We gamers have recently had a bit of a beta-test-fest! With every console owner seemingly searching Destiny‘s Cosmodrome, I had the chance to play the PC closed beta of Ubisoft’s (they hope) new franchise racing game, The Crew. I’d previously gotten hands on with it at last year’s Eurogamer Expo event at Earls Court London and at the time was, for the lack of a better word, underwhelmed by my experience. Despite being decidedly ‘Meh‘ the opportunity to see what progress had been made in the almost 12-months of additional development was too strong an urge. With the NDA lifted I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on its progress.
This last year has seen the release of a new generation of consoles and with it some tough decisions being made by Ubisoft to bump release dates, to create an upgraded experience showing off new tech and best take advantage of additional system power (which makes sen$e).
We had around a week to access the cars and races up-to level 10 in the story, which covers a relatively small section of the games overall geography.
I, along with many others judging by the forums and as expected with any beta, encountered many crashes and bugs. Some of which are typically minor niggles, while others are quite game killing and suitably frustrating. The decision for the game to be always online has meant at peak times or during maintenance, players have been unable to race and when you are in, you could expect crashes (the application more so than through vehicular accident). You’ll also see from the video later on in the post that I’d encountered some quite strange instances as well; such as a pre-race cinematic throwing the cars into the air (not a one-off) or a jump challenge in which I completely missed the ramp and despite this earned a gold achievement for simply driving over the landing markers …which I’m not complaining about. To the company’s credit however, on a daily basis Ubisoft were pushing out updates here and there to address many of the player’s feedback.
In the way that The Crew plays now verses in 2013? Little has changed. No new engine or massive graphical overhaul can be seen. At its beating heart it’s still an A-B-C racing game across different terrains with different classes of car and a narrative that drives the player progression forward. I did notice Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections have gone to town on many of the back end features. Crew management (an under sold feature despite the games name) and the in-game interface appear a lot slicker, easier and intuitive to use. In fact a lot of the games social and mechanical options can be accessed and changed on the fly, even in the middle of a race.
The story, as I’ve been affectionately calling it, is “bobbins”. You play Alex a racer who is framed for murder, sent to prison and enlisted to go undercover in return for ….actually I’m not sure I recall! The story was the same as every other Driver/Need For Speed game previous and so inconsequential the details escape me.
As you do race you can, in traditional racing game territory, unlock and earn money (both cash and ‘crew’ points) to procure new cars, add-ons for your ride and story reputation that then unlocks even more events and challenges.
The racing as with the story is very standard. Check point racing, laps, chasing other cars, escape the police etc. have all been done many times before, and after couple of days playing I was getting decidedly tired by the experience and debated retiring early from the beta. Sure I could upgrade my car or do plenty of races, but I was getting bored of the streets of Detroit. The game was getting flaky and the town was packed bumper-to-bumper with other online racers all jostling/crashing around and it was starting to get frustrating. What I did next changed my whole view of the game:
I hit the open road.
I ignored my handler that I needed to gain “rep” in the town by racing other Vinny Diesal types. Instead I opened up the game map, picked a city on the GPS and set off. I selected Las Vegas which, as I didn’t realise at the time is around 2,000 miles away from my starting home of Detroit. The evening was getting late, but I thought “What the heck. It won’t take long for the monotony to get too much and I switch off”.
The journey took me through many sights, cities and towns and in around 60 minutes later (yes, in the real world I would of needed to be going 2000mph to achieve this) it was starting to get (in-game) dark and finally on the horizon I could see the bright flashing and strobing neon lights of Vegas. For the first time in playing the beta I found that I had fun, just by simply driving fast through the rough streets of Michigan, farmland Iowa, rocky Colorado before coming out of Utah to the flat Nevada desert and seeing Sin City in its digital glory. Once I hit the Strip, only a single additional racer could be seen in the whole town – a very nice German fellow. We exchanged a few broken English/German pleasantries over the in-game proximity based audio chat system and went our separate ways to explore some more.
After another couple of hours of being reckless at speed in thick traffic I returned to the missions at hand with a better appreciate of the potential scope of what lay ahead of me. Visiting a few other cities, such as New York, again it dawned on me the amount of effort and potential the game has. It’s big. It’s REALLY big. And that’s what I’ve taken away from my experience of the beta. Not the bugs, or the generic racing, standard upgrading progress and generic story – but the potential.
When the game is released, or if another beta comes out, I urge you to get organised with friends and hold your own Cannonball Run event (or Gumball Rally for you young kids) across the length of virtual-‘merica. Due to the compressed time/distance/speed the game utilises, it’ll only take around 90 minutes to navigate and you’ll have some real fun.
In summary the beta was suitably bumpy and buggy, but I’ve decided I’m invested. Now I just need to get a crew to play with!
The Crew will release for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One on November 11th in North America and the 14th across Europe.