Back in early January, I was so pumped for The Crew, a racing game made by Ivory Tower and published by Ubisoft. I even used one its songs from its launch trailer for a small introduction in an event I joined at the time, because the tune is awesome.
Fast forward three months later, I finally got a copy on the PS4. The hype has died down. I’ve watched a few let’s play which just spoiled me something very interesting about the game. And I still have not found friends that I can play together.
So here’s the impression of my time playing The Crew, without a crew.
Granted, the main selling point of the game is its MMO-ish approach. There’s a huge open world- the size of a shrunken United States, to be exact. Players can roam in the world, acting like a huge online lobby. You can do ‘missions’ together, as a Crew, with your friends, or invite any of the randoms that happen to be populated in your world.
Did I mention that it’s a racing game? It’s a racing game at heart. The twist here is that your cars can have different ‘specs’, tuned for traversing the different terrains in America. Dirt and Raid specs works well offroad. Street and Performance specs thrive best on asphalt.
So, think of it as a mash of some of the Need For Speed (NFS) games. Along with the customization, which has been a staple for NFS ever since its inception in Underground, The Crew feels like a mash of NFS Rivals (persistent world where other players might show up), a hint of NFS The Run could have been and NFS Undercover.
Why NFS The Run & Undercover? Aside that you can emulate the LA to New York journey like The Run- the whole America is yours to drive about, there is a common theme between the two games, that leads straight to my main surprise of the game.
There’s a story, with characters and plot. You are Alex Taylor, a Troy Baker sound-alike (who doesn’t, these days?) who has to work with the FBI to take down a criminal organization heavily involved with street racing. That’s where the missions come in. Most of the progression you make, that is the races, are part of the story missions.
But there are other missions as well. Taking down someone. Checkpoint time trials. Cops evasion. Turns out, the cliche (but not terrible, just nothing new) story made all the samey activities to not feel tacky, or just made to meet some quota the devs had to meet. Instead, it makes the missions more enjoyable. A checkpoint race wrapped as having Alex trying to catch an old friend doing in the act of doing something suspicious made the whole race felt purposeful. It drives me to take it seriously. Even the normal races have a small significant to the plot. But during the early missions, the game really wants you to complete them as fast as possible, sending quips from the characters to remind you it’s urgent. A small annoyance, but I can understand why.
Interestingly, you can do most of the missions co-op, with your crew. As mentioned, I don’t have friends to play the game together- which is ironic as the game is heavily advertised as multiplayer focused. Just look at their marketing hashtag.This made me surprised on the effort to push a characterized, plot driven story that works more for a single-player experience, rather than a more general story that caters for multiplayer experience, like you being among the many Guardians in Destiny.
However, I also experienced a surprising low populace of randoms to be found in the servers I joined. About 2 to 4 people max. I started the game without opting for the Uplay account, and that made me not able to connect with other players, so they spawned AIs around the world to replicate that feeling. The AI count was surprisingly many, much more when compared to the 2 to 4 people I might see after logging in to Uplay. It might be due to my problematic router (despite port forwarding efforts, still stuck with NAT type 3), or the player base has shrunk down just after 4 months after release. I couldn’t tell.
Since the low population I encountered, I found no use to connect to a PvP lobby, since I never could get a match. But at least the faction missions are available. See, there’s a metagame where you could represent a faction, and do faction missions to gain more points to whom you swore allegiance to. At the end of the week, the winners get rewards, and the board resets.
The faction missions are a particular highlight for me. Usually story missions are short and sweet. Faction missions, however, can range to up an hour long making use of the large space you can travel in. This is by far the most interesting part of the game for me. Although I just completed one of the many available, despite attempting a few of them and forfeited (read:rage quit) them all, I look forward to playing the rest of these long marathons after completing the story missions.
Amirul Ashraf (@meckronos) April 22, 2015
Another interesting to do is to just drive. Yes, the map is really huge and when you are on a streak doing the story missions you would most likely resort to fast travel. But the game gives incentives to explore the world. You can search for car parts, which leads to getting a hidden car. Or just visit the interesting landmarks scattered around the country and engage in a virtual tourism. Or do the challenges that are sprinkled throughout your first journey to the major cities, which you can earn car parts from. Plenty of things to keep you busy, so it’s not just a barren wasteland of nothingness. *cough* fuel *cough*
Amirul Ashraf (@meckronos) April 19, 2015
But then, as I tried to finish writing this piece, update 1.05 showed up.
And after the update, I now can relate to people trying to play Diablo III and SimCity 2013 on launch day.
Update 1.05 is the first encounter I ever had with the frustration of an online only game. When the server fails to work, you essentially are not allowed to enjoy the product you bought that worked just before the update. the problem with the update is its mandatory. Sure, you can play without updating if you play offline but then the game is always online, so you still need to connect to the servers to actually play the game. This means that whenever game update breaks the server functions, you just have to wait until Ubisoft and Ivory Tower sort it out. You cannot enjoy the game until then.
Amirul Ashraf (@meckronos) April 22, 2015
Eventually, the servers are up again, but having some weird problems that seemed liked a bug introduced in the update.I still couldn’t start the game. Googling didn’t get any related results, so I resorted to reach out to game’s official Twitter. They were aware of it and responded, pointing me to the forums discussing the particular problem.
(@TheCrewGame) April 23, 2015
I finally managed to get back into the game again, not without some work disabling UPnP. It’s an ok workaround, but I prefer the game to just work, as before. That’s always been what console games main specialty. Having an update breaking your game sucks. Just like the update rollout to Android 5.0, which brings more problems than fix new ones at initial release.
So back to the original question: Is it still fun playing The Crew without a crew? I would strongly agree, given its well thought-out story and making most of the activities enjoyable even when going solo should not deter those without close friends ( or without friends owning your system of choice) to have a go with the game. A word of warning: you better have a good Internet setup, as well as prepare yourself with other other things to do if the servers went down again. Refreshing constantly won’t help.
Other than that, I enjoyed the game.