The Crew begins by introducing Alex (you) and his brother Dayton. Dayton is a member of the 501’s, a prominent gang who thrive on all types of vehicular crime. Dayton is looking to move up in the world, and he’s brought Alex along to a key meeting to watch his back. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, and, long story short, Alex ends up in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Put away for life, Alex’s stay in prison is cut short by Zoe, an FBI agent, who wants Alex to infiltrate the 501’s and take down a dirty cop. The opportunity for revenge is too good to pass up and Alex soon finds himself back on the streets.
There are a few different things to do in The Crew – Story Missions, Skill Events and PvP races – all of which are accessed by driving (or fast-traveling) to them on the map. The map itself is one of the most impressive aspects of The Crew – it is absolutely huge, basically a small-scale version of the United States. Wikipedia suggests it takes forty-five minutes to drive coast to coast, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually much longer than that. It’s mammoth, and even after 30-odd hours of play a lot of it remains unexplored in my game.
Sticking to Story Missions will advance you through the story (obviously), but before long you’ll find your car is falling behind those of your rivals. That’s where the Skill Events come into play. Sprinkled liberally around the map Skill Events are quick events that focus on either speed or precision. Speed Skills involve tasks like driving as fast as you can while staying on the road, getting as far away from the starting point in limited time and slaloming around flags placed along the road. Precision Skill events have you smashing through gates, sticking to a racing line, or driving through gates of ever decreasing size. There’s also a jumping skill event that requires both speed and precision to end up in the landing zone.
Successfully completing Story Missions and Skill Events rewards you with new car parts that improve your car’s performance. The Crew makes it obvious whether a new part improves your car by giving it a positive or negative integer value. This will definitely assist casual players, though players looking for more of a simulation may not enjoy it as much.
Completing events also rewards you with experience, through which Alex levels up, gaining access to perks, new car types, and better cars overall. Perks have many functions, such as making car parts cheaper, or providing a small bonus to one stat, like acceleration. There are five types of car in The Crew – Street, Dirt, Performance, Circuit and Raid. The first two have obvious strengths, while Perfection handles well on all roads, Circuit is best suited to roads with tight corners and Raid is an off-road beast. You start with a Street car and every ten levels a new car type becomes available.
One area we had hoped The Crew would excel was multiplayer but unfortunately this is not the case. Dotted around the map you’ll find PvP lobbies that allow for Public (ranked) and Private (unranked) races. If you go Public there is Free For All races (every person for themselves) and Faction vs Faction races. (Note: During the story you’re placed into a Faction with a name like Eagles, Bears or Wolves. The faction you choose makes no discernible difference, so you’ll most likely go wherever your friends are).
PvP races are definitively the best way to earn experience, and The Crew encourages you to participate in them from early on. Unfortunately you’re given absolutely no control once you get to the PvP lobby and choose Free For All or Faction vs Faction. The biggest issue with that is you can’t choose to race against cars around your level – you race against whoever is there. And what you’ll find is the only people playing PvP are those with maxed out cars that finish races minutes ahead of you. There is literally no way to compete against them unless you have your own maxed out car. This horrendous design decision is compounded by the fact whoever wins the race gets to set up the next one, putting you in a vicious circle of crushing loss after crushing loss. It’s not fun regardless of how quickly you find yourself leveling up.
One area of multiplayer The Crew does well is enabling you to invite friends (or nearby randoms) to co-op most Story Missions with the click of a button. In a co-op Story Mission as long as one person successfully completes the mission, everyone is given credit for it, meaning you can move on to the next mission. Goodbye frustration, hello mooching!
With the multiplayer mode being basically unplayable until the end game The Crew has to rely heavily on its single-player campaign and that reveals more design issues. While there is no shortage of Skill Events around the map (there are literally hundreds), there are only eight or nine event types, and doing them over and over in slightly different settings becomes dull after a few hours. It doesn’t help that every time you get a new car you receive the “stock” (or basic) version, that needs to be leveled up with new parts acquired… through more Skill Events. It’s the kind of grind an MMO thrives on, but there’s simply not enough enjoyable content in The Crew to keep any but the most hardcore players playing long-term.
From a visual standpoint The Crew impresses more because of its epic size than razor-sharp graphics. The game does a more than credible job recreating the wildly different environments found across the US – from the bustling streets on New York, to the near-swamplands of New Orleans, to the mountain ranges in central USA (referred to as the Mountain States in game), to the desert of Vegas and the colour of San Francisco – to name a few, The Crew is a genuinely impressive piece of work.
Music in The Crew is totally forgettable, and the limited range of songs meant I tuned music off through the options menu a few hours in. It feels like songs are repeating every half an hour or so, which isn’t really good enough in this day and age. The voice-work is average, and even Troy Baker (aka Joel in The Last of Us) doesn’t stand out as Alex. The game has a nasty tendency to send out repeat messages claiming you’re too low a level for the next mission, or to invite friends to your crew every couple of minutes too. Cars effects aren’t beefy enough, and other sound effects, while effective, tend to annoy (unless you secretly love beeping).
The Crew is a game that sounds great on paper but has serious drawbacks that stop it from being very good, let alone great. The good news (for Ivory Tower and Ubisoft at least) is that, at its core The Crew has strong gameplay. The bad news is repetitive missions hurts the single-player campaign, multiplayer (PvP at least) is basically broken, and the economy is stingy enough that new cars aren’t frequent enough to inject excitement. With better balance, more varied missions and a much-improved multiplayer experience there is hope for The Crew 2. Unfortunately that doesn’t help The Crew, which is a major disappointment.
Review By: Mike Allison