29/08/2014

My run with The crew




So I just wrapped up my run in the closed beta of the new online racer from Ubisoft and Ivory Tower The Crew. I will be giving a quick summary of my experience with the game first and then go in to detail over a few subjects. 

 
Image courtesy of Ubisoft

The Crew does on many ways remind me of the old Test drive and Need for speed games and that is perhaps not all that strange since the team them self are a crew of racing game devs brought together to produce the next big thing. And that is kind of the problem. The game does remind you of a lot of other and in my opinion better games you could be playing. Now this is as I said a closed beta and there is still room over the next couple of months to polish this game up to a very good experience. The core of the Crew is a fairly standard “crook with a heart of gold”-story that have you, a street racer and Gordon Freeman like white dude working under cover with a government agency to take down a corrupt federal agent. Since the beta was limited to level 10 I have no clue how that part of the game pans out.
This single player part of the game is seamlessly married to an always online mode and a open world that let you drive in a compacted version of the united states. You can drive from coast to coast without any visible loading screens and see other players that also play the game, the world is also very good looking with a smooth transition from day to night and different weather. This way the game remains open and less repetitive as you can if you get bored of the regular races and challenges either just set yourself a goal or challenge some random person you meat to see who has the best car.

That brings me to the cars. Each car is fully licensed… No Gnord or Snubmarus here... and they look very good with a good level of detail even at lower settings. Each car can be upgraded both in the traditional way of putting in better engines and tires but also by kitting it with what is called a “spec” turning your car from a everyday supercar un to a track machine or a dune crawler ready for Paris-Dakar… And since I have seen a Ferrari in some of the promo material they could end up looking awesome. You also get a slew of visual parts tied and themed to each kit.

So if you are looking for something to scratch that TestDrive:Unlimited itch or just need a change from the latest Criterion offering the Crew could be a good alternative and if you pre-order right now you get some extra kits and a very cool Cooper Mini that might or might not be exclusive to the preorder deal. But at 50 euro retail my advice is that you take a look at the videos players have recorded to get a better idea if this game is for you.




So now let me get up close and personal with the Crew. 

Image courtesy of Ubisoft


Gameplay

As I said before this game is a weird mix of a single player and a mmo game that at strongly remind me about the old TDU games. Now the population was low, most likely because of it being a closed beta so it was hard to get any feel for how the co-op and PvP parts of the game will work. The single player racing follows the traditional structure of you starting out with a “crap” car.. if you can call a Ford Mustang, a Nissan 370Z or a ´14 Charger crap… But they are bone stock regular cars and behave like soaped erasers once you push them past 60 mph. Once you get to the first kit, street it gets a bit better and by then you have also learnt to adapt to how the game has its general physics set up. But yes your early races are going to be a lot of cursing and hitting retry as tiny mistakes avalanche in to what is in essence a lost race. Especially as many races are either timed or have you finishing first in order to advance. But if you muscle through it things will gradually get better and that same setup makes going off-road very fun as planning is wasted and you drive by instinct and measured insanity. So in this regard it is very much a MMO and a really unforgiving one at that.
So outside the normal checkpoint races you have what is called skill challenges, these are specific tasks you find in free drive and are set up in such a way that you can often do them as you drive from one place to another. They can be stuff like keeping as high of a speed as you can along a dirt or to drive slalom down a freeway. My personal favourite are the jumping challenges. The goal is simple, drive fast and jump really far… If you fly far enough you earn a gold upgrade part.
Now since the map is fairly large, even the regions are fairly big and driving everywhere would be very annoying. The game let you fast travel to any... and I do literally mean any part of the map that you have already visited. This make it easy for you to take a break from the story mission to meet up with some friends or take on a specific skill challenge. It also let you take breaks and resume your exploration of the world. And explore it you should. Beyond the simple novelty of visiting some very famous landmarks and finding more skill challenges there are car wrecks placed at obvious and less obvious places (don’t worry they will show up on your radar when you get close. No need to fear missing one) collect 20 parts from these and you will build special kit cars like hotrods and other oddities.

Image courtesy of Gamespot


Graphics
This game is beautiful. There is no denying it and there is actually a fair bit of ambiance driving from New York to Miami and see the sun set, night pass and the sun start to rise as you roll down to the beach and park your car looking out over the water. And this on a very mid-spec computer. I had very few performance issues (insert Viagra joke here... preferably a funny one) and apart from some weird graphics glitches at one time the game ran smooth and did not look bad even at low settings. Each car is really nice looking and while magic repairs it over time mud, dust and a nice selection of body damage all work to make you feel like your car is actually in the world.
Now as I said there is no permanent body damage, your “life” is a green bar and any scratches, dings and full on wipe-outs all fade away over time. I would have like to see them stay until I repair but since the car can´t break down all the way, and by extension suffer total body demolition it is a thing I can live with. Better this then it stopping at some weird permanent half-wreck but still drivable.  
All UI elements are well laid out and easy to read and you should have no problems finding your way around the game.
The game support five different camera setting with the classic bumper, hood, driver’s seat (with fully modeled interior), right behind read bumper and a further back up third person cam. So no matter how you like your driving the game should satisfy on the account.

Input/Controller

I hope you have a gamepad… Or a steering wheel because this game does not like keyboards at all. As most things that are also to be released on console the game pretty much demands a controller. But once you have one plugged in it plays very good. All menu interactions are fluid and buttons are very well laid out and mapped. Did not have any issues at all with the gamepad. Then ofc it might help that I have a PC with windows and a corded X-Box 360 controller. Cannot speak for how off-brand controllers work. I also assume the game would work well with a steering wheel but I have not been able to test that… H would have looked VERY funny at me if I said I had to buy a steering wheel to test a game…
It is at this point unknown to me if the game will support rift/TrackIR but since it has a first person mode it could be done I guess.

Music/Audio
Music is good with several built in playlists in the by now standard radio station configuration. Ambient audio is good but sadly car audio is very lacking. In fact the Nissan was so high pitch it became annoying after a while and none of the muscle cars really had the grunt you expect. Now this might be more realistic but as it often is reality does not always match expectation. But I am sure it is something that could be tweaked before it goes live. And honestly if it really bothers me I guess I could just mess around in the equalizer for my headset. But it is an issue none the less.

Image courtesy of Ubisoft


Conclusion
The Crew has potential and while it does inherit some of the bad from its MMO roots such as the grind and the double power creep it will have a Pay2Skip option that let you simply plunk down some money and buy the cars and equipment you like for real world money. If that P2S turns in to P2W we will see once the game is released but with UBISOFT´s willingness for DLC and micro transaction I am sure that more the a few people will feel that the label is deserved. Me I reserve my judgement for a later date. I had a fun few days in the Crew but it has yet to fully convince me that it is the right fit for me. I am holding off on any pre-order and see what they do with the feedback they got from this beta session.

A solid 6/10. It is fun but still have a lot of room to grow. But at least it is not another Criterion Need for Speed.