that topped the heads of everybody in Watch Dogs. At least they hid it under hats on the two lead characters. Clever.

But in the end people want to play The Crew because those people want to drive vehicles, and make no mistake, that is what The Crew is. The Crew has two unique hooks: its social aspects, which I can't say anything about, and it's setting. Rather broadly, The Crew advertises that it's set in the US of A. Obviously truncated, but also unpleasantly truncated.

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It would be wrong to assume that every duder here is stateside, but even to our dudes north, south, and overseas: what the fuck am I looking at? I know I would be a fool to ask for a scale model with every pothole and dry riverbed in the contiguous United States, but this just reminds me of every time a game has ever set itself in a real world location. It feels unremarkable to anybody who doesn't live there, and even less remarkable to those who do. Myself a former resident of Flint and someone who often works in the greater Detroit area, I would like to say I know Detroit about as well as anybody who doesn't live there can.

Parts of Detroit are really beautiful. Detroit itself is actually spectacular in a lot of spots, but this is what you're picturing, right?
Parts of Detroit are really beautiful. Detroit itself is actually spectacular in a lot of spots, but this is what you're picturing, right?

That big tall train station is in The Crew. So is Comerica Park, and the GM tower. But I also noticed this big sign painted on the brick wall of a building about bail bonds and loans. Then I saw that same asset again. And another time, so theres that. It would be like Chicago having Sears Tower and Navy Pier and replacing every other area with Chicago-style pizza and caramel corn shops.

About fifteen minutes into the game, you get to choose a car from a small line-up. My first time through I picked a 2012 Dodge Challenger, which handled like a giant ice cube once I approached any significant rate of speed. I found myself smashing into cars all the time, but the bummer is, there doesn't seem to be a lot of damage modeling. There is, but it looks the same every time. I don't need my car to look like something from Wreckfest, but it felt extremely undercooked.

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Savvy eyes will notice that isn't a Dodge Challenger, because this picture is from my second time with The Crew. After seeing how weighty the heftier Challenger seemed to be, I chose the lighter option, a Nissan. At a glance it really did feel better, but then I got to that magic 80/90mph mark again, and my wheels were made of plastic again. Nothing about the handling feels good, and every time you hit the gas, you burn out. Didn't the PS2 have pressure-sensitive buttons? Why, in 2014, am I peeling out no matter how hard or soft I'm pressing down on R2?

In the games opening, you're escaping the police in a big 4x4 truck, and the most baffling thing is that the three vehicles I drove were wildly different from each other, and all felt about the same. That's unacceptable for a driving game.

It manages to do make that same bizarre mistake that Driveclub makes by trying to balance simulation and arcade-style play and finding a really poor middle point.

The mission design isn't interesting, but it's a driving game, so maybe that's okay. There are races. There are time trials. There are missions where you have to wreck another car. Since the map is so large, you do end up driving long distances, and the game attempts to make this interesting by placing mini-events along the way that seamlessly flow into and then out of your game, but the only parts of The Crew I really liked were the long stretches of driving. Nonetheless, you'll drive through a translucent icon and you'll be tasked to go through slaloms, jump off a ramp, crash through successive targets. It's distracting, and at no point does it not feel like padding.

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Once you finish a mini-event, you get this drop-down menu, which is awful design. It doesn't look like it takes up that much real estate, but if you're zipping down a winding road, it feels like somebody is walking in front of you. You just end up mashing on the X button so you can finally see what's up the goddamn road.

A lot of The Crew is like this. The game is constantly showing you something else while it's showing you yet another thing, like it's trying to hide the whole game. In my opinion, the marquee part of this game is the big giant map. However, whenever you set a waypoint for a mission, the game presents you with the option to fast travel to the location, or just play the mission. The Crew: Look at this big old map! Or, uh, just play the mission! I mean, you can jump off this ramp! Did your friend jump further than you did? The leaderboard isn't loading?! Oh shiiiiiiit!

The Crew isn't all bad. In fact, I really like the part where you can just go. That's inevitably one of the shittiest parts of any open world game, waiting to unlock the map. But as far as I could tell, The Crew didn't do that. The most fun I had in The Crew was deciding I was going to take a straight shot from Detroit to Miami and then to Los Angeles, and that was awesome. The landscapes were awesome, even the half-baked small towns that made up the rural counties...had soul. I drove most of the time while doing this in the dash mode, which looked really good too. Honestly I would dig the hell out of this game if it was just HUD-less driving and a big wide open map, a good radio, and it was called Two-Lane Blacktop: The Video Game or some nonsense.

Unfortunately though, The Crew pulled my leg in about a thousand different directions. It distracted me from its big open franken-USA and instead told me I should give a shit about a murder plot and then invite some random assholes I beat a mission with to join my crew.

Honestly though it still wouldn't be a great game, because its core driving mechanics are not enjoyable or natural feeling. And it's a shame, because there is something deep within The Crew that is excellent. It just isn't the focus. In fact, no part of this game feels like the focus. Even though it's being developed by Ivory Tower and published by Ubisoft, it still bizarrely shares those Ubisoft issues and gameplay tropes. Just like Assassins Creed or Watch Dogs, it feels like a game that nobody got to put their stamp on. The Crew remains a product of nobody in particulars vision.

In stores now.