I remember the moment The Crew was revealed at Ubisoft’s press conference — actually, it’s the only moment I remember besides Aisha Tyler’s pandering “#girlwood” t-shirt. Instead of a bold new IP or spectacular trailer, it was another racing game at a show that was chock full of them thanks to the likes of Forza 5, Gran Turismo 6 and Need for Speed: Rivals. While there were moments of interest, it looked lackluster and was the perfect moment for much of the crowd to briefly take a hangover catnap. We had all but decided our nominees for “Best Racing Game” come day 3, with The Crew (or as it was known at the time, “that one Ubisoft racing game”) not on our radar until a disastrous booth tour lead us to play it since it was the only game at the booth without a large line. Somewhat begrudgingly, I sat down to give it a shot as the rest of the team watched from behind. Instead of being an obstacle to get to Watch Dogs, however, The Crew turned out to be a tantalizing experience that literally got a “reach into the bag and hand over a badge” nomination on the spot.
Instead of being a sim or arcade racer, The Crew is an open world driving experience full of vehicular opportunities at every corner. This is no ordinary gaming world, however. In fact, its map comprises what seems to be the entirety of the United States. Now, before you get excited thinking you can do donuts in your driveway or creepily drive by your ex-girlfriend’s place, know that it’s not a 1:1 replication. Perhaps that day is coming, but for now The Crew simply randomly rendered the world based on inherent geographical traits. If you’re blazing through Arizona, expect desert. Going through Washington? Lots of forests. California? Concrete everywhere and a smug sense of satisfaction. In fact, the world is so big that it takes ninety minutes to go coast to coast, with races taking place in multiple big cities and rural areas alike. It’s hard to know at this stage if the enormous world takes away from intricacies of environments and courses, but the prospect of the sheer fun of it is currently outweighing the fears.
In the game, players join a crew who’s job is to upstage other crews in a quest for supremacy. There will be a narrative driving the game forward, with frequent dialogue breaks and an evolving plot throughout. Multiple event types are available, including racing, crew showdowns and heists. We played through a few races (first place on all of them; yeah I’m pretty awesome) and then the heist that was featured in the press conference with seven live players. Cars don’t control quite as tight as say Need for Speed: Rivals, but once you get a hang of it, it’s a fun style that does well with some of the more frantic parts. If the Sleigh Bells tune caught your ears in the E3 demo and you’re hoping for more, fear not, as we confirmed that the song was in the game and part of ten radio stations.
With a bigger world, soundtrack and set of modes than most racers, The Crew is a highly ambitious title that could prove to be the next-gen title that commands most of our racing hours. Think an option-rich Burnout Paradise with slightly sloppier mechanics on a much huger scale, and you’ll get a general grasp of what The Crew is like. We’d like to get more hands-on time with it, if only to check out how the open world operates, before we feel confident it can execute its lofty ambitions, but even at this stage, it’s the most exciting racing game of the next generation.