PAX 2014: Hands on
I would say that I’ve never been much of a racing game fan, but that isn’t the case. In my earliest gaming days, I remember playing some really fun racing games, but later on, racing seemed to divide into two categories. Games like Mario Kart, which remained mostly about just getting out there on super fun tracks, and games that took on a more realistic approach and went the way of tons of DLC and unlockables. I’ve mostly found myself playing Mario Kart as my racer of choice, but when Ubisoft unveiled The Crew, I met the announcement with interest. An MMORPG and racing game? In one? How would that work? I got my hands on the game at PAX last week, and got a taste of what awaits us.
My first action in The Crew was to take part in a multiplayer drive with a goal--to catch a certain car and give it a few knocks to stop the guy inside from getting away. With four of us hot on this guy’s tail, the challenge didn’t take long to be over, but our brief play time wasn’t over just yet. The second challenge was part quest, part race. A woman over the radio was giving me a test. I had to prove myself (“Alex”) in order to demonstrate to her that I was up for the job she was considering me for. A race became a job interview. Unfortunately, a combination of sensitive controls and a bit of my own faulty turning led me to crash into a wall and be unable to reverse for a few precious seconds, costing me any chance of turning out to be the one for the job this time around.
Yet I really came out appreciating just how the seams between MMORPG and racer try to be invisible. The single player content and multiplayer run at the same time, so there’s another way the game is seamless. Plenty of players have asked just how MMO questing could be different, and are bored with standard canned quests we’ve all seen 500 times before. Well, here’s a new twist. Make your quests something a player has to complete through racing or completing jobs in the car. A game like Auto Assault was mostly an excuse to create characters in order to PvP, but The Crew brings players together in addition to solo play. Everyone in that race with me was also trying to qualify to get the job (and, by extension, continue the quest line), so the game has more similarities with other MMOs than one might think. And that is proving that this hybrid game is not using its MMO side as a mere gimmick. This is something those open enough to take the wheel should embrace.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to demo more than just a couple of stages, but overall the game looks incredible. It’s visually just as beautiful as it looks in trailers and videos. The urban environments, roads, farms, and other locations we got to see all looked and felt solid. That wall I crashed into belonged to a hospital, and unfortunately, my skid over in that direction might have sent a few digital humans there. But my favorite thing about the game was how it really was taking the best elements from both MMOs and racing games and blending them into a game I see myself playing with with friends. These small snippets left me wanting more, especially the promised recreated cities and long stretch of open terrain.
We also didn’t get to test the customization, but that too looks to be taking from some of the best bits of MMOs, in my opinion. I’m a big fan of extensive character creation and customization systems, and The Crew offers that for your car. It brings to mind games like Need for Speed and similar titles but also feels right at home in a game like this. I’ve never been one to strive for unlocks or buy customization DLC for single player racing games, but I’m hoping the system will be robust and fun to use. Again, it all certainly looks pretty.
The Crew is fast, fun, and certainly looks like it will be a game to play with friends. With different expectations and an emphasis on being in your car, this doesn’t seem like it will be the social game of the year, but it should serve groups of friends well in forming crews of their own to complete objectives or maybe just go on an online drive, showing off all those fancy cars they worked hard to customize.