And roadtrips are meant to be fun
Any fan of racing games will tell you that all titles in the genre aren't created equal. Far from it, in fact. It's a nuanced category, as the more realistic games that strive to be simulators often appeal to different types of people compared to the ones that are drawn to arcade-like racers. They're worlds apart.
Ubisoft's The Crew deftly spans that gap. And, while it may not be crossing worlds, it literally traverses the United States, which feels like an appropriately big adventure.
Let's jump right into the nitty gritty: With regard to in-game racing mechanics, The Crew would be classified by most as arcade-like, especially given the competing titles in the racing space. The cars have a "floaty" feel about them. There's a skill points system for executing maneuvers such as drifting and J-turns. Honestly, I saw a lot of Forza Horizon in it during my hands-on demo.
But, The Crew is built around a deeper premise than just racing. It wants to be a racing MMO RPG. The MMO component comes from the group that Ubisoft hopes you form and race alongside. Players can assemble in teams of four to progress through the story as a unit, while simultaneously competing against one another.
For instance, in our demo, we accepted a race challenge where someone in our group had to finish in the top three. As long as anyone in our crew succeeded, we won. However, we were still trying to best each other, because individual rewards that could be used for upgrades were at stake. I was outfitted in a Lamborghini Aventador and took home the checkered flag (either because I'm great, or more likely because the video team at The Escapist wasn't very good).
It doesn't seem as if all of the enjoyment from The Crew will come from challenges, though. A good chunk will come from just driving across the United States -- with or without friends. The map, which developers said will take about 90 minutes to span from coast to coast, offers new major cities with relative frequency. The level of detail is fantastic, too. Peering at the map, I saw a ton of real world landmarks that players will be able to drive to and "unlock," so to speak -- each a new checkmark on a virtual roadtrip bucket list.
Maybe more alluring than the prospect of metropolises, Americana landscape, and famed attractions are the sheer number of events littering the map. These aren't all races, either. There's some variation in the gameplay to keep things for growing stale. One such example was a chase-em-down challenge where my crew had to ram a getaway car to inflict damage. As long as we did that within an allotted timeframe, we were all winners. However, whoever did the most damage was the true winner.
There's a lot of incentive to perform well in these challenges, because it's the fast track to unlocking new cars and upgrading the ones in your garage. That's where the RPG element comes in, and it's where The Crew shows its depth. The level of customization is fantastic for both the experienced and layman, alike. Gearheads have a ridiculous number of options to tinker with to trick their vehicles out exactly the way they like them. The inexperienced can rely on a color system between the components (bronze, silver, gold) to guide them to quickly maximizing their cars' potential. It's clear that Ubisoft is trying to appeal to looters by offering plenty of cars and upgrades, and there's no reason to think it won't work.
The Crew doesn't look as if it'll be the most challenging of racing titles, but that doesn't mean it won't be a damn good time. Ubisoft would probably like it for people to make good use of the "socially connected" feature of the game, but it looks as if it'll be enjoyable no matter what approach is taken. In terms of gameplay, the most hardcore of simulation racer fans might find this to be too far of a slant toward the arcade side, but it seems as if general fans of the genre will have plenty of fun sitting in The Crew's driver's seat.