During my first week with the Xbox One X, I’ve engaged in a flurry of content tourism, checking out a pile of old and new titles to see how they look on the new machine.
Now, it’s time to settle down and pick something to play for a while, so I’ve chosen…*Shuffles papers around*…The Crew.
“Is…is this right, what this says here? I’ve chosen the Crew? This is right? Okay then.”
Why the hell have I chosen The Crew?
LIKE STAR CITIZEN BUT FOR CARS
The Crew’s design is centered around a single design concept: It’s a massively multiplayer open-world racing game set in a scale recreation of the entire United States.
Every other choice in the game revolves around this design center. The engine, the level design, the cars, and the gameplay are all built around enabling a massive map that supports thousands of players.
Imagine the grand ambition of Star Citizen, but instead of the fantasy of flying ships around a persistent universe with other players, The Crew is about driving cars.
This leads to some amazing moments.
And some baffling nonsense.
REMEMBER CRUIS’N USA?
I used to love Midway’s Cruis’n series, terrible name with apostrophe in the middle notwithstanding. Arcade racers were my deal in the mid nineties, and Cruis’n USA felt like a glimpse of the future.
Here was a game where you drove in a madcap race across the United States…although it was really just a big tournament made up of individual levels themed around different places.
Still, it set my mind afire with imagination. What if, one day, you could actually have a game with a racing tournament across the whole country?
The Crew is that game.
Its map is enormous. It covers roughly 1400 square miles of terrain.
Rather than try to recreate the exact highway system of the US, the developers at Ivory Tower instead created several large areas themed to different regions, states, and cities…and then jammed them all together into a shape that somewhat resembles the real shape of the country.
I’m not at all trying to belittle or simplify the amount of work that went into this. The creation of the map was a huge undertaking, and the results are the most impressive thing about The Crew.
The game is fond of showing off its map.
It shows you the map at the start of every session. It requires you to use the map to set quest targets after every mission. I’ll never tire of the way the game zooms in real time in and out of the map interface, a trick stolen from Test Drive Unlimited, which had many of the same creators behind it.
For being such a large world, it loads fast. You can zip around with fast travel to areas you’ve been to previously in no time at all.
It’s also cool to see how many players are still driving around the map, over 3 years after the game first came out. Other players are always nearby, and the game does an incredible job of seamlessly pushing me together with them.
Everything else The Crew does is…problematic.
GRAPHICS? YES WE HAVE THOSE
As you might expect from such a massive land, the graphical fidelity of The Crew is all over the place. And not just because the game came out in 2014.
The game has cities, countryside, deserts, snowy mountains, and everything in between. Even when things get a little blurry or aliased, it keeps selling that scope over everything else.
The two most noticeable issues are aliasing everywhere and huge gulfs in asset quality. My Xbox One X helps smooth out the framerate issues the game had on base hardware, but there’s still jagged edges absolutely everywhere. Aliasing has to be really bad to bother me since I grew up with low resolution visuals being the norm…and here I notice it all the time.
Frequently, you’ll see a blurry texture or low poly object right next to something that still holds up to today’s video games. Again, I know that the amount of art here was surely a massive undertaking, but it’s odd to see fields of sunflowers that look markedly better than the tree or fence right next to them. Or intricately detailed buildings that have blurry sidewalks out front.
GAMEPLAY? YES WE HAVE THAT TOO
I don’t doubt that the focus on the big world and all the seamless multiplayer synchronization meant there wasn’t much processing power left for racing physics.
And it really shows.
The physics model in The Crew sits in an awkward middle ground between arcade and simulation. The one thing it gets the most right is progression. It’s easy to feel the improvements that come from leveling up the cars.
Outside of that, everything in the gameplay is inconsistent. It can feel great one moment, and floaty the next. Collision modeling is practically non-existent. If you run into something, you’ll bounce off of it and the car will cycle in some decals to show paint scrapes. Eventually you’ll see some deformation, but it takes too long to show up and is mostly canned.
Cars do have a weird health meter that slowly depletes as you damage them…even though the cosmetic damage slowly goes away over time. You can pay some money to refill the health meter, and I think this mechanic is here to encourage clean racing.
The racing isn’t going to fully satisfy either arcade or sim fans. It’s just too weird. One second I feel like I’m fully in control and the next second I run into a tree.
YOU CAN’T START A NEW GAME
The Crew saves all of your progress server-side..and there’s no way to reset it outside of creating a new Xbox Live/PSN/Uplay account.
No, I’m not joking.
So if you want to start the single player story over…you can’t. I picked up the game about two hours in, where I had abandoned it years ago after dissatisfaction with how it felt, and had to struggle a bit to remember what I was doing.
The developers justified this by saying that the game was more about the experience of racing around and leveling up cars, and that the story was secondary. You can replay the story missions once you finish the campaign…but they just show up as a big list all over the map, instead of as a cohesive thing.
The single-player lover in me kind of had to let this all go. Although I’d love to be seeing this through from beginning to end, I’ll have to settle for just continuing to level my car until I hit the end, and maybe leveling another one in the future.
The story is decently-acted but not very well-written, and is mostly an excuse to shuttle you around the big map and put you in some races.
FULL OF HEART
Even though the graphics, gameplay, and story in The Crew aren’t anywhere near the best, I’m still having a tremendous amount of fun with it now that I’m giving it a true shot.
The scope of the world is undeniably attractive.
The loop of getting items and upgrading my car is very satisfying.
The little weird details everywhere are great, like the way you can explode your car into parts in the shop and put new gear in there in full 3D.
I’m going to finish the Crew before the sequel comes out.
The Crew 2 was supposed to be out in March…but now it’s coming out “later this year.”
What are they doing? Are they adding a new game option? (I hope so). Will the story be better? Are they adding a new open world? Will I be going all over Europe or maybe the whole world this time or…
A note comes in from off-screen.
They’re….they’re keeping the exact same map but just adding boats and planes?
Are you kidding me?