The Crew is the latest and greatest racing game from Ubisoft for the new generation of consoles. It leverages the power of new gaming consoles to create a massive world that is filled with dozens of live online players that you can interact and race with. The map itself is a condensed version of the contiguous United States. The scope and ambition of this game is beyond any other that has even been released.

The Crew takes the recipe of fun driving dynamics and police chases form games like Need for Speed, but it mixes it with an open and living world like that found in Forza Horizon 2.

I fell in love with the world and gameplay of Forza Horizon 2, but does The Crew have what it takes to get me to leave the European countryside of Forza for the sprawling U.S.? I have spent the last week racing, tuning, running from cops and nailing massive jumps in an attempt to figure out if this new game is worth your money.

Read on to find out more about The Crew

The Crew was tested using a retail copy of the game for Xbox One provided to by Ubisoft.

The Crew - TopSpeed Tested Screenshots / Gameplay
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From the moment you start The Crew you are thrown into a fast and crazy off-road Ford Raptor in the middle of a police chase. Your course of action is to plow headlong across the heartland of America while trying not to get sideswiped by a platoon of police officers in matching Raptors that are chasing after you. It feels fun, exciting and interesting. Then things slowly begin to unravel.

The game has a pretty basic premise with a boring story based around your character, Alex. The game starts with Alex getting framed for a murder by a crooked FBI agent. You are then offered a reprieve from your jail sentence if you agree to infiltrate the gang associated with this FBI agent, a group called the 5-10s, and bring the bad guys to justice. The game’s story is progressed by completing races for higher members of this gang, all in a bid to gain more ranks yourself. Strangely though, every single member of the gang wants to kill or take over the territory of every other member of the gang and you are trapped in the middle. This has to be the most poorly run and organized gang in all of history. How they managed to be a dominate force across the entire U.S. is laughable.

But I digress...

The story may be poor and thin, but it gives you an excuse to run around the incredible map that Ubisoft has built. The game world is a very scaled-down of the United States, but it still the largest and most well executed recreation of the U.S. that I have ever experienced. Every area of the country feels distinct and real. In the eastern mountains that I call home you will find plenty of dirt roads, forests and high rolling hills. As you travel farther south the topography smooths and the deciduous trees slowly give way to tall palms as you approach the bottom of Florida.

The Crew - TopSpeed Tested Screenshots / Gameplay
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Each area of the world feels different, and each area is designed around a certain car class. The classes include Street, Dirt, Raid (think Baja racing), Circuit, and Performance. Most cars in the game can be fitted with the proper upgrades to fit into a certain class. While the Raptor is custom maid for the Raid class to start with, you can take something like a RUF modified Porsche Cayman and slap the same giant mud tires, long suspension and brush guards on it to compete. Best yet, each class feels as different as the areas of the country they are designed for.

This game world is easily the best asset of The Crew. Getting from point A to point B is a treat not a chore, and the incredible lengths that you can drive have become kind of a catharsis for me. Just as taking a real road trip is a great chance to calm down and relax, and cross country jaunt from New York to Seattle can take well over an hour and you get to experience some great scenery and driving roads while you do it.

The game is a completely online game that constantly populates the world with dozens of other players that are scattered across the whole U.S. Playing against other racers is the quickest way to gain money in the game for new cars and upgrades, and if you prefer teamwork you can join other racers in a “crew” to take on the story missions. If any one player succeeds in taking first, every player in the match gets the same reward. This system promotes people working together for the greater good of the whole. The game even does a great job of making multiplayer matchups easy. Depending on what kind of match you want to play, you are merely one button press away from starting a multiplayer race. Ubisoft actually made this system work with just one button. It is a great piece of design and implementation.

The Crew - TopSpeed Tested Screenshots / Gameplay
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As you cross the map there are hundreds of small challenges that you can complete simply by driving through a floating hologram gate. These challenges are as simple as completing a long jump off a certain ramp or keeping your car above a certain speed while staying on the pavement. They are simple, quick, and each one you complete slowly and incrementally increase the speed and performance of your car.

That performance level is altered with a huge collection of parts that range from engine blocks, suspension kits, exhaust tunes and more. Thankfully, the game makes everything incredibly easy to keep track of. When you get a part it comes with a certain performance number. All the numbers of all the parts on your car add together to create your Car Level. Levels range from 1 to more than 1000. When you win a race or challenge and get a new part, the screen clearly identifies how many points this adds to your level. If the part won’t improve your ride it gets added to your huge pile of spare parts at your home garage. Before you start a race you are given a “recommended level” that you will need to meet to be competitive in the race.

This is where things start to go downhill for The Crew. Firstly, if your car does not meet or exceed that performance level, there is almost no chance that you will be able to win the race. Of course you could always just go upgrade your car more and come back if you are having a rough time, but that doesn’t work either. I took a level 180 car out to a level 65 race and still had to attempt the race almost a dozen times before I could beat it. In a basic sense, the game cheats and it cheats a lot. There is a huge rubber band effect that ensures that no matter how fast your car, the computer players will be nipping at your exhaust the entire race. The game’s AI also doesn’t have to follow the same rules you do. If you crash your car the game goes throw a small cut scene and then it respawns your car on the track a few hundred feet behind your crash. If you happen to see a computer car crash, they will magically respawn a few hundred feet AHEAD of where they crashed so they are still in first place.

