The Crew hands-on: from New York to LA in Ubisoft's massive open world racer

The Crew's recreation of North America isn't to scale, obviously, but scrolling around the map, it still looks really, really big. However, to determine exactly how big, I'll have to drive across the thing, coast to coast. My car of choice is a Ford Mustang GT, which I spend some time customising. I paint it red, because red means fast, and stick a spoiler on it. Perfect. There's a story in The Crew, complete with cutscenes and missions, but I won't be paying attention to any of that. The focus of this preview is the enormous world map. Is it actually any fun to drive across? Let's find out.

I start in New York City. It's a decent approximation of the Big Apple, but a fraction of the size. It takes me just a few minutes to drive the entire length of Manhattan. But the detail is already impressive, considering this is just one of a number of cities in the game. I see the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. Yep, this is New York alright. In real life it would take about 40 hours to drive from here to Los Angeles, so it'll be interesting to see how The Crew compares. I set off, leaving the city behind and heading south towards my next stop, New Orleans. Rather than drive in a straight line, I've decided to stop off at a few cities and landmarks along the way.

I notice the scenery change as I head south. The trees change to reflect the swampy climes of Louisiana, which is a nice touch. I'm following a path set by the in-game GPS, which seems to be leading me down a lot of pretty boring, mostly straight freeways. There should be an 'avoid freeways' option, like on a real GPS. I reach New Orleans, and it's tiny, feeling more like a medium-sized town than one of America's biggest cities. But it looks like New Orleans at least, and I drive through the famous French Quarter on my way west towards Texas. Dallas will be my next stop.

Honestly, I'm disappointed by the handling. It feels weightless and flabby, and I don't really get the sensation that I'm roaring across America in a powerful, gas-guzzling muscle car. When I hit other cars, I bounce off them like a bumper car. Sometimes there's a cutaway to a slow-mo crash cam, but it's hardly Burnout Paradise. This is an underwhelming driving experience; a fuzzy halfway between a snappy arcade racer and a realistic sim.

But I power on, cutting through Dallas and then heading further west towards the Grand Canyon. I get there just as the sun is rising, and I get my first 'wow' moment. I can see Dallas way in the distance behind me, and the rolling, red rocks of the Grand Canyon ahead of me. This is the first time I really get a sense of the scale of the map, and I forget briefly about the soggy handling. The close-up visual details aren't particularly good (at least in the beta I'm playing), but it has some great lighting and sweeping vistas. There are nice incidental details too, like deer bolting across the road, and fighter jets streaking loudly overhead as I go through Nevada, near Area 51.

Next stop, Las Vegas. This is the best-looking city I've seen so far, with all those gaudy casinos and statues looking fantastic in the glinting sun. I've been driving for about an hour and a half now, which is a long time in game-hours. My hands are sweaty and my eyes are burning, but I'm almost there. The variety of scenery I've sped by, and distinct lack of loading breaks, is impressive. I drive out of Las Vegas and into a vast, flat desert, before reaching the Pacific Northwest, where the dry sands turn to green forests of fir trees. The segue between landscapes isn't particularly subtle, but it just about works. I do feel like I'm crossing a large country, albeit at supersonic speeds.

Seattle is my next city. I think about what a mammoth task designing this map must have been. Everywhere you look there are bespoke assets, from natural landmarks like the great mesas of Monument Valley, to iconic buildings like the Empire State. I'm pretty much at the west coast now, and Los Angeles is just down the road. I set a GPS marker and drive south through California's beautiful wine country, across the Golden Gate to San Francisco, and then I finally hit the beaches of LA. It's taken me just over two hours of non-stop driving to get here. Our road trip is over.

Looking at my map, which shows you the areas you've driven and the ones you haven't, I notice I still have about 70% of the map left unexplored. This is a really impressive open world, but I wonder if the game has anything to offer beyond that. The handling left me cold, although it could just be the car I chose, and the roads were too realistic to make for an especially fun or memorable drive—but I did enjoy watching the scenery shift around me. I'll be intrigued to see what the story mode has to offer, but until then I can at least confirm that, yes, the map is indeed really, really big.

Andy Kelly

If it’s set in space, Andy will probably write about it. He loves sci-fi, adventure games, taking screenshots, Twin Peaks, weird sims, Alien: Isolation, and anything with a good story.