The Crew Review
An impressive open world can't save this otherwise troubled racing title
So progression is mostly well designed and the driving mechanics are basic but flexible. The trouble appears in another form – the AI. As much as racing games live and die by their gameplay mechanics, rubber banding is a concept that will cause panic in any player's heart. And sadly for The Crew, it's one of the killing blows to the gameplay. Regardless of the vast difference in class between your car's level and your opponents, the AI will always be threatening to overtake if you make one error. Due to this, races can be annoying, but chase events are absolutely infuriating. Trying to escape the AI is pretty much impossible, whether you're driving a Ford or a Ferrari. They stick to your tail lights and the only hope of escape is to swerve and twist through the streets and fields, and hope they either crash or glitch out. It's been a while since a game featured such heavily unbalanced AI, and it will definitely sour the experience for all players. And when they do catch up, you are arrested/captured extremely quickly, with little chance to escape again.
The next sign of trouble is the multiplayer. The Crew is a game that must be played online at all times, much like Test Drive Unlimited, because the main selling point is interaction with other drivers. As you cruise around the map, up to 8 players will be seamlessly dropped into the same "session", giving a weak illusion of an MMO-like experience. But just like TDU, there are major problems. Thanks to fast travel (as useful as it is), the game often takes a while to swap players. So you could be driving around a new area, and the nearest players will be 10+km away. And with the measly small 8 players per session, this is hardly an MMO anyway; nothing about this design screams "next-generation". Especially considering Test Drive Unlimited 2 provided this nearly identical online experience years ago, and The Crew makes no efforts to expand or improve on it.
You can form the titular Crews with your friends, and cruise around the game world. Completing missions and challenges together earns you Crew Credits. All of the missions can be undertaken with random players in your session as well, but nobody ever accepts invites as they are driving around (usually far away) doing their own thing, and there's at most only 8 of them anyway (usually fewer). It's shocking that the coop matchmaking doesn't get expanded to all players trying to complete the same mission, and limits you to inviting the 8 or less players in just your session. When all else fails, you can complete missions in solo mode, but this puts you at a disadvantage. If other players are involved, only one of you actually needs to win the race, for example, to count the mission complete for everyone. But when playing solo, it is a more challenging experience. It becomes an exercise in frustration during a takedown or escape mission. Playing alone, trying to take out an AI driver is incredibly difficult within the allotted time limits as there is no help from other players. Similarly, with nobody to distract your pursuers (and the extreme rubber banding mentioned earlier), you are the sole focus of the merciless AI giving chase. So while it can be completed as a solo experience, The Crew mandates that you are always online and the difficulty can be very frustrating. Perhaps that's all part of the master plan, to get more players to buy the game so they can Crew up and make the experience more enjoyable.
If you're feeling competitive, there's a metagame across the whole map that involves different gangs who are competing for domination. Players represent one of their chosen gangs in all competitive races, and earn bonuses for winning and so forth. Competitive racing works in theory but again with only up to 8 players, and it still suffers from glaring design problems. For example, the player who just took first place is the one who gets to decide on the next track and race type. It makes little sense, and usually empties out the lobby after the same player keeps winning and picks the tracks he knows well. The matchmaking is troubled as well, often showing little regard for car abilities and pitting a maxed-out ride against a bunch of levels below 500. The guy with the best car then controls the lobby forever, as he always finishes first.
And if the design doesn’t frustrate you, the technical issues certainly will. For an online-only experience, The Crew is a troubled mess of connectivity issues. Frequent disconnects, endlessly looping loading screens, and taking over 10 minutes just to get into a competitive lobby (that subsequently crashes) are just some of the examples. Cooperative play is similarly troubled, with Crews sometimes breaking apart for no reason and disconnects mid-race. The net code is decidedly last-gen, with your opponents warping around the track, causing glitches and general havoc if you bump into each other at an odd angle or even just into traffic or obstacles. Cooperative play seems better due to lesser number of players involved, but on the whole The Crew cannot be recommended for its online racing experience. Unfortunately, online play was supposed to be the game's main selling point.
While we're comparing the game to last generation of consoles, the visuals are next in line to criticize. Despite featuring great quality cutscenes (that look like they belong in another game), and some decently impressive lighting and sky boxes, this is not a game to show to your friends as the technical showcase of the Xbox One. The framerate occasionally stutters (whether that's due to poor graphical engine or online connectivity), and the game world often features very MMO-like flat texturing. But the killing blow is an almost complete lack of anti-aliasing. There are more jagged lines here than in most Xbox 360 games. The cars and some scenery looks OK, but overall this isn't a pleasant game to look at.
There are a variety of camera angles, including in-car complete with dashboard, so at least that's something. No, actually, even the camera has problems – anytime you jump or drive through something at an awkward angle, the camera will glitch out and swerve down and then up again. Quick disorientation, that's always nice in a racing game. This is instantly noticeable, too – just play the game's opening mission.
Sound design fares a little better, but still a mixed bag. Voice actors do their best with the terrible lines provided. Radio stations have limited song variety – a problem that's impossible to miss in a game that encourages lengthy driving sessions across the country. At least the cars pack a satisfying oomph, and there are little audio details that change even between the different disciplines of the same car.
Some games feature impressive core concepts that get buried underneath the weight of less successful elements. The Crew is very much an example of that – the incredible open world and decent RPG mechanics that Ivory Tower have created are absolutely crushed to death by a collection of poor design choices and terrible technical issues. If you enjoyed Test Drive Unlimited, there's a spirit of that franchise that exists here; but it also retains all of the problems. Despite an enticing and very well crafted setting, The Crew is impossible to recommend in its current state. Some issues may be resolved with patches and better server functionality, others – such as the AI, frustrating missions, and questionable design choices – may remain. If you do decide to take on this cross county road trip, pack lots of first aid and spare parts.