At the beginning of the current generation of consoles Test Drive Unlimited had a vision for a massively multiplayer online racing game. In a way it's only fitting that some of the talent from that team (Ivory Tower) has joined up with Ubisoft and Ubisoft Reflections to push the envelope even further as we're ushering in a new generation. The idea of a racing game where all players drive in the same, massive open world, team up to form "crews" of four to tackle mission, brings MMORPGs to mind. And as with any MMO - customising your car, strutting your stuff, showcasing your achievements - is a big part of the experience. If someone drives up to you next in a pimped out Bentley you'll know that person has invested some serious time with the game.
We've been racing around in quite a few open world racers as of late and The Crew is likely going to be compared to the last couple of Need for Speeds. But the world The Crew offers is just massive compared to these games. You're not racing in a city or a region, you're literally racing all over a mini-America. Cities like New York (approximately the size of Liberty City), San Francisco, Las Vegas, Detroit and Miami have been recreated, and everything in between as well. Deserts, forests, empty highways, circuits, there is a little bit of everything in The Crew and you can race just about anywhere on and off the road. With such a huge world you can fast travel, in a fashion that looks nicked from Ubisoft Reflections' Driver: San Francisco, but you don't need to travel to set points you just zoom in anywhere on the map and teleport in.
The Crew was wrongly described as a simulation racer when information about the game first broke. It's got more of an arcadey feel to it, and we were actually reminded of Midtown Madness as we played a mission in Miami were we needed to co-operate to take down a car. Another obvious influence is Burnout, as you will be boosting your way to first place. And the heritage of Test Drive Unlimited is obvious. The idea of racing anywhere, off-road, circuits and roads - is at the core of the experience. Any car can be adapted to work for various conditions and rad cars (modelled after Paris-Dakar) was given as an example for missions that went off-road.
The cars in The Crew are fully licensed and each car features 19 sections that can be customised with various parts (hundreds of each). Layer customisation options with stickers and paint jobs and you've got all the potential to set yourself apart you could wish for.
At the core of The Crew is emergent gameplay. And even if creative director Julian Gerighty told us there wouldn't be outright tools to create your own missions or events at launch, it's certainly something they would look at. Perhaps more importantly emergent gameplay - jumping a certain hill, or simply driving along Route 66 - is the sort of thing that is perhaps best experienced spontaneously.
We played The Crew for a few missions on Xbox One (it's also coming to PS4 and high-end PCs) - a standard off-road (Death Valley-esque) checkpoint race, and a raid (takedown mission) in Miami. All missions are playable in co-op or by yourself, inviting friends to a mission is as simple as driving up to a marker, hitting the Y button and waiting for them to accept. The world is littered with small challenges - skill, speed, and the likes - that let's you challenge friends much like what you'd find in Criterions' Need for Speed titles with Autolog.
As with Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, The Crew also has its own "companion app" where you'll be able to access your garage, customise your car, and there will even be some playable part of the app (the exact nature of what this entails remains a mystery).
There were a few things Ubisoft are keeping quiet on for now. There will be crew battles - 4 versus 4 - but no details were given. The story (yes there will be a character driven story that takes you on a tour across America, starting in Detroit) is also kept under wraps for now. The Crew looks to take elements of other racing games, while also providing players with something they cannot find anywhere else - a truly massively multiplayer racing experience where everyone is driving in the same shared world.