The Crew Review: Life In The Not so Fast Lane

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by Brandon Mietzner on December 15, 2014 in Gaming

The Crew is Ubisoft’s newest franchise, and it’s been touting it hard as being the ultimate racer. As it puts gamers squarely in the driver’s seat with a license to go fast either solo or with friends, we have some questions: Does it have what it takes to overtake the competition? Or does it use too much NOS and burn itself out?

Who hasn’t played a racing game at one time or another? I’m sure most gamers have; yes, even Mario Kart at a cousin’s birthday party counts. Indeed, the majority of recent racing games have been of this type on almost every platform.

Recently, there has been a minor resurgence of arcade-style racing games, with Ubisoft’s The Crew being among them. This is a brand-new franchise, from a brand-new developer called Ivory Tower. While the developer name is new, it does consist of a few veterans of this genre; some in the group were previously responsible for Eden Games’ Test Drive Unlimited series.

In The Crew, the player takes on the role of Alex Taylor, the brother and leader of the 510 street racing crew. Alex’s story isn’t a complicated one; sadly, it is one that feels all-too-familiar. We’ve seen it often in games (and movies) that revolve around street racing: Alex gets framed for his brother’s murder by another member of the 510 who has FBI connections. Our hero goes to jail, and then gets an opportunity from another FBI agent to get out so that he can take his brother’s killer and all other accomplices down.

The supporting cast has its obvious flaws due to poor story-telling, but their involvement is crucial to personalizing your character’s skills. Each person that you add to your crew brings with them special advantages like better handling for your car, better braking, enhanced racing information, and etc. These skills are increased as you gain experience for completing missions, challenges and 510 side missions around the US.

The Crew

The main character is not the only upgradeable avatar in the game; your cars are just as important for you to have a successful career. With each mission you complete you have a chance to win a new piece of equipment for your vehicle and increasing your car’s own individual level. These can range from bronze to platinum in level but the only gear that nets you a special bonus is silver to platinum.

The platinum parts are the most rare in the game and only accessible to those who have reached the highest possible level of 50. When you buy a new car you can buy bronze level gear for that vehicle, but if you want anything better, you need to race for it. This also means that when you win a part for, say, a Mustang, you can’t put that part on a Mini Cooper, so you need to choose your primary race vehicle wisely.

These little bonuses can give you an edge in braking, grip, acceleration, and etc. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with what you get for a bonus and the only way to get something different is by doing the event all over again. This can be easy-peasy, or infuriating as hell. I cannot emphasize enough how important the amount of cars, the AI, and your overall skill can affect your chances of success.

The Crew

I had won a challenge first try and got a gold part but I did not get the bonus I wanted. I than tried for another 30 minutes to get another gold part but the best I could do was silver. This whole thing came down to the luck of the draw and this happens everywhere in the game. This would not be such a problem if the AI would react to the players in a meaningful way.

Let’s say you hit some AI vehicle and the wreck is in the middle of the road, the AI will only stop for a few seconds and then go around it like nothing happened. There were instances I came barreling into a street and an AI car would just turn right in front of me to get where it was going, which is fine. However, the AI will never move out of your way unless you’re coming up to an intersection. The cross traffic might stop for you but it doesn’t always happen.

To add further insult to injury, during a race do not expect to play a match against the AI on an even playing field or with any noticeable advantage. The game is hard but in my view I say it just cheats. I mentioned before that cars have a separate level system which should be a quick system to identify how much more of an advantage your vehicle will outperform other racers. You won’t find that in this game.

In one particular story mission, I took my 2015 Mustang Fastback that was not only rated 80+ points higher than any other vehicle there but a modern Hummer beat me off the line and was able to outpace my Mustang. Other advantages include, but are not limited to, not slowing down when hitting objects, like the player. The AI has an impressive ability to narrowly miss cars even if you’re attempting to push them into another car. There was even an instance where I managed to push an AI racer into an oncoming car; the AI racer was not stopped what so ever. You read me right. It just kept going like nothing happened.

The Crew

Games are always heavily invested in its AI but racing games in particular generally give the AI a distinct advantage. This however borderlines on the obscene. I quit wanting to play games in this genre because of this reason and this is not giving me the warm and fuzzy feeling I was wanting. I did participate in the Beta and I feel that the AI was much more balanced as it was then than it is now.

I know it seems that there is a lot of bad here but there is a lot of good as well. I love the free roam aspect of the game much more than I do the racing, at least until they fix the AI, so being able to find hidden cars, new iconic locations across the US and having that feeling that I can just point and go, is an invigorating feeling in this genre.

