An open world, myriad distractions, a main storyline that is entirely forgettable and secondary to the world created around it. This all sounds awfully familiar…
The Crew is dull, frustrating and not worth your time or money. That’s it. Wait for the £20 price drop if you’re jonesing for a next-gen racer. 5/10.
Are you still here? God almighty. Look, it’s probably best if you take my word for it, because I’ve spent hours writing, re-writing and re-working this bloody review to try and explain why the game’s so spectacularly mediocre, and it just ends up being 2000 incredibly protracted words about how the decisions and workings of The Crew crunch and grind against each other like a broken machine.
OK, fine, I’ll try to be concise. But I’ll fail.
The story is tedious and boring. It’s actually terrible. I understand criticising the story of a racing game is basically pointless. It’s not like we’re expecting War and Peace with Aventadors and Dodge Chargers, is it? It’s just the backbone narrative of the so-called single player portion of the game is such piss-poor, bog-standard, super-generic revenge story hokum it should come with a warning on the box about putting you into a coma.
Of course, plot can be ignored. You just get through that shit to enjoy the game, right? Well, yeah, if the game’s fun to play. The thing is, the gameplay is also boring. There are a few reasons for this, foremost being the handling of the cars and the physics engine are teeth grindingly frustrating. The cars lack any kind of feedback or friction, and as such you never really feel in control of them. You can mess up a whole race because you twitch the stick slightly to the right, hit the curb and completely lose control by over compensating for the bounce and roll of the car.
This is doubly frustrating as the Missions tend to lean heavily towards escaping from the police/enemies and chasing people down to ram them off the road. Replaying those in particular becomes a chore as the handling, inconsistent traffic and rubber banding AI conspire to make them about as much fun as smashing yourself in the vitals with a lump hammer.
As you start unlocking more upgrades for the cars they start being more interesting to use, and the alternate tuner specs add some variety to the handling despite the underlying problems, but there’s a larger issue with the ‘economy’ in game and it’s quite a convoluted one so bear with me. Or skip to the end and read the final summary if you haven’t already. Spoiler: I gave you the score at the top of the page so if you’re not even going to read the summary, you’ve already lost 5 minutes of your life reading this far.
There are five tuner specs for different race types (Street, Dirt, Perf, Raid and Circuit), and you can upgrade various parts of your car in those specs. You do this by accumulating car parts by achieving Bronze, Silver or Gold in ‘Missions’ or ‘Skills’ (challenges dotted around the game world). This is essentially a loot system; you get a Bronze, Silver, or Gold level upgrade to a part (for example Tyres) which improves the overall rank of your current spec and also gives a random tuning bonus (for example Braking). You are awarded that part and can instantly apply it to the car you’re in, but it’s also put into your garage so you can install it later or buy it for a different car of the same spec. With me so far? Good, that makes one of us.
The specs are unlocked with each new area as the main story takes you through the map. Each area tends to focus on these new specs, but also throws in some of the previous ones to help unlock upgrades for them. Because of this way of gateing parts, you’ll find yourself repeating Skills and Missions often just trying to keep each spec as high as possible to deal with the missions. You can unlock upgrades beyond your current player level to equip or buy them later, which is nice, but you’ve still got to replay the bloody things as you’re stuck in a loop of needing Gold parts but not having a car good enough to get Gold parts.
So like most MMOs of any creed or colour there’s grind involved. Fine, it goes with the territory, but there’s a seam of insidious cynicism to this grind that I don’t like, and it involves the games currency. In the game you have 2 currencies, Bucks and Crew Credit. Bucks (complete with it’s own little symbol that looks like a B dollar sign) are stingily doled out from Missions and Skills, although you can replay (*cough* grind) them. Money is more generously given from online races, but I’ll get back to that, because I need to get the thing about the Crew Credits off my chest.
Crew Credits are, to all intents and purposes, microtransaction money. The game gives you 100,000 but you don’t seem to be able to obtain them through any other means than buying them with real money. And everything in game from cars to parts to paint jobs can be bought with Crew Credits for about a third of the price of what you pay in Bucks. In single player, this isn’t much of a problem as you get a boost to your cars every 5 levels to make them competitive, but when you consider the cost of something like the frankly bonkers RUF CTR-3 was 260,100 Bucks or a meagre 67,993 Crew Credits then the disparity is glaring. That is, to put it bluntly, a bit fucking ridiculous.This disparity really comes to the fore online.
The online games I’ve played on The Crew have been all but white washes as matchmaking is an apparently alien concept to Ivory Tower. The poor handling model makes the inevitable shunts that people give you (because nobody turns the option for collisions off) a frustrating inevitability. Each area has its own themed online lobby, with Faction vs Faction (which faction you belong to is chosen during the main game and can change at will) or Free For All. I haven’t been able to get a single game of Faction Vs Faction at all. Free For All is much quicker, but also frustrating as hell seeing as you’re dumped in with people who can easily have cars 1000 points higher than your car has (the rating determined by the parts fitted and the base stats of the car). Obviously the parts have to be unlocked in the first place, and as I mentioned there’s a boost to all the cars every five levels, but because the Crew Credits make all the parts and cars so much cheaper it only takes someone to stump up £39.99 for 600,000 in Crew Credits to put them at a serious advantage. It’s borderline pay to win. In a game that costs the best part of £45 that is fucking abysmal. The tragic thing is it’s not the first game to do this and it sure as hell won’t be the last.
The singular thing about The Crew that impressed me was the map. It’s huge. A condensed caricature of the United States filled with prominent landmarks, cities and lots of roads in between. The problem with massive maps is that they can be overwhelming. A large map does not equate to large amounts of fun, especially when they’re filled with things to discover and do like all Ubisoft open world games are. There’s so much in there you’ll get fed up of driving on your own to some forsaken wilderness to look for another landmark that gives you bugger all XP.
However, if you have a couple of friends with you hooning around, simply driving from Detroit to Las Vegas just because you bloody well can you kind of forget the odd handling, and you can definitely forget the awful story and you just take in the sights, talk rubbish and grab some collectables along the way and for that tiny instance there’s a glimmer of brilliance.
But when you don’t have friends around you can try and fill those gaps with other players who inhabit the always-online world (when it’s not breaking or kicking you out for no reason because Ubisoft’s servers can’t handle the load despite at least one closed alpha test and 2 beta tests. Aaaaand breathe.) and this is where the brilliance fades. Out in the God knows how many hours I’ve played I’ve only ever had 1 other person join me for story missions, and he buggered off fairly quickly.
And this is it with The Crew; it tries to do so much and excels at nothing. It falls apart on almost every level, and given the potential it had that is a damn, damn shame.