E3 2013: The Crew Hands-On Preview – The American Dream
Written Friday, June 14, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
To say that Ubisoft's The Crew is ambitious is something of an understatement. It's an online driving game that gives you virtually the entirety of the United States of America to race across, with cities that are comparable in size to the whole of Grand Theft Auto IV. You've got New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles... all of the big cities are catered for, and offer a wealth of activities to tackle alone or with friends.
The size of the game, rather than being daunting, is ripe with possibilities, from racing against the community or your friends, to banding together to tackle a range of co-operative objectives. During a hands-on session with The Crew, we're given the opportunity to sample both of the above, which represent just a fraction of what'll be on offer in the full game.
In fact, there's a deep and detailed customisation system that'll be at play in the finished version of The Crew, that'll enable you to create off-road or street racing configurations for your vehicle of choice. If you grow attached to a particular car, you could keep on customising, refining and tuning that same ride for the duration of your time with the game if you so desired, although there's countless options promised.
For now we're given a choice of two cars that we're able to select and customise using the game's tablet-based app that'll be available on iOS and Android devices. When you're away from The Crew, you'll be able to tinker with your car as much as you like, and all of your settings will appear in the game once you return to it.
We plump for a yellow Bumblebee style Camaro SS with a full body kit, some shark-teeth decals on either side and bronze rims, just for the hell of it. Starting with a free-roam around New York City, we can see other drivers populating the city streets, represented as national flags from around the world. Playing solo, you'd be accompanied by AI drivers who'd join you on objectives and in races, but for this hands-on, we're with three other human cars for a competitive street race in the middle of busy traffic.
At present, The Crew's handling model feels a little stiff and unresponsive, making it feel like a bit of a slog to get the car to turn. Weaving through dense traffic is exceptionally tough, given the car's lack of agility and manoeuvrability, so a few crashes seem inevitable. How we actually managed to win the race, we're not quite sure, but we'd put it down to judicious use of the boost button.
New York certainly looks good though, with landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge in place, making racing around a scenic and visually interesting affair. We're warped to Miami beach next, where we follow a blue nav ribbon that hovers a few feet above your car to the destination of your objective. Here, you'll meet your team of drivers and work together to beat the allotted goal.
First, our Camaro SS needs to be fitted up for off-road driving, so a short animation shows us how this will work in the finished game, with car models that break apart into individual components that can be changed and tweaked as you see fit. Our car gets kitted out in rugged big off-road wheels, massive bull bars and a huge 4WD engine, making it almost unrecognisable. The only indication that this is the same car are the front grill and headlights.
We're perfectly equipped for our mission though, which involves ramming a hulking armoured Hummer off the road, which is actually harder than it sounds with a team of four drivers. For one, a lack of communication meant our tactics were poorly orchestrated and we ended up hitting each other on more than one occasion. Still, predicting the Hummer's route enabled us to cut across the beach, ploughing through innocent sunbathing people, ruining dozens of people's day in the process.
Hopping over dunes, through alleyways and across the streets, the chase is fast-paced and intense, as we gradually chip away at the armoured vehicle's health bar by grinding him into walls and ramming him into other vehicles. The pursuit ends up back on the beach, and wrangling control of our car, we make a beeline to finish the Hummer off. Bam! One more hit and he goes flying in spectacular fashion, making the success all the sweeter.
Our first glimpse at The Crew shows oodles of promise and ambition, giving you a 2000-square mile playground, a huge garage full of cars, tablet integration, MMO RPG-style progression and objectives, and a ton of customisation options. We can't recall another driving game out there that offers anything like The Crew, making it a unique proposition on next-gen consoles. If Ubisoft can loosen up the handling, aim for the more arcadey end of the spectrum and make it feel more responsive, we could be looking at an essential next-gen experience.
The Crew is due to ride out on Xbox One in 2014.