Two wheels, big wheels, hot wheels. We've sampled the new content coming to Ubisoft's vehicular MMO.
We enjoyed The Crew, albeit in a limited capacity, when it launched last year. Our regular commitment to the development of our growing garage of cars hampered by a lack of... well, a crew of teammates with which to enjoy its vehicular delights. Although we didn't go all-in on the experience, that didn't stop us tackling a good chunk of the story content, as well as enjoying a coast to coast road trip in our decked out Camaro. Still, it's an enjoyable arcade MMO racer, and when we sat down with its first major expansion, Wild Run, it didn't take us long to get back in the groove.
There's plenty of new stuff to tell you about, and we were privy to a whistle-stop tour of the new features. To our surprise the part of the game we were least excited about turned out to be the most fun, and the thing we were most looking forward to turned out to be the most underwhelming part of the demo (though more because of technical issues rather than because it wasn't very good).
Let's start with the best. Drag racing. When we heard that this was coming to the game, our first thought was that this would be a game mode that would attract the most serious petrolheads, those eager to extract every drop of horsepower from their four-wheeled beasts before jumping into quick-fire races. We could not have been more wrong; with a group of friends in competition, these short sharp sprints have the potential to be great fun. These events are all about timing: warm up your tires just the right amount, accelerate from a standing start, and then shift through the gears with as much precision as you can muster. The cars for this event need to be handled with care, and it's not unusual to see an opponent spinning off in the wrong direction.
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Another neat new addition are the monster trucks. We got to test out these huge vehicles in a custom-made arena, pulling tricks and flips like we were Tony Hawk on super-sized wheels. We wondered whether there might be room for fan made creations at some point down the line, and while the suggestion was met with enthusiasm by the devs at the event, it was enthusiasm of a non-committal nature. Even with the range of courses provided by Ivory Tower - and we were told that some of them are a bit "wild" - these arenas could well host some of Wild Run's most enjoyable moments as players compete to register the highest scores and pull off the most insane tricks. We're expecting lots of backflips.
Elsewhere there's new drift modes where players try and score long drifts with score multipliers. We've never been that into this side of the racing genre, and as such it was no surprise that we were terrible at this mode, and only got our multiplier up to six or seven (apparently some others were up in the twenties). In the demo we were drifting around soggy corners, damp thanks to the new dynamic weather system. Roads are certainly slippery when wet, but it doesn't look like we'll be aquaplaning in The Crew (at least not in the same way that we were in the new Forza).
Another new feature was the motorbikes that are being added to the game. Unsurprisingly heading to a cockpit view while perched on a powerful bike leads to an impressive sense of speed, and they certainly feel very different to their four-wheeled counterparts (as you would expect). We demoed them on twisty roads that were winding down a hill, this while we were being pursued by the law, which meant we didn't get the full experience, and we're waiting until we've seen more of them before coming to any conclusions.
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The Summit is a new feature that should bring players together and focus activities. This mobile hub will shift around The Crew's map of the U.S. and take advantage of each area's geographical features. For example we were racing in the flat and dusty deserts outside Las Vegas. Who knows where we'll be once it has moved to its next destination?! Regardless of the location, it seems like a neat way to bring players together and create a natural meeting point for groups and lone racers alike.
Way back when we first saw The Crew last year, before its release, we came to the conclusion that if players were given the opportunity to build their own content within the open-world setting, the game could have legs. That's perhaps the most interesting element here; new features that allow players to drop markers down and create their own race courses or set up stunt competitions. Players have long been taking advantage of the terrain and using it for their own purposes within the framework provided, but these new features are looking to formalise this element of the game, and no doubt the player-base will extract plenty of additional fun. You don't even need friends, you can set up your challenges, and then get in-line and offer them up to other players who are looking for a race. Want to race around a mountain, or between cities, or follow a river? You could of course do this before, but now it's significantly easier, not only to race but to find people to compete with you. (We should add that it was trying out these features that we encountered some technical issues, and while we got it working eventually, we're expecting the final version to work more effortlessly).
Being an MMO, we thought there might be a level cap that locked out some of the content, but this doesn't seem to be the case. "We wanted to be sure that players could play it as soon as possible," producer Stephane Jankowski told us when we asked when new players would be able to access the Wild Run content.
"So in The Crew as a new player you will do the prologue, you know the missions you have at the beginning to explain how the world works etcetera, it's around 20-25 minutes. At the end of this, you have your first car and immediately you're exposed to The Summit, so to the new extreme specs, dragster, monster and drift. You try them and after that you can continue the story, or not, we are unlocking a bit the progression to be sure that you can do either fun stuff, Summit stuff, or you can go back to the story. It's really at that, as early as possible, that we're offering the possibility for the players to play with all those new toys."
Part of the expansion will actually benefit all players, not just those that invest (there's three options in terms of buying - the expansion, the expansion plus the base game, and the expansion, the base game, and the season pass together as the "complete edition"). The whole game is getting a graphical overhaul, and we're being promised physical-based rendering, new visual effects from the dynamic weather system, and enhanced depth of field. Considering the demands of the open world that The Crew offers, it looked decent enough before, but it looks much better now if our hands-on was anything to go by. We only wish we'd been given a side-by-side comparison so we could see the difference in detail.
All told this looks like a positive expansion for The Crew, and existing players, those still racing around the open-world MMO, will no doubt be looking forward to this shot of new content. There might even be a few new players; it wouldn't surprise us if the lure of motorbikes and monster trucks was enough to pull in some fresh faces.