The Crew proves that a game doesn't have to be excellent to be enjoyable. Ivory Tower's open-world racer is a scruffy, occasionally broken, rubber-banding heavy, badly written, awkwardly acted, stat-resetting mess, especially in the opening few hours, but eventually becomes a highly addictive arcade racer set in a world so huge it's quite unlike anything I've ever played before. While I wish it looked as good as DriveClub, and had a story that wasn't total gubbins, The Crew somehow manages to be a success in the face of so much failure.
Something I hadn't really touched on in previous updates is the online element to The Crew. Having now played for many, many hours I can say that I either just don't get it or it's nowhere near as integral to the game as Ubisoft made me think it was. Aside from missions where you have to take down NPC cars, having people playing alongside you feels pointless and is at times often more of a hindrance and distraction to the job at hand.
Faction events, designed to be bigger missions that can last well in advance of an hour, earn you reputation and contribute to your chosen faction's overall score within the game world. Without any sense of community it's hard to really care about any of this other than the daily paycheck that is delivered, even if some of the events are good fun if you've got the time.
PvP is nothing more than lobbies in which often horribly unbalanced competitors face off against each other for cash, if the lobby ever fills with players. It's by far the best way to earn big money, but unless you're a high level it's best to stay clear of it.
What's left is the campaign missions and mass assortment of skill challenges, earning XP, car parts, perks and bucks. The constant progression is a good hook and made me like the game more than it deserves. The handling becomes good fun once you've specced up your vehicle, and the sheer size of the game world is mightily impressive, but it's hard to pick out many more clear positives.
Yet, I like The Crew, or I at least think I like it. While I was making progress I developed a hankering for more, to explore new areas, to reach the next level, to see where the crazy, and rather stupid, story was going. It, sadly, wasn't really going anywhere, and is among the worst I've experienced in a big budget game, complete with overly sexualised female characters, awful dialogue and a complete lack of common sense. A scene in a diner towards the end of the game combines all this in an unfortunately comical manner.
Many of the story missions are downright tiresome, too. All of the cop evasion, takedown and crate smash events are a chore, and when you're thrown into a terrible car (not the one you've spent ages upgrading) it can be infuriating. It just makes no sense whatsoever to try and hunt down the game's main foe using a lumbering tank, when you've got a super-powered all-terrain beast in your garage.
Ivory Tower has made a game that is legitimately bad in so many ways, yet made me, somewhat compulsively, want to keep playing. Sure, I was being rewarded, but was I gaining any pleasure? I'm not sure, but for the tens of hours I played The Crew, I was hooked. That doesn't really make it a good game, but it's got something about it.
Update 2: Its hooks are in
Early days for The Crew weren't brilliant, with the game beset by server issues that made the experience highly frustrating and often a complete waste of time. Things have improved somewhat now, and the game has its hooks in me. This might not be the best racing game of all time, but it does some things very well.
No matter what you do, it all gets fed back into your XP, cash, and car performance. Level up and you'll earn perks to grant bonuses across various aspects of the game (from car handling to car dealership discounts), as well as across-the-board stat boosts to your garage of vehicles. Complete a mission or challenge and you'll earn extra car upgrade parts, gradually turning a fairly run of the mill motor into a high-end beast.
I'm now level 26, have got three cars with Street, Dirt and Performance tuning kits installed, and have seen a large part of, but nowhere near all of, the map. The tuning kit upgrades are essentially car classes, with each (Raid and Circuit are still to be unlocked) feeling significantly different to one another to be more than gimmicks and arbitrary event restrictions. Likewise, off-road events aren't simply the same as tarmac races with a different ground texture, with your grip noticeably changing and the terrain becoming bumpier.
Despite my growing fondness (assuming the servers hold up), there are glaring issues that are hard to overlook at this stage. The Crew, as the title clearly suggests, is meant to be about driving with others, and there are five factions (you're initially free to pick from two before others are unlocked) to race for as each tries to gain control of the United States. Your rep within your chosen faction, increased by taking part in Faction events, earns you bonus cash each day, but the whole social/multiplayer/mmo aspect feels empty at the moment.
Your game world is inhabited by a small selection of random players, whom you can team up with to tackle events co-op, but it doesn't feel like anything particularly new or more compelling than the campaign and associated hooks. Faction events take longer to complete, some weighing in at over an hour of play, but having finished three they don't seem to offer content drastically different other than in length.
There's also a strong argument that The Crew doesn't look as good or perform as well as it ought to. The huge and varied world is impressive, coming across like OutRun expanded to the whole of the US, but the jagged appearance, nasty pop-in, and less than rock-steady frame rate all hurt. What's more, the various crew members you encounter in the campaign all sound woefully miscast - and I've seen The Shield, which is all about gangs.
Will The Crew's MMO gameplay make an appearance later on? Will Faction events and PvP become massive entertaining time sinks? We'll find out soon.
I'd grown to enjoy playing The Crew. After an opening so cringeworthy that I felt sorry for the virtual characters acting it out on screen, the plot (which centres on you being set up for the murder of your brother, the leader of the '510' car gang) starts to take a back seat and allows the core driving experience to come to the fore. The Crew finally started to show why it probably didn't deserve the negativity around it, and then the servers failed following a Faction event.
I'd just wasted 20 minutes on a massive dirt race, fighting tooth and nail to gain a top three finish, being worried that I'd spend a large chunk of time only to crash out on the final bend and have to do it all again. It was tense, and my heart was beating fast as I boosted into second place seconds from the finish line.
"The Crew services are unavailable or you may have lost your connection," read the message on the screen as the game ripped me away from a glorious collection of rewards.
"Fuck this shit!," I declared to myself, my hand now slightly shaking from the stress. I took a picture to tweet about the incident, sad that a game I had been enjoying suddenly made me never want to play it ever again.
I couldn't face the race again so soon, so summoned a minion (sorry, Brett) to play it through. He struggled through to a third-place finish, and then came the anger.
"The Crew services are unavailable or you may have lost your connection," read the screen once again.
I was done with Faction events, which is a shame as they appear to be one of the key ways to build your rep in the persistent world, allowing you to earn a regular pay day.
Having decided to work away on some of the standard missions and challenges I levelled up a bit more, enjoying the arcade handling and constant car and player progression, I soon forgot about my anger. The constant feedback of XP, cash and car parts is a great, and it's close to having me hook, line, and sinker.
Wanting to see what else The Crew has to offer I drove into a PvP zone, entered a lobby and waited. I waited some more. Someone turned up, was the only person with a microphone and proceeded to tell everyone he'd waited 45 minutes for a PvP event to start earlier in the day. I waited a little longer. 10 minutes in I jumped ship, took part in some speed challenges on the way to another (shorter) faction event and tried my luck again.
An impressive hill race played out in under 10 minutes. Although I'd been bullied by the bigger cars, I managed to stay ahead and claim the win, then waited for the spoils.
"The Crew services are unavailable or you may have lost your connection."
I stepped away, calmly turning off the PS4 and the TV. I'd been trying to tell people that the game wasn't as bad as people had been saying. I even came into work looking forward to playing more, but it's hard to support something so painfully broken.
It's as if Ubisoft wants me to hate it.
Version Tested: PS4