Behind the wheel in Ubisoft’s open world, multiplayer racing game ‘The Crew’

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Ubisoft introduced us to two next-gen titles at E3 2013: The first is the online open world RPG Tom Clancy’s The Division, while the second inhabits the opposite end of the spectrum as a massive online multiplayer, open world racing game called The Crew. The game is developed by Ivory Tower in conjunction with Reflections, best known for their work on Ubisoft’s iconic Driver series.

But where Driver was tailored to a more one-on-one driving experience, with multiplayer mode occasionally tacked on, The Crew exists in expansive online realm. Like The Division, you can tackle it solo, but it’s designed to be more socially interactive. Besides, there’s really no such thing as a crew of one.

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Story

Pedal to the Metal. While The Crew is mainly about driving fast and winning, there is a deeper, narrative story built into the game. Although the game takes place in a stylized version of the United States, the storyline takes you and your crew down to the 510s, a Detroit-based crew that revels in illegal street racing. Although born in the Motor City, they have spread to different areas of the U.S., including Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Aspen, Monument Valley, and other locations that are idealized within the game.

Since The Crew takes places in an “open world version” of the states, the map is a quasi-realistic version of the country. According to the developers, it will take about two hours to race across their version of America – though everyone knows it takes a lot longer than that in real life. Of course, that two hour estimation assumes you aren’t distracted by the numerous side missions and multiplayer events throughout the game. It’s up to you to assemble your own crew, choose the preferred style of racing, and customize your car for the best experience.

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Gameplay

Go Fast. The gameplay in The Crew is simple: Be a speed devil. Sure, there are naturally nuances that come into play depending on the mission you’re running, but for most part that concept holds true throughout the entire game. With that in mind, The Crew controls like a standard driving game, with accelerator, brake, drift, and steering controls that will vary greatly depending on the way you outfitted your car. Car customization is a big part of the game, and you can change your ride all the way down to the chassis in an exploded view, swapping out parts and creating your own look.

Outside of the straight up racing, where you might be looking to increase your own street cred, you’ll also have various side missions like escaping the police or taking down other cars. You’ll be doing this across a wide variety of locales, including downtown city streets, suburbs, hillsides, cornfields, canyons, desert dunes, and race tracks. You can compete in open world events, or put together your own crew with friends and other players you come across. This can be done on the fly without dropping out into a lobby, and makes the game extremely dynamic during our hands-on experience. We were racing around Miami checking out the city and seamlessly responded to a crew invite for a target takedown.

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Presentation

Even at 100 mph, it looks good. The power of next-gen continues to make itself known in one of the best ways possible: By eliminating load screens. When you’re driving in The Crew, anywhere you see is somewhere you can go. Mountains far off in the distance? Yes, you can drive there. A stylized Vegas far below? Yep, you can head down and cruise the strip. When first presented with the choice of starting areas across the country, we opted for Miami and immediately leapt into a sun-baked version of that city, complete with palm trees and neon-colored buildings. There were plenty of options and side races to get into, and we cruised the streets prowling for events before responding to the call of a crew and pursuing a subject across a crowded beach. The entire time, things were seamless and gorgeous. It’s a rare moment in a game about driving when you actually want to stop just to soak in the scenery.

Ubisoft continues its tablet integration with this game, offering up the chance to customize cars with parts and paint on the tablet while you’re on the go. The company also promised that there will be some crew options as well, allowing you to assign tasks and gain XP, even when you aren’t in the game. During our demo, despite the minimal interaction, both the map selection screen and the car customization were active and looked very slick. There may soon come a day where you’ll want both your controller and a tablet with you as you boot up your favorite game. 

Takeaway

The Crew is heavily influenced by American car culture and the rise of entertainment like the Fast & Furious film franchise. Instead of focusing on just being at the top of the leaderboards, you now have a crew to build and missions to accomplish. Racing games like Forza 5, with its obsessive attention to detail and focus on the pure artistry of racing isn’t for everyone, but The Crew offers an entirely different experience. While the driving itself is just as adrenaline-charged, the different types of driving you’ll do here set the game apart from your typical racing fare. In our minds, The Crew is poised to reinvigorate driving games like Burnout did way back when.

The Crew will be available for next-gen consoles and PC in early 2014.

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