From the green lights to the chequered flag, Ubisoft’s ambitious open-world driving game just flatters to deceive
There are racing games and then there are racing games. Right from the earliest Need For Speed adventures (not to forget Road Rash and Excite Bike from the single-bit graphic days) to Forza and Gran Turismo, and countless hours of mindless artificial driving fun, you witness something like this game. And it has me both excited and worried. Excited, because, well, playing a truly open world racing game? Come on, which self-respecting gamer wouldn’t want to do that, right? The scope of the endeavour, the allure of the grand vision, to actually drive cross-country and feel like you’re playing Flight Simulator on the road is one heck of a challenge to pull off. Not unthinkable, but I certainly didn’t imagine we’d achieve it so soon. What leaves me worried, on the other hand, is that half-baked perfection in a racing game can leave you with a headache. No seriously. It’s a bleepity-bleep racing game, how hard can it be to make?
First of all, this game’s advert truly flatters to deceive. It promises the world but ends up giving you only a taste of Essel World, in a matter of speaking. The massive continental US that The Crew tries to recreate digitally is, of course, a huge draw of the game. But make no mistake, it’s the only thing that takes your breath away. The different American cities (New York, San Francisco, Detroit, etc.), the myriad terrain (plains, mountains, desert, etc.) and weather (rain, snow, sun, dark, etc.), makes driving around forget everything else. That it’s money well spent. But this feeling lasts for only the first few hours of playing the Crew. By the second day, you know for sure you’ve been hustled. Because the grand scheme of things starts falling apart.
This game’s no GTA V, and console gamers who’ve played GTA V (sorry, you PC folk) will know it soon enough. While the Crew definitely offers a larger virtual world for you to inhabit, GTA V’s grip on reality is far stronger, even if we limit the scope of our assessment to simply driving cars around in both games. The Crew’s roads are far too empty to make them believable (traffic and jams are pretty much non-existent), AI’s definitely far from perfect (the police cars either don’t give a hoot at your blatant on-road law-breaking or randomly pounce on you for something as simple as jumping a red light), and car control couldn’t be much worse — and remapping controls isn’t an option, forcing you to rewrite age-old muscle memory. This was the first set of annoyances that miffed me in the game. That along with the fact that this game doesn’t have a decent music soundtrack. What’s up with that? Everyone knows you can’t drive without a great playlist pumping out driving classics! That’s another area where driving in GTA V rocks — because of the radio.
Then I thought maybe this game will be slightly different in its storyline than a bad Fast ‘n’ Furious movie script, given the Crew’s attempt to rewrite driving game rules. While I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece like The Last of Us (my favourite in-game storyline in recent memory), my hopes had no chance. I won’t recount the storyline of the game here, because it doesn’t matter — it’s trash. It re-emphasizes my belief in driving / racing games having zero emotional engrossment, no element of tugging at your heart strings. There are only impulses that try to give you an adrenaline rush of sorts. Also, the game’s critical story element, where you’re required to amass a crew of racing drivers, that bit has no consequence on how you play the game whatsoever. It has zero impact on your approach to a particular race or a level, because you’re ultimately in control of your own destiny (and your car’s), and no amount of partners in crime can prevent or assist you from doing what you want. You can technically do online co-ops, but this again impacts how you act or react very little. And this sucks on multiple levels, not least for the fact that the name of the game rings hollow — it could’ve been Driving in the USA, for all I care. The Crew? What crew? Hogwash!
The only thing worth doing in this game, apart from finish what you’ve started (which in this case is a 65-mission, cross country drive), is to engage in PvP races and embark upon the various skill challenges strewn across the vast landscape of the Crew. You can go online and race some, but it gets old really quickly. This game has the whole tried and tested level-up tree, where you earn points, reduce spare parts’ cost by completing more challenges, and it’s not bad. But nothing path-breaking here. Same old, same old.
The Crew is a big disappointment, because it promised a lot and it fails to deliver on several counts. If you haven’t bought it, spend your money somewhere else. But as a glimpse of the future, The Crew does show a lot. It’s not a well-oiled machine just yet, and I’m sure with iterative updates (in the franchise, if at all it takes off), it can beat GTA V at its own game. At least as far as getting behind the wheels is concerned. Until then, keep playing Need For Speed, Forza or GT, or even Burnout. They’re all more fun.
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Jayesh "Big Daddy" Shinde
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