It’s a game that sounds like the pinnacle of all arcade racers. All the little things jumbled into one massive bombastic package that no doubt would satisfy fans of the genre everywhere, especially with the long-running Need for Speed series staying unusually quiet this year. Ivory Tower’s The Crew claims to have ticked all the boxes, promising the most complete arcade racing experience to date. Does it though?
Not really. Whilst the small bite I experienced at the Armageddon Expo earlier this year was an enjoyable one, the more I partake in Ivory Tower’s flagship, the less I like it.
Though it does sound impressive, The Crew’s most glaring problem stems from its goal to do everything and satisfy everyone. Sandbox? The game features one of the largest exploreable maps in any racing game yet. Story? A narrative-driven campaign is featured here that takes the player all across America. Customisation? The Crew’s got that too, with a staggering list of mods and loadouts equipping your ride with various capabilities.
But Ivory Tower seems to have forgotten an important point; trying to do everything most often results in doing nothing particularly well. It’s all too evident in The Crew, as its impressive list of achievements also posts an equally extensive list of flaws.
Let’s start with what The Crew gets right. Its scale replication of USA is downright impressive. Each city possesses a distinct visual style that makes it immediately identifiable, with players able to traverse the entirety of the explorable world in a single load. The world is simply a technical marvel, an achievement that Ivory Tower should be proud of. Zooming across snowy vistas, sprawling deserts, and dense metropolitan cities in a single session is nothing short of amazing.
There’s also a wide selection of cars, each replicated with some pretty detailed work, including interiors. It’s nice to see that Ivory Tower have thought of so much when creating The Crew, as not many features seemed to have been left out. It’s not often that an arcade racer gets an interior car view option. Nor is fast travel a staple in open world racing games thus far.
The map is also a pleasure, with a Guild Wars 2 similarity which gives the player a real sense of position within The Crew’s massive open world. The game’s innovative waypoint guide that floats over the road is a welcome addition. It takes away from some of the chaos on the road below and provides a distinct objective, no matter how hectic it becomes. It’s commendable to see developers thinking of what gamers might want, and taking the effort to implement them.
However, therein lie the issues as well. Ivory Tower seem to have just bitten off more than they can chew. While features-wise The Crew is packed to the rafters, none of them are very developed. Sure there are races, takedown missions, road objectives, and the open world to explore, but nothing here suggests that any effort went into actually innovating and making those tired game mechanics something refreshing and new. Even worse, instead of improving said formula The Crew even takes a step backward and makes even those mundane tasks frustrating with some poorly made mechanics.
For example, the campaign is punctuated with a series of takedown objectives every few missions, but these end up more annoying than entertaining as the AI tends to drive just faster than the car you currently have. This leads to the player having to play the same mission over and over to learn the route the target is going to take, before taking a shortcut and succeeding the mission. Too slow, however, and you’ll only earn a bronze medal for completion. Not very rewarding at all, nor is it something many players would want to attempt again.
Street races are standard fare, and with nothing like racer equipment and a more robust takedown system to punctuate the monotony of rather long laps, races feel rather muted. The unavoidable comparison to Need for Speed comes here, as its rival franchise succeeds here where The Crew fails. They both capture the street racing scene, yet NFS tends to achieve much more with the mechanics, introducing usable equipment that gives that extra unpredictable edge to each and every racer on the track. The Crew lacks this not only in its racing, but in each of its other modes of play. It’s a bare-bones, lackluster experience that could have definitely used more thought and innovation to separate it from the herd.
The game visually disappoints as well. Muddy textures, a lack of detail in both cars and scenery, and forgettable environmental effects are noticeable concessions taken in order to realize the seamless world. Whilst the style and identity of each city is captured, they all feel rather sparse and flat. There isn’t any variation in traffic density, nor in the weather. The vast, open world of The Crew ends up rather similar, trading one city setting for another that does little to change the overall gameplay.
New York City at midday with only a few cars milling about doesn’t really capture the atmosphere of one of America’s largest cities, making it all too like Detroit in that regard. Meanwhile, NPC car models are as standard as they get, featuring blocky textures and opaque windows. Buildings are sometimes noticeably cut and paste, and only famous landmarks are distinctly recognisable. The roster of 40 or so cars aren’t that well realised either, leaving The Crew feeling a lot more last-gen than it should. It’s a world simply designed to be appreciated from a distance rather than with close scrutiny.
You won’t find any epic collisions ala Burnout Paradise here either, as The Crew comes packaged with the weirdest crash detection ever. Zoom through a thicket of trees and you’ll just bounce between the trunks. Hit a car in the right place, bounce off that too. Wrong, and you’ll trigger a collision cutscene that doesn’t seem to have impacted your vehicle at all. Damage only seems to affect the car’s paint job, unless you’ve seriously beaten it up, for which you’ll receive a hanging bumper as a reward. Not really satisfying at all, especially for an “arcade racer” that emphasises takedowns and reckless driving.
