The Crew

Posted by Jason Venter (July 23, 2014)

The Crew captures your excitement with an idea. What if you could race across the entire United States in one single experience, enjoying the sights of the nation's greatest landmarks while evading police pursuit and participating in events with other players or in single-player challenges?

In theory, The Crew offers precisely that experience. Its execution falls a bit short of its promise, though, at least at this stage in the game's development. This afternoon, I gained access to the closed beta and spent a few hours playing. I came away optimistic that I'll enjoy it when I buy a copy once it ships this November, but also slightly disappointed by its current state.

On-screen text constantly reminds players that the game is very much in development, and notes that its final quality may differ from the beta version. That's a given, though. I would certainly hope Ubisoft wouldn't ship a game with some of the goofy glitches I encountered, including a crash with another vehicle that set a sedan on its hood and left it spinning vertically like a top. That looked funny, but I'd be disgusted if a final game had that sort of thing happening.

Elsewhere, I would be driving and other players would start talking on their headsets. I had no way to know who was in my vicinity, so it came as a surprise when someone started talking about Google Fiber and his streaming event. Elsewhere, someone was giving a spoiler-y review of Peter Jackson's old horror film, "The Frighteners," which I've never seen. I didn't see a convenient way to mute those voices, or to keep listening once I drove out of range, but I'm not sure if this is a problem with The Crew or just the cost of playing games in this connected age. It's probably something in between.

The game's campaign begins in Detroit, where you and your brother are enjoying your existence as members of a street racing gang. Your brother started it, and you're making him look bad by breaking all the rules. As the game eases you into its structure, your brother chides you for setting a bad example. He has you drive him to a meeting with a street racer. After a heated discussion, that racer shoots your brother in the back and speeds away after dropping the gun out his window. You rush to your brother's side and hold him as his life slips away. Meanwhile, a bunch of cop cars surround the scene. The meeting was a setup.

Five years pass. Now incarcerated, you're seated in an interrogation room and presented with a chance at early redemption. An F.B.I. agent who meets with you knows that you were set up for your brother's murder, and she wants to give you a chance to help her put the individuals responsible for it behind bars. Otherwise, for all she cares, you can rot in your cell.

The story feels stupid, generic to a fault, but at least it's an excuse to race around the nation, causing mayhem as you do your undercover thing. I guess if "The Fast and the Furious" can stretch a similar tale across seven movies, Ubisoft deserves a chance to try something like it.

Looking past the story, there's a solid core. Although the United States presented here really just feels like five districts stitched together with a few landmarks that are supposed to encapsulate the entire nation, I didn't really expect that Ubisoft would be able to truly capture the diverse range of scenery that makes most states a joy to travel through. I do find the West Coast map especially laughable, though. Oregon is just a pinpoint "North Coast" mark, and most of the rest of that region is devoted to Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Seattle. Budget constraints strike everywhere.

I should mention that I've spent only a few hours in the beta thus far, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that the game crashed. The second one is that I do plan to play the final build. I don't care to complete a bunch of racing events and sink a lot of time into customizing my vehicles when I'll just have to start fresh once the game ships. I did buy my first vehicle--a Mustang--and fitted it with one of several custom hoods, different rims, a metallic paint job and such. I also applied a few upgrades and completed some optional events as the story progressed. But it's obvious that I've only begun to scratch the surface.

Even in the game's current state, it is enough fun to play that I'm looking forward to spending more time with it. The developers have months to make it better still, to resolve the issues I mentioned above and others besides. If they're successful, the game could be this year's racing game to beat. Either way, I plan to preorder The Crew sometime soon!

Jason Venter is a freelance blogger who spends most of his time writing about games and technology. Follow him on Twitter if you dare, at @jasonventer.

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