I’m still playing The Crew. More importantly, I’m still having a lot of fun with it. Since I hastily scrawled my first impressions, I’ve been collecting some more thoughts while I’ve been driving around. Here they are in no particular order.
It’s vital that I stress again how enormous and visually diverse the gameworld is. I don’t know if this is the biggest map I’ve seen in a video game, but it’s most certainly up there. Admittedly it’s a world designed to be enjoyed at speed, as if you pull over to take a close look at things you won’t see much fine detail, but still. It isn’t just an aesthetic thing, either. All the different weather effects and types of terrain alter the way your vehicle handles, as well as the style of driving you’re partaking in. I like that I can rumble across the Nevada dunes in a monster truck one mission, then rocket around a proper racetrack in a circuit-spec speed machine the next. If nothing else, The Crew’s world is one of this year’s biggest achievements in gaming.
It’s probably worth mentioning the waypoint here as well. I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about it, but I’m quite fond of the way it floats around in the air. I don’t know if it’s just a personal preference, but I find it much easier to keep track of when it’s above the road. For one thing my eyes tend to naturally focus on the road ahead rather than below, but also a waypoint tends to get buried in dense traffic, and some areas in The Crew (Miami!) have a crazy number of vehicles on the streets.
I’m really not fond of the missions which task you with taking down a rival vehicle though. They stand out as being very heavily scripted when compared directly to other event types, and you often get the impression that the game really wants these things to be decided in the final seconds. I’m not entirely opposed to that, but there’s a lot of cheap AI behaviour going on here. Opponents tend to get a serious burst of speed at certain moments, and often they’re very difficult to beat in a single attempt. With knowledge of what route your target is going to take they’re more than manageable, but it shouldn’t have to come down to pattern memorization.
A lot of these events take place off-road too, and that’s where the physics are at their most unreliable. I tend to really enjoy the rally-style races, but what I don’t enjoy is lightly brushing a pebble with my front tyre and immediately doing seven barrel rolls through the air. This happens a lot, and it doesn’t help that the collision detection seems to be a bit off. On a few occasions I’ve been convinced I didn’t touch a thing, yet still ended up being catapulted through the air anyway. I’ve had similar issues with traffic.
Other than that the missions have been consistently diverse and enjoyable throughout, which is saying a lot considering how many hours I’ve put into them at this point. Sometimes it feels like the game is trying to push you when it doesn’t need to (having a time limit on a simple drive to HQ, for example, when there’s no real need for one) but that isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’m pretty sure I’m near the end now, so I probably won’t have anything else to say about these missions if I write another post on this game. I’d say they’re definitely worth playing, even if you’re not/are only interested in the online stuff.
(Note: the missions that can take up to two hours to complete are Faction missions. They aren’t necessary to progress the story).
I’ve now discovered the Perk system, which is cool. I didn’t actually realize it existed until I accidentally stumbled on it while browsing through the HQ. It’s basically another layer of that simple and compelling progression system, though this one is tied to your overall player level rather than that of your individual vehicles. The Perks are passive boosts, and you’re free to apply as many as you can afford (Perk Points are awarded for gaining player levels. Or they can be bought with real money, but fuck that). Some are specific to multiplayer, but they all seem to be tangibly beneficial. (Protip: Investing in the XP Boost Perks first will allow you to gain levels much faster and thus unlock more Perk Points).
The plot is really, really hokey. At first I liked that the main guy – Alex, I think he’s called – looked to be channelling Gordon Freeman, but he’s just a really generic dick with a peculiar aversion to hurting anyone despite having precisely no reservations about breaking every other law on earth. The cutscene graphics are pretty amazing, but there aren’t very many of them and the characters are such archetypes that it’s impossible to care about anything they’re saying. Sexy FBI agent? Check. Mechanic father-figure? Check. Corrupt cop villain? Check. Several borderline-offensive racial stereotypes? Multiple checks.
Also, Ubisoft seem to have this peculiar fetish for sexy women being genius hackers. There’s one in Watch_Dogs and another here, too, though this time they’re going super over-the-top with it. Pay attention to her introductory FMV sequence and just note how many different ways she looks and acts like a prostitute.
Finally, I’ve been booted back to the main menu twice. Once was due to inactivity – I went to make a sandwich, and by the time I got back I’d been ejected from the server. That’s annoying, but I suppose if you’re going to be inactive for long periods of time it’s in your best interests to turn the console off and save some electricity. The other was a straight-up connection failure, and that was really annoying. Thankfully I wasn’t in the middle of a mission or anything like that, but if I was ninety minutes into a two-hour faction job and that happened I don’t think I’d ever play the game again.
That these things even affect me is really irritating just on principle though. I’m only interested in playing the story missions solo right now, so I should be able to do that whatever. When I lost connection it was a good while before I was able to get back into the game, and by then I was no longer in the mood for it. There’s something incredibly vexing about requiring a constant internet tether just to enjoy single-player content, and I think that may well be the thing that holds The Crew back from being as well-received as it could be. Well, that and the fact that apparently the multiplayer doesn’t actually work reliably. I’ll let people more qualified than me be the judges on that topic though.
Like I said, the most important thing to take away from this is that I’ve sunk a fair number of hours into this game and I’m nowhere near bored of it yet. If anyone was wondering, it is perfectly conceivable to play through the whole story component alone, without any need for micro-transactions or level grinding or any of that bullshit. I can’t honestly speak on the multiplayer side of things, but I think I’m now in a position to recommend this to fans of the genre. It has some problems (potentially many more than I’m aware of) but it has lots of excellent qualities too, and with some post-release patching, updates and polishing this could really be something special.