‘The Crew’: 15 Hours On The Open Road

The term MMO (an abbreviation for Massive Multiplayer Online) is changing. Before 2014, an MMO was – bar a few exceptions – a PC only title often involving RPG elements and cooldown based combat in a gigantic fantasy open world. However, with the launch of a new console generation, and more console gamers connected to the Internet than ever before, this once PC oriented genre has found its way from its traditional roots, and onto home consoles. The Crew is one such trend bucker. It is an MMO, but there is no fantasy world and no combat. What replaces those is the United States of America in all of its entirety to explore, and a racing game. What remains from the MMO genre is random encounters with other players as you explore the U.S., and RPG elements.

In The Crew, you are thrown into a cliché story in which protagonist Alex Taylor (voiced by, you guessed it, Troy Baker) is framed for the murder of his brother by a crooked F.B.I. agent and a gang called the 5-10s (read five tens). Taylor is given a chance to clear his slate and gain redemption by helping another F.B.I. agent gain evidence to arrest the crooked F.B.I. agent through infiltrating and climbing the ranks of the gang who killed your brother. Despite this, there is some great voice acting and mo-cap by Troy Baker and the rest of the supporting cast which has created an entertaining story thus far. The narrative also provides a gateway to partake in missions throughout the whole of the United States.

I have spent roughly 15 hours playing The Crew over its first few of days. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was liking The Crew, or not. Nothing about the game was standing out to me in my first few hours. The missions are fun, but there has not really been anything that I will remember long after the games’ conclusion. There are your usual missions in racers like street and checkpoint races, as well as the more interesting, yet slightly annoying, takedown and escape missions. As you progress further into the game and unlock different specs, the races change a bit. For instance, while the first region focuses on street racing, the second region has an emphasis on dirt racing, with a few street races thrown in.

Furthermore, when I think MMO, I think of people everywhere. Yet, I hardly saw anyone during my first few hours. It was disappointing. However, then I got to the second region, featuring New York. As I was driving around the streets of New York, I began to see other players drive past me once in a while. I now realise that the idea of an MMO is not seeing players everywhere, but finding joy from running into someone once in a while as you go about completing the story missions by yourself or in co-op. The Crew is a very ambitious game with one of the largest maps I have seen in a racing game or any game in general. The chances of every area being densely populated with other racers at all times of the day is unlikely at the best of times, but when you do see someone it reminds you that you are in a world shared by many human players.

So that was the end of day 1. I found it easy to put the game down, but that night I could not stop thinking about it. I wanted to jump back in and explore again, I wanted to play the missions and numerous challenges populating the world.

Then it hit me. The Crew is so addictive because of the RPG elements. Every car you buy can be fitted with a specification (some cars can have more than one, such as the starter car you choose which can gain access to all five specs). Once a car has a specification, it can be leveled up. This is done by earning bronze, silver or gold medals on missions and skill challenges which reward you with parts to upgrade your car with. More times than not, the reward earned will be better than the part you have equipped, even if you only get a bronze medal. Furthermore, once you start buying more cars, and perhaps choosing to have different cars for different specs, you can level them all up independently. You also have your own level, which increases as you earn experience points from completing missions, challenges and player versus player races (which only unlock after you finish the first region).

From what I have worked out, your player level has a few uses.
1) It allows you to access events that have a level requirement.
2) Every time you level up you unlock a perk point which you can use to improve certain aspects of your cars, like braking and handling, or gain other advantages like experience point boosts.
3) At certain milestones all of your cars get boosted up by a large level increase.

I’d like to touch on the third point. Rather than, say a game like Pokemon where you have to use your Pokemon to level them up independently, cars you don’t use in The Crew are still levelled up at a rate that keeps them largely in line with the car you are using. It removes the requirement to grind when you get asked to use a different Spec type in missions.

That’s what I am loving about The Crew: the constant improvement of my vehicles. Doing any activity in the world is usually providing a reward that improves a particular part of my car. Perhaps one mission I’ll get a brake upgrade, the next a top speed upgrade. I always feel like my car is getting that little bit faster or better in some way.

I guess I should talk about the game mechanics at the base of The Crew: the driving. Being an arcade racer, not a simulator, the cars feel lighter and I found myself slightly drifting rather than turning around corners. Nevertheless, the controls feel responsive and guiding the car is easy. I have rarely found myself fighting with the driving mechanics. Furthermore, each of the five Specs control differently. Street Spec cars have better handling whereas Dirt Spec cars have better brakes to drift around winding dirt tracks.

After 15 hours in The Crew, I can safely say I am enjoying my time. What could otherwise be seen as a passable racing experience with enjoyable, but rarely memorable missions, is turned into an addictive ride thanks to the RPG elements which create a feeling of constant progression. As long as you don’t take the term MMO to mean you will see players everywhere, then The Crew should be a pleasant experience for you. I am hoping the missions in the later portion of the game have more variety, but the first three-fifths of my journey from the Mid-West to the East Coast and then down to Miami have been satisfying nonetheless.

Now I am off to Las Vegas and the middle of the United States, making my way towards the top of the 5-10’s ladder.

Analog Addiction’s full review of The Crew will be up as soon as humanly possible. For those wanting a more concrete time, we are hoping for early next week.