The Crew - TopSpeed Tested Screenshots / Gameplay
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Then there comes the physics and circumstances that surround those crashes. There are times where you can blast into a car at more than 100 mph, and you just slow down and shunt off to one side, other times you can knick the corner of a car at a slower speed and it completely destroys your car. There is no rhyme or reason to how this happens; you are just playing the lottery. And playing the lottery is what it really feels like most of the time too, as it seems that many drivers on the roads of The Crew are actually suicidal. On many occasions I have had cars, at the last possible second, swerve directly into my path of travel for no discernable reason.

If you think the races prove difficult, wait until you get into an escape or takedown mission. In escape, you are tasked with escaping either a collection of cops or a collection of gang members out for your head. Regardless of who is chasing you, the result is an experience that will likely cause curses to fall from your lips. The groups chasing you get the same speed benefit that AI players get in races, and no matter how great the car you are driving is, your pursuers are faster, stronger and can handle better. You will barely make a hairpin turn as you try to pull a slick getaway only to see that the entire gaggle of enemies chasing you executes the same move perfectly at a speed even higher than your own. Your only real chance of winning is to keep driving until all the chase cars eventually crash into things like buildings and trees.

The Crew - TopSpeed Tested Screenshots / Gameplay
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Takedowns are even more annoying. This sees the roles from Escape missions reversed. You are now chasing after someone and trying to crash into them to cause them to stop. Again, they are far faster than you, except for random moments in each mission where they slow down for no real reason. Your best bet to complete these missions is simple trial and error. Every mission the cars seem to follow a set path, going the exact places and speeds each time. Once you try it enough, you can learn where they are going and try to cut them off. Of course make sure you actually crash into the car you are chasing. You see the game only responds to damage that is directly inflicted by your car. If you happen to shunt them into a pillar at an underpass, they will drive away completely unharmed because your car didn’t actually cause the damage.

The Crew - TopSpeed Tested Screenshots / Gameplay
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If you can manage to make it past these obstacles of poor game design, you are only greeted by more frustration. While you are constantly upgrading and learning how your specific car handles, the game is continually throwing you into other cars from different classes. With how differently each car class handles, swapping back and forth between the carious cars causes several races of failure simply as you learn to adjust to the way each car behaves.

Finally we reach the online, multiplayer, and shady money grabbing. An always-online game comes with some serious caveats to a great experience. The most obvious of those is that if the servers aren’t working the game isn’t working. There have been multiple server outages in the days since the game went live, and frequently the server would have a hiccup in the middle of the game and kick me out. There is nothing more infuriating than barely completing a hard fought race only to be kicked out as soon as you cross the finish line due to a server glitch.

You can see a collection of the problems discussed above in this short montage of footage I captured in the first few hours of my time with The Crew.

I mentioned earlier how easy it is to start an online match, but that is only half the story. While most of the time you only need to press a single button, you still need other players to actually accept your request to play together. In the last week and half that has proved beyond difficult. Getting other racers to join your race has happened just once. I had slightly more success in some of the competitive matches, but trying to get a match was still difficult. This becomes the most frustrating later in the game.

There is another legitimate multiplayer mode that sees eight players split into team of four that must race against each other. Sadly I never got a chance to experience this mode. After spending multiple hours trying to get into a full game with no success, I just gave up.

The Crew - TopSpeed Tested Screenshots / Gameplay
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As you get closer to the end of the game, you need to buy new cars to stay in line with incredibly difficult competition. Once you get to the final area of the game, the West Coast, the cars are basically unaffordable unless you have completed lots of online races or you can use a secondary set of money called Crew Credits. The game gives you some Crew Credits to start with, but if you want more you can buy them with real money. Once you are desperately close to the end of the main story it feels like the game is forcing you to either spend real cash to progress, or you must slog through the server matches for hours to build up enough cash to buy a car fast enough that you can continue. When players are already asked to drop a full $60+ on the game to begin with, this seems like a blatant and disgusting grab for cash.

When I first started The Crew, I thought it was going to be the best game racing game of the last decade. The world is so beautifully realized, and the level of ambition present here is truly worthy of the title “Next-Gen.” Sadly, on top of these incredible bones there is a huge collection of design flaws, frustrating server issues and an unwilling online community. It feels as if Ubisoft delivered me the keys to a brand new Ferrari, but they forgot to install the steering wheel before they left. The game holds so much promise that I keep going back to play it night after night, but I always end up quitting with a sense of disappointment rather than elation. There is so much promise resting under the surface of The Crew, but the game just fails to deliver.

There is still a chance for Ubisoft to fix a huge collection of the issues with a few patches, but as the game sits I can’t recommend it. If you see it for sale this holiday for $30 or less, I would say it’s worth grabbing for nothing but the experience of traversing the grand playground of a world. At the full MSRP of $60 this is a definite pass.

TopSpeed Tested Score: 5.5/10

Christian Moe
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