These are first impressions from our reviewer, Phil Iwaniuk. Our full scored review will follow later this week.
Prosaically, it works.
The game loads without crashing. The online servers are functioning, and stable. When you’re driving, you don’t fall through the world. You don’t see cars convulsing under the will of a borked physics model, nor with headlamps and registration plates floating ghoulishly in mid-air at the hands of some outlandish glitch. These are underwhelming assertions, yes, but they shouldn’t go unsaid. Not of an always-online game, whose embargo meant you could go and buy it before any reviews could be posted. Not with the winter Ubisoft’s having.
Any fears of The Crew releasing with a case of the Unitys can now be allayed, then. All that beta testing seems to have done the trick, letting this intrepid writer slip into the shared online environment of Ivory Tower’s America without a hiccup and share the streets of Detroit with strangers and their unintelligible chat window activity.
But does it work conceptually? It’s going to take a while to figure that one out about The Crew. As an open world game it has scope, allowing cross-country joyrides with kaleidoscopic environmental variation and plenty of distractions to pull you away from your intended destination during every journey. The very first thing I did was find the furthest possible point on the map (it’s L.A.) and drive there. On that half-hour journey, I felt a prickle of excitement as all the possibilities become evident. The plot’s hokey—of course it is—and perhaps the visuals fall just shy of show-stopping. But crikey, the freedom The Crew gives you, both to explore and to turn your run-of-the-mill production car into a monster ATV, street racer or simply as a canvas for your most offensive paintjobs and vinyls.
You’ll have plenty of time on your cross-country excursion to notice how much of Test Drive Unlimited 1&2’s DNA is present—in the currency you earn for chaining together drifts, overtakes, near misses in oncoming traffic, in the construction of that enormous space, in the way police cars chase and trap you. But above all, in the handling model that you feel will be great, if you just tweak the sensitivity and deadzones a bit.
It’s like a chair you can never quite get comfy in. My westbound drive was nevertheless engrossing, thanks not just to the changing scenery but the day/night cycle and handful of human companions on the freeway who’d evidently all had the same idea as me. But right after reaching south L.A. just as dawn rose, I fast-travelled back to the location of my next story mission and raced it over and over again, trying to put my finger on what I don’t like about the handling. Is it unresponsive? Adjusting the deadzones and sensitivity doesn’t seem to fix it. Is the ‘look to apex’ cockpit camera to blame? Nope. In large part, it’s the way your car seems to bounce off small bumps and kerbs like both your chassis and the road are made of rubber. I’m still trying to find the magical deadzone/sensitivity combination to alleviate that.
But I’m not disheartened. The Crew’s loot system already has its hooks in me. Completing a story race, or even taking on one of the hundreds of challenges littered around America’s streets like confetti, earns you either a gold, silver or bronze car upgrade. Those upgrades increase the performance number of your car overall, and in no time you’ll find yourself watching these numbers like they’re the NASDAQ and you’re a greedy banker
Priority number one isn’t maxing out my car, though, it’s turning off all the layers of UI. If you let it, the Crew’s many fussy windows and HUD elements will swallow up your game with chat windows, gamer tags and the like. Some of these elements can be turned off. Some of them. But at present, not enough to avoid being constantly reminded that hey! You’re in a videogame, buddy. Look at these game elements!
One thing’s clear: there’s a lot of game here. Enough game to either melt your grievances away in the fullness of time, or turn them into game-breaking neuroses. I found the opening hours hugely encouraging despite some trade-offs, so let’s all cross our fingers that the long-form Crew experience smoothes out the rough edges.