We've got the feeling that we'll come across as grumpy in this review, so let's make one thing clear from the start: The Crew is an above average racing game that we've had a great deal of fun with. The problem is simply that it doesn't deliver on all of its potential, and the experience doesn't live up to the lofty promises made beforehand.
This is true a for basically every aspect of the game. It's never really bad, but it never approaches the heights of the genre greats. Let's deal with them one by one, and let's begin with the most important component - the actual driving. If the cars don't handle well, none of the other stuff matters.
As you've probably concluded by now the car handling in The Crew is okay, but nothing special. It certainly fits into the arcade category, even if there are some settings to tinker with. We'd recommend going into these settings to improve the experience, and at the very least you should switch to the sports preset. With the standard settings you won't notice much of a difference in speed when driving on dry tarmac as opposed to mud. That, simply put, isn't much fun. It's great that you can drive anywhere you want, but it should naturally make a significant difference.
Furthermore we recommend you tune the sensitivity somewhat as the cars in The Crew suffer from some dreadful understeer. It's very difficult to make small adjustments at high speed, as the cars don't react unless you push the stick all the way to one side. It's something you get used to after a while, but in the beginning you will face many situations where you either end up driving into other cars as the car doesn't respond to your subtle commands, or you'll crisscross all over the road as you overcompensate.
All in all the driving lacks the nuance we know from games like Forza Horizon 2, where you can truly feel the grip of the tires as they cling (or lose contact with) the driving surface. You'll never experience this in The Crew. Additionally the backends of the cars drift out far too much even if the input with the stick is minimal. It promises drifts that never kicks in. Reiterating what we said earlier on, the car physics in The Crew aren't hopeless, but it lacks that special something that would have made it stand out from the crowd and that would have complemented the rest of the experience better.
One thing that would have benefitted from improved car physics is the gigantic game world created for this game. It's a miniature America and even without knowing the exact metrics we're still fairly certain this is the largest seamless open-world we've ever seen in a racing game. Possibly in any game. The map offers up the varied environments that America has to offer. It's large enough that it delivers a tremendous sense of freedom, but it still avoids becoming endless stretches of open road. The team has also done a great job in recreating the most iconic cities in the game. We've been to some of them in real-life, and they are certainly recognisable even if their real-world counterparts are naturally much larger.
Visually The Crew didn't blow us away, but given the enormous scope of the game world and the lack of load screens, it certainly passes with flying colours. The Los Angeles we're treated to in here is naturally not up to the standard of GTAV's Los Santos, but we can't imagine how long it would take to build all of America to that level of detail.
The game world and the enormous map is the single greatest strength of the game, but it's not more important than the driving. Everything is connected and it would have been a lot more fun to explore the many landmarks of The Crew had they really nailed the feeling of gripping the wheel and tearing around corners. That said, the game world and the map is one of the few hyped up elements of the game that Ubisoft fully delivers on.
The Crew has been called an MMO racing game, and after having spent a week with the game that's simply not a description we agree with. MMO stands for Massively Multiplayer Online, and while you connect with new racers as you drive into a new region there's nothing "massively" about the experience. At most we've counted 8 or 9 players in the vicinity, a similar number to what you'll find in any other racing game with an online component. In gorgeous trailers prior to its release, Ubisoft showcased overcrowded worlds with gangs of four (the titular crews) racing each other. However, the reality has been completely different. Unless you have a friend on PSN or Xbox Live to play with, you rarely find someone to co-op with, and the online matchmaking often results in endless waiting times. It's possible that this is an area that will improve over time, but as of right now The Crew simply doesn't live up to the MMO moniker.
This is naturally disappointing as the social component was meant to separate The Crew from the rest of the pack. The story isn't particularly innovative and the setup is almost eerily familiar. You work as an undercover agent for the FBI and you're supposed to work your way up an illegal street racing organisation that has an affection for any and all types of criminal activity. As you may have guessed you've also got your own personal angle, as you want to take out the gang leader who killed your brother. Sound familiar? The story missions are also very much standard fare. There is some variation to be found, but none of the missions feel particularly innovative. Once again it's not by any means terrible, but it just fails to really captivate us.
We appreciate how the cars are presented in The Crew. There isn't a great number of vehicles to choose from, but these can in turn be customised in five different configurations. From the flexible Street and Dirt configurations, to the more specialised setups Circuit (for racing on circuits, as the name implies) and Raid (for rough terrain). All of these variations can be upgraded and customised in many, many ways and the upgrades are definitely addictive. Each time you complete a race you're given a part based on your performance, something to boost your car. This also applies to all the different mini-challenges that litter the map. These can involve everything from driving through slalom gates, to flooring the accelerator and driving as far as possible in a set amount of time. It's surprisingly satisfying watching your car level up. The general rule in racing games is to ditch your first car as soon as humanly possible, but in The Crew we found ourselves upgrading our starting car (a Nissan) and using it alongside our bright red Ferrari.
In this area the MMO elements can once again be traced, and it makes The Crew come across as a breath of fresh air in the racing genre. However, this feeling dissipates as soon as we have a police car chasing our tails.
The police chases in The Crew are the most uninspired, stiff and lacklustre we've ever experienced. The police either stick to you like glue, apparent rubber-banding that's present in other races as well, but it's more prevalent here. One moment they're right on your tail (regardless of what super car you're using to get away), and the next moment they've crashed into each other or simply given up (usually as the timer for the event approaches zero), and they let you drive off. It's unbalanced and underwhelming. Chases should add extra tension to the racing, not be a source of frustration that makes you sigh at the sight of blue lights in the rear view mirror.
In summary you'll get a lot of fun out of The Crew, unless you come to the table expecting a revolutionary MMO racer. Given the pre-launch hype, you may very well come in hoping to get just that, but now you've been warned. The Crew is better than the most recent attempt at an MMO-racer Test Drive Unlimited 2 in almost every area, but it's still overshadowed by its more traditional competitors. It is a great feeling to take a road trip from New York via New Orleans and Las Vegas and end up in San Francisco, but that's just one part of the game, and the rest of the package doesn't quite live up to our lofty expectations.