Well, it's not terrible. Delay after delay may have given that impression, but so far The Crew has proven itself to be a large, ambitious, and utterly unremarkable experience. Its world is vast – driving from east to west coast has the air of an actual road trip about it – and diverse. Sadly, the things that you do in this world aren't very interesting, in the early going at least.
There is a lot to do of course: each city has numerous events for you to enter, ranging from slalom contests to car delivery to races and beyond. (Naturally, you unlock these events by locating a radio tower. Yes.) So far though, none of these have proven even remotely appealing, instead being no-frills point to point exercises in driving a car about with little need for planning or skill.
This seems to be one of the main problems at the heart of The Crew. The handling model is enjoyable enough: throwing the back end of cars out is almost Ridge Racer-easy, and in the faster/tuned vehicles there is a real sense of speed, especially in the first person viewpoint. But there's no sense of danger, or urgency, to what I played, whether that be in races or haring across America. There was no police presence at all in my burn from New York to LA, removing one potential avenue for hilarity and dashing my hopes of leading a hilarious Smokey and the Bandit style chase.
Burnout Paradise is a close analogue to The Crew, in terms of both handling and the world. The latter even cuts to a very similar crash cam – a short, letterboxed cutscene showing you and your unfortunate collision-partner getting torn up. The difference is that in Paradise when you crash, you know it: your car essentially detonates, spreading more fiery shrapnel than Vietnam and Arnie combined. In The Crew, you meekly collide. Very rarely does your car veer off into the Death Pirouette(™) that Criterion near-perfected. It just kind of bounces a bit, before getting back on track.
This lack of exaggeration is also present across what I played of the game. There's so much potential here, what with a mini-America being represented, and yet the game is so relentlessly po-faced, suffocating the appeal of an amped up Cannonball Run across America. This being a Ubisoft title, in the early going your progress is constantly interrupted with an inane story (as if the game needed one at all).
Instead of following the Burnout model and simply saying 'here's the world, here's the car, get on with it', players are instead treated to sub-Fast and Furious tripe which seems like it was created via a special Car Film Plot Generator set to 'general anaesthesia'. There's the tattooed, hardcore older brother, the morally grey central character, and, of course, a sassy female police officer who claims that the FBI is corrupt and only you, your car, and your haircut, can save the day. It's nonsense, and to have it constantly butting in is beyond infuriating.
It's all a bit of a pity, as The Crew does some things very well. Cruising across the States is enjoyable, and there's a genuine sense of anticipation in spending fifteen minutes on the road to get somewhere. Particular highlights include seeing Vegas and Los Angeles looming out of the desert after a long run, and hitting the midwestern area to test your cornering skills as ice forms across your car.
There's also a whole continent of cars, upgrades, tweaks, perks, tuning and boosters to consider and mess around with, and of course you can always dick about with your pals. (Sadly, I couldn't find anyone to play with, either from my own friends group or random players in the world.) I'm hoping that, as the game opens up, so does its sense of fun. Early impressions however are of a solid, if rather dull, game.