It’s also advertised as an open world multiplayer racer, which makes it all the more confusing to see The Crew’s approach to the open world formula; oddly restrictive. No, you can’t drive wherever you want, race what you want. Instead the game forces you to take part in its single player campaign in order to open up the various cities of America. This is another problem, as it goes against the very nature of an open world ‘sandbox’ that players are able to drive around in.
Compounding the issue is that the campaign appears to have been written by the same people responsible for the early Fast and the Furious titles. You get your typical illegal street racing gang, followed by a typical racing protagonist with a typical revenge-styled storyline. Clichéd, repetitive, asinine, and ultimately boring. It’s lucky they thought to include a skip button for cutscenes.
Yes, you are able to undertake these monotonous proceedings with your ‘crew’, but unless you’ve already got a band of friends ready to join you in this endeavour, get ready to take the road alone. I do find that the much overpowered and strangely confusing mechanics seem to be tuned towards having teammates to rely on whilst completing these objectives. It does make it much easier, and less of a slog.
However, there’s precious little incentive for random players to join in on any quick co-op session, thus regaling The Crew’s much advertised multiplayer gameplay to seeing other players zoom about in this shared world, but never actually interacting much. The result is a multiplayer system that feels forced, not unlike the recently released Destiny. The game is multiplayer, but makes it so hard to play with other people that it just isn’t worth the trouble.
Let’s take a moment and dispense with the campaign, mission, and progression insufficiencies. At its core The Crew is a racing game, and as such should strive to make its cars fun to drive. The feeling of speed, acceleration, and the intensity of being behind the wheel of a top supercar should be on show here. Alas this is where the folks at Ivory Tower seemed to have missed the mark most of all. Cars just don’t possess the visceral feel of power and speed that other racing games have managed to capture so beautifully. The recent Driveclub comes to mind as a shining example of how this should be done.
Handling is a mixed bag, and it’s clear that Ivory Tower intended for us to upgrade the car with better components unlocked through completion of campaign objectives and road challenges. It’s fine to do this, but at least the car should be a pleasure to drive even at its factory condition. Fresh off the market, most cars that I experienced slid around on the road, with barely controllable drifts and poor braking mechanics. Upgrades are earned quickly, though most of the time they don’t seem to make much of an impact on how the cars actually perform, rather they just adjust some invisible stat on the car that changes it in a minor way. Stack these up, and yes, your car will be better, but the road is long and the journey is arduous.
Confusing, too, is how AI racers seemingly scale to match your car level, thus undermining the entire upgrade system. Even with a superpowered Lamborghini, redoing older race events still shows the AI cars keeping uncomfortably close to my tail. In this regard, the police become most insufferable, as the cops seem to be able to bend the rules of physics in order to catch you. Stock police car keeping up with an offroad specced sports car? I doubt it. Due to this, the police become one of the most irritating aspects of The Crew. Aggressive, overpowered, and featuring the ability to arrest you just by being close enough to your slow-moving car for a few seconds. It makes the getaway missions particularly frustrating, with multiple attempts required.
Approaching the endgame the ‘RPG’ element of The Crew’s design makes itself painfully clear. Only upon hitting level 50 are you able to earn ‘platinum’ grade parts, which unfortunately requires the unappealing ‘grind’ aspect that most MMORPG players are familiar with. Without said parts, you won’t be making any name for yourself at all in the PvP racing lobbies as there isn’t any scaling system in place; the player who brings the fastest car will have the highest chance at victory.
So you’ll be looking to purchase the fastest, most powerful car to best other players. Ubisoft plays their hand here with another attempt at micro-transactions by somewhat limiting the amount of easily accessible funds and providing an easy way out by paying some real money for your beastly ride. This pay-to-win mentality is unnecessary and forces players unwilling to cough up more hard earned funds to grind and grind in order to be able to stand on equal ground to those that are.
The Crew is an ambitious attempt at a fully featured racing title with a little something for everyone, but too many concessions were made in order to realise such an expansive vision. Despite all its flaws, the game did manage to deliver some racing thrills, and credit is deserved for its expansive open world. It’s just for all the activities that Ivory Tower managed to jam into its recreation of USA, none of them are particularly fun to play. Combine this with its tired visuals and disappointing driving, the game ends up feeling decidedly last-gen compared with similar titles, and rather generic. Jack of all trades, master of none, an impressive yet ultimately disappointing title.
The Crew was developed by Ivory Tower and published by Ubisoft. The game is currently available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. A copy of the game for PlayStation 4 was provided to Save/Continue for review purposes.