Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hands-on preview: The Crew

A screenshot from The Crew.

A screenshot from The Crew.

What is the future of racing games? Better graphics? More realistic handling? These seem almost like a goal that we've already achieved. As we move closer and closer to photorealism it's almost like we're losing a lot of the fun for the sake of a beautiful car. Well Ubisoft's The Crew proposes a new way to make the genre exciting again that can only exist on next-gen.

The sheer scope is something to be marvelled at. 

Announced at E3, The Crew is a next-gen massively multiplayer driving game. You're constantly connected with friends and strangers, racing across the whole of America. Yeah, the whole of America. The map is ludicrously big with players traversing it together. I got a short chance to sit down with the game to run it through its paces.

A screenshot from The Crew.

A screenshot from The Crew.

The premise of The Crew is connectedness. Pressing the back button brings up the map screen. Just looking at the map for a second is a bit of a marvel. You can zoom from a country-wide space eye view straight down to street level, complete with cars and pedestrians, in a matter of two seconds. Then drop your car there with almost no loading time (which really surprised me). While a fully realistic America might be a few years off, the map is a near-realistic, stylised version of the actual country. Complete with cities, back roads and highways. Players could drive from New York to LA seamlessly should they choose. The sheer scope is something to be marvelled at.

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But without other players, the world might be in danger of becoming lonely. Luckily it's beautifully simple to join a friend and fast travel to their location. The whole game is based around the idea of making a crew with your friends to tackle any mission, and the crew system is designed with ease in mind. Pictured are a selection of races and chases (there were plenty more but the map was dauntingly full, and impossible to find them all) on both street and dirt locations but every mission can be tackled co-op. The developer who showed us the game used the term RPG driving game but considering the scope of the game it looked almost like a massively multiplayer online driving game. It's a surprise nothing like this has been at least attempted before, but it's hard to imagine something of this size existing on current gen.

The racing style felt less like a Forza or GT game and more like Need for Speed. The hyper-action is a blur of surprisingly beautiful environments. The off-road gameplay, with a car designed to tackle it, was especially great to play with other gamers in the room. Also, for those interested, I played my demo on an Xbox One controller. The controller was somewhat strange at first for someone used to a 360 controller but the responsiveness of the buttons was quite satisfying. It'll be interesting to see how it stands up to more vigorous gameplay but I couldn't help but feel a little thrown off by the slightly bulky nature of the controller.

A screenshot from The Crew.

A screenshot from The Crew.

It's fascinating to see what can be done with next-gen consoles and the level of connectedness could go a long way to justifying the almost-always on systems that Microsoft have put in place (Sony so far have not announced any similar system). The sheer size of The Crew's map puts it above anything I've seen before in a racing game, and I couldn't help but marvel at how little load times there were when dropping your car into a random section of map. While it certainly isn't the most realistic game in the world, the instant connection with friends and fast-paced gameplay is an exciting new prospect for racing games. It's still early days for The Crew but from a technology perspective, it's hard not to be impressed.

The writer travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Ubisoft.

Twitter: @CalumWAustin


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