The Crew E3 Preview: (Off)Road Trip

The Crew looks poised to deliver that elusive road-trip feel that so many driving games have failed to capture.

Every E3, we are promised the moon and stars by all the AAA publishers, and not one has ever truly delivered on what they promise. They sometimes come close, and sometimes the products are great despite not coming close, but nothing ever quite matches the hyperbole of how these games are described to us at trade shows and conventions. That’s the world we have to live with.

Ubisoft’s MMO-ish driving epic The Crew is one of those games that has no chance at being what Ubisoft describes it as. Oh, you put the entire United States in your game? LOL, nice try, Ubisoft. But despite that weird bit of window dressing, my brief experience with The Crew indicates to me that it might actually be the sort of open-world racer that driving enthusiasts like me have long wanted.

Need for Speed: The Run tried to be this a few years ago, and of course it failed miserably with its brief slices of the American landscape that were decent but existed in a bad story context and gave the player no ability to explore. It had a pretext of a road trip but really it was just like any other racer that locked you into courses; without the cutscenes it would appear to be no different than any other similar title.

The Crew seemingly takes some inspiration from that game, handing you a map of the United States — significantly scaled down, obviously — that “gets the point across” about how varied the landscape is around the country. And what Ubi did for the demo I played on the E3 show floor was genius; it took me offroad.

This might seem like a minor point, but there are so few dedicated racing games (as opposed to GTA) that allow you to travel both on-road and off that I can’t think of any off the top of my head. We have road games, like Need for Speed, and we have offroad games, like Motorstorm and MX vs. ATV, but The Crew is both.

This is a huge deal for me, as a fan of road trips. Five years ago I spent ten days driving 6,000 miles across 17 states, most of it alone, and so far that’s the best vacation I’ve ever taken. Somehow I ended up in a small town called Regent in North Dakota, a municipality that takes up a whopping half a square mile. From there I headed south on dirt paths through farmlands for hours. That’s an unusual step for a road trip, especially if you want that step to not ruin your day — these dirt paths were on a grid so it was easier to navigate than most off-map routes.

But that sort of thing is the hook in The Crew. My demo had my crew racing to take down a computer controlled truck that was tearing through actual countryside, rather than driving on a road next to countryside. As we skidded over a lakeside beach I realized I was finally doing an offroad rampage like all my redneck cousins enjoyed so often in their big trucks back home that I never could because I always drove sedans built in the 80s. But The Crew don’t care, and my digital sedan that very well could have been built in the 80s was spinning out on a lakeside beach.

And that’s the promise of The Crew. It’s a small-scale USA that you can explore fully from the driver’s seat of a car. For me, having actual game stuff to go with this is just a bonus. That is assuming, of course, that the promise of what I played — this this is a game about riding around the country doing trademarked Ubisoft Activities, with few limitations on your ability to explore — will truly be delivered. I’m optimistic.

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1 Comment on The Crew E3 Preview: (Off)Road Trip

T. Jetfuel

On June 18, 2014 at 4:15 am

Well, one example of games that allow both road racing and off-road roaming would be the Test Drive Unlimited games, that apparently had some of the same people who are making The Crew working on them.

I never got the first TDU because the demo didn’t seem too hot, but picked up TDU2 at a Steam sale, which turned out to be one of the better fivers I recall spending. It has its issues, but the open world joyriding aspect is pretty damn impressive. (Also, it allowed me to indulge in my 80′s kid yuppie fantasies of buying up a bunch of luxury homes, with never a thought for the homeless. But that is another topic.) That’s why I was initially very excited to hear about this game. But the whole MMO aspect does give me pause. I don’t have any “friends” to be my “Crew”, and don’t look forward to recruiting random interwebbers in the same position to be my hangout homiez. I just want that freaking Freedom of the Open Road. Is that too much to ask in these “socially connected” days?

Needs SP DLC.