There are times when you need to sync with a tower or find a hidden car part, that require you to use a dirt spec vehicle. Even in the middle of nowhere you can change your vehicle to another one that is in your garage. This keeps some of the monotony down and I was elated to have it, except for the towers but what Ubisoft game would be complete without towers?

When I went from free roam to a race, I began to notice that the driving characteristics of my car was differed between the two modes. I specifically put it to the test when I drove from NY to Miami. The 1967 Shelby GT 500 felt tight and responsive, even at high speed, but the first race I did in Miami felt like my car was on ice, even at low speeds. This is an obvious problem and it has been brought up, including the AI, on the forums so hopefully Ivory Tower fixes these glaring problems soon.

The Crew

A shift that many developers are taking is incorporating the option, or requirement, to let players play with their friends. The Crew hit on all cylinders to boast this feature but I never really felt the need to have anyone enter my game. I did play with some random people and it wasn’t bad but the rewards were never more than anything I could get solo, so my feeling of dis-interest was compounded with this lack of reward.

There were a few problems with the co-op, however. For one, there was constant rubber-banding in a few of the games I was playing but then there were none in the others I played. This could be due to the host’s own connection, where the game is only a vehicle to connect players and if so, that doesn’t persuade me to play co-op with strangers because there is no guarantee of a good connection.

During the course of my review I did experience several connection issues with Uplay, where I was randomly disconnected from the game and having to reconnect. There was an instance where I was disconnected, lost a whole level and an extra skill point I had earned. There was even a period of time where most players lost either their additional content, mission progression and cash or they lost all of it. This was fixed within 48 hours but that is a big misstep when you consider that the Lead Designer said he was confident this would be a stable launch.

The Crew

I’m not sure what it is lately but games are pushing micro transactions that let gamers pay to get a head or pay to win. The reason I have such a hard time with this is because it is hard to tell whether or not the developer made things intentionally difficult to progress in an attempt to encourage a person to pay for the privilege to get something faster or that they can’t get any other way. Now Ubisoft did incorporate a premium currency for this game and as far as I can get tell, no one can get an edge over other players with a car, but that isn’t necessarily true with skills.

With cars you can buy them way earlier than you can with in-game currency including the cosmetic parts and skins. Where if someone were to purchase skills, with premium credits only no in-game currency is allowed, you can theoretically max out your character’s skills above other players’ at max level. This is a very sore point for me because there is no way, as far as I can tell, for a player to get the same amount of points at max level or if the skill points keep coming in without you paying another red cent.

As it stands now the only way to get a skill point, or points if you increased the skill to get more, is with a new level. There are 50 levels and a max possible of 50 to 100’ish skill points. The skills go well beyond 100 and that is having only 4 out of the 6 people unlocked. This is simple math and if there is no more skill points after level 50, obviously this is a highly probable pay-to-win scenario.

I should point out that the game does give you 100k of this premium currency so you could add another 50 skill points without paying for it but this is not obvious. Also, there may be a way(s) to earn this premium currency as a reward after reaching max level but, again, that isn’t obvious.

The Crew

The graphics are marvelous, especially with the fidelity of the players cars. The buildings can look a little bland from time to time but you have to really be looking at them to notice. There is proper Multi-Monitor support for this game but there is no TrackIR or Oculus Rift support at this time. This is a little strange considering most racing games generally embrace this tech more so than any other genre. The map also stands out as being very well done. The player can navigate it very easily and the transition from map to vehicle is smooth as silk.

The sound effects of the vehicles are not perfect but they are probably the most accurate you will hear outside of a simulator racing game. The voice acting feels like amateur hour. There are certainly many factors for this: a poor story, probably a bad voice director, and the actors never playing these types of roles before. The most annoying character is Zoe, your FBI handler, because she nags you so often to do something that you just wish you could turn her off.

What really stands out in the audio department is the music. There are several good songs in this game ranging from techno to rock. If there is a particular main stream music genre you like, chances are that you will hear something you recognize and appreciate. While you can make your own mix out of the selection provided, there is no way to add your own personal library to the game. This is always unfortunate and something that I wish was here.

In the end, The Crew’s story is a mash-up of clichés from many other racing games and movies that never managed to impress. Funnily enough, this part of the game could be overlooked. However, the host of AI and technical problems are what truly hold this game back on the starting line. There is obviously a lot of work that still has to be done before just the core elements can be fun and because of that, I say stay the hell away until it’s been tuned up.

Pros

  • The graphics are fantastic.
  • Large selection of vehicles.
  • Good music selection.
  • Open world is truly open.

Cons

  • Everything with the AI.
  • Driving model is different in free roam vs. racing.
  • No incentive to make or join a crew.
  • Some connection issues.
  • Micro-transactions.