It's difficult to get a feel for The Crew's breadth in a five-minute demo on a crammed E3 show floor. So while I'd love to tell you all about the game's huge open-world, social functionality and persistent online universe, unfortunately, you probably know just as much as I do when it comes to such things.
What I can tell you, though, is that The Crew feels like a fairly typical Ubisoft Reflections game. Though development is being led by Ivory Tower (formed by previous members of the Test Drive Unlimited team), there are clear influences from co-developer Reflections' previous work, from the way The Crew looks, right down to the way it handles.
The engine feels like a next-gen extension on Driver: San Francisco's, spruced up with superior lighting and stupidly-shiny car models, but with a similar sense of fluidity and speed. Cars have that familiar sense of heaviness; the back end swinging out as you whip around corners and bounce across sand dunes, and even the mission structure, from what I can tell, appears to inspired by older games.
The demo I played saw a group of four players – a crew – teaming up to take down a 4x4, exhausting its hit points by repeatedly ramming into it. A time limit added a notion of urgency and difficulty, but it was ultimately fairly bland: a basic chase mission across the east coast of America that felt like little more than next-gen dodgems.
There are races, too, activated by driving up to start points, and with success resulting in experience points used to unlock new upgrades and mods for your vehicle. A second-screen companion app lets players customise their vehicle, swapping in car parts, customising paint jobs and selecting the game's opening location. And while it looks fairly swish – the app does a fantastic job of rendering each vehicle – at this stage, it's equally nothing particularly special.
Which is what can be said for the game as a whole, really. Though my hands-on time was far too brief (and the game's development stage far too early) to jump to any real conclusions, first impressions of The Crew suggest that it could be a relatively safe open-world racer with an ambitious, yet not entirely innovative online structure: a venture that may appear fresh in premise, but is somewhat primitive in play.
If the world really is as big as Ubisoft claims and the online works as well as it should, The Crew could be one of the PS4 and Xbox One's more technically impressive racers. But in an ocean of open-world racers competing for the same social co-petitive space, Ivory Tower needs to tighten up its challenges, innovate on gameplay, and deliver something special to stop The Crew from becoming another also-ran.