If there’s one thing the next-generation is already looking to deliver, it’s space. Room to move, as it were, where players can feel a greater sense of achievement in terms of traversal and progression. Open-worlds like those promised in Metal Gear Solid V and The Witcher 3 are, presumably, the tip of the iceberg considering the size of some of the standout play-spaces we’ve been privy to this generation: Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV, Far Cry 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, to name a few, so imagine my surprise when it was revealed to me in a hands-on session with Ubisoft’s The Crew -- an open-world car action-RPG of sorts -- that I could literally drive from one side of the US, to another.
Seriously, San Francisco to New York, or Seattle to Miami -- they’re actual destinations you can set yourself and just... well, drive. But it’s not just about the geometry here, because that much landmass would end up being pretty boring to drive through if it were just you and the open road, on your couch. So the studio behind the nuts and bolts of the game, Ivory Towers (with a little help from Ubisoft Reflections), has added a few things to keep you interested and connected to the world. In fact “connected” is the game’s other major selling point, because like so many other next-gen titles also, The Crew is going to be a persistent online world.
The scale of all of this isn’t 1:1, obviously, but it’s impressive. It’ll take you a few hours to cruise from the West coast to the East, apparently, and you can do it in numerous cars, all upgradeable at garages (your HQs) littered about the world. The RPG component comes by way of earning XP and being able to customise your ride. This, apparently, is no different to creating a character in any online multiplayer offering and has been designed to give players a unique identity around this connected world.
And as you would expect with a persistent play-space, you can rally friends or strangers to your driving cause, all with a simple button press, inviting them into your game to take part in co-op and competitive exercises. These can include takedowns of enemy vehicles, on-road and off-road races and much more, while on your own you can pretty much drive up to any marker on your mini-map (represented as a ray of light in the game proper), and action an event. Most of these are skill-based, and range from simply following a sporadic line to time-trials and beyond. In my short time with the game, the engagement options seemed endless, I just didn’t have enough of a chance to really see how deep the variety will go.
On a visual level it definitely looks
next-gen. Cars are unbelievably shiny and detailed, but the world itself still looked like it lacked a bit of polish. I drove to Las Vegas just to get a look at the landmarks to see how detailed the studio has made the game (and because I was married there recently), and was impressed at the lengths they’ve gone to to actually make a real-world city feel that way in the game. If an extra coat of sheen can be added to the design of these places, The Crew’s massive game-world is going to be an enticing one to play in, indeed.
I was also impressed with the bridging sections between cities, and you’re not forced to just drive to get to where you want to go, you can also jump into a map of the some 5000 sq km of playable terrain and simply fast travel wherever you want to go, but to put the size of the largest city in the game -- New York -- into perspective, Ivory told us it’s roughly the same size as Rockstar’s reimagined NY, Liberty City, from GTA IV.
As far as handling went, it was a mixed bag of getting used to the controls and just being a lout around town. It felt responsive and comfortable to play, but racing games are always more reliant on the way you prefer to play -- in this instance I was dabbling using the Xbox One controller (which is mighty nice, I might add), but I couldn’t really grasp too much by way of a different approach to playing a racing game, leaving this one as an accessible pick-up-and-play from the outset option.
Comparisons to the likes of Burnout Paradise and the last Need for Speed Most Wanted will definitely emerge, but the sheer size of the game and the persistent nature of its connectedness will bring it into its own. Moreover, the car customisation feature seems much deeper and with multiple options on offer, and reasons to unlock and use them by way of challenges both for solo and multiplayer, there’s already a fair amount of differentiation between The Crew and any games that resemble its foundations. The only deterrent for anyone at this stage is the fact you can’t play the game offline at all. Solo play is still an option, but in order to enjoy the world, an Internet connection will be required, though this component was only briefly talked about.
Racing games are many and varied, but The Crew looks to be doing something a little different and the liberal use of the initialisation RPG offered a bit more insight into what it looks like Ivory Towers are doing with their game. How it’ll stack up upon release needs much more investigation, but for now it’s looking, feeling and sounding pretty damn promising.