I’ve never been good at racing games — or knowledgeable enough to seriously talk about them — but this didn’t hinder my experience with The Crew. I think I enjoyed the game more because of my ignorance.
Out Nov. 11 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, iOS, and Android, The Crew is a open-world racing game from developers Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections. Borrowing a page from online role-playing games, you’ll earn cash and experience points from various races and events to upgrade your arsenal of cars, each of which has an overall car level to give you a quick look at how you compare to other players (it’s just a reference point). Instead of limiting you to a menu of tracks and courses to pick from (though it has those, too), you can just roam around the United States to look for your next race — it takes 90 minutes to drive from one coast to the other.
The Crew also has licensed cars and all sorts of new car parts to find, but for me, those were the least interesting aspects when I sat down to play it with three other journalists at a recent press event. We each had someone from Ubisoft sitting next to us, serving as our guide through this weird RPG/racing hybrid. I didn’t know much about The Crew when I grabbed the PlayStation 4 controller, but I walked out of the room with a big smile on my face, feeling something I haven’t felt in a while when it comes to racing games: excitement.
Being the worst teammate in the world
We started off by playing a cooperative story mission, where only one of us has to finish in first place to move on. I was still getting used to the Performance car I was driving (a class of vehicles best suited for racing on the pavement), which meant botched turns on curvy roads, accidentally crashing into computer-controlled drivers and my teammates, and missing my checkpoints. It was so bad that I had to push the “back on track” button multiple times to reset my car’s position, which hurts your total score every time you use it.
“You’re causing the most trouble I’ve ever seen,” said one developer watching behind me. “It’s not a destruction derby!”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Since I was far behind everybody else, it was useless to try to stick to the track, so I drove on my own until the race ended, bringing everyone to the results screen. Despite my poor showing, I still got a few rewards: a low-level car part and the default 1,000 experience points.
Smashing through other multiplayer modes
I did a little better during a Takedown mission. We had to repeatedly hit a single A.I. racer with our Raid cars [above] — perfect for going off-road and smashing into other vehicles — before time ran out. It only takes about five or six decent hits to destroy his health bar, but our team struggled. We drove through beaches and large open fields trying to catch up, and a lot of us came close to whacking him, but we either turned too early or in the wrong direction and completely missed.
The less time we had left, the more it started to feel like a friendly competition. I cheered on anyone who looked like they had a chance of hitting the guy, and laughed at all the dramatic misses. I managed to get a single love-tap in before my car petered out in the water, but that wasn’t enough. The guy still had half of his health left when the clock counted down to zero.
Rather than repeat it, Ubisoft moved us to our last match. It was fairly straightforward: a player-versus-player race in Miami. PvP matches don’t grant experience points, so these modes are just there for playing with your friends. I switched to the same Performance car I had before, but thanks to a new car part I picked up while I was killing time (the devs had to reset one of the PS4 consoles), it was slightly better than what some of my teammates had. I can’t tell you exactly what that part was — when I got it, all I cared about was that it was better than whatever I had equipped at the time — but it made a difference when it was just me and one other guy driving down the last straightaway of the race.
While I was fine just enjoying the drive — and not worrying about nabbing first place or the top prize — it did feel good to finally win at something.
A huge part of why I enjoyed The Crew so much was the atmosphere in our room: It was loud and loose, not strict or mundane like the way these demos usually turn out. The developers were energetic, and judging from the uproarious laughter, the other journalists sounded like they were having a good time, too. It was fun to feed off that energy, the kind you only get when you’re playing with multiple people in the same room.
I’m not sure if that excitement will carry over when I’m playing this by myself with a headset on, but The Crew’s approachable mechanics at least make me want to try, even if I do end up being the worst driver online.