With so many racing sims hitting next-gen consoles in the coming months, I was dubious about The Crew, Ubisofts entry into the genre. Do we really need another name in the market, can they really offer something unique or is this just the developer trying to grab a share of the money?
Well, after spending some time with The Crew recently, as well as the teams creative director Julian Garrity (happens to be a nice bloke, so fi you get the chance, go and say hi to him!) not only have I grown to understand just what it is that sets it apart from other racing games, but I’ve fallen in love with it!
Managing to merge all the best parts of classic racers such as Midnight Club, Need for Speed Underground and even that under loved essential, Test Drive Unlimited 2, The Crew is an open world racer thats so huge, so vast, so cajunga, that no doubt you’ll get lost in it for days and still not complain an ounce about it.
“We found it was difficult to tell people exactly what The Crew is, at trade shows such as E3, Gamescome, EGX or even internally at Ubisoft. This is because, fundamentally, at its heart, The Crew is an MMO, RPG that just happens to feature cars. In free ride, you're always surrounded by other people, giving a dynamic living nature to the world and while you could just be driving around for the sights and pleasure, theres also a lot of collectables lying around if you're into that too.”
But just how has the world of RPG invaded the racing genre? Well your car is treated like your games main character, meaning its built of upgradeable parts that range from bronze to gold and eventually even platinum. Refrencing your stat sheet, you can build upon your favourite motor in much the same way you’d build upon your knight in Dark Souls, working your way up to a dream machine, designed to only hold you at the helm!
“We treat cars in a very special way, which allows us to create very different gameplay bricks, by specialisation or by body kit for your car. Theres street racing, great for busy streets with good handling and speed, which happens to also be the work horse of the game.”
This work horse, Your base car, can be morphed into a different spec to better suit the race you may be tackling, from your standard street racing beast, to Dirt spec which is built for off road, its amazing on dirt tracks but feels so different to street spec, much more like a rally experience, with lots of crazy speed and drifting.
Of course, you could always take it a notch further with the Raid Spec, this feels like an un abashed love letter to smugglers run, priding itself on big bumpers, bulky body kits and hardcore tyres. This spec is all about full on, off road driving. No roads at all, or even pathways, just bumps, jumps and amazing control on uneven ground!
For the much more speed and technicality focused drivers out there, you can jump into Perf Spec. Its a tad fast and often a little furious, with huge spoilers, wide body kits, Vin Diesel himself would be creaming his whites for a go on these cars. While this option sacrifices handling some what, you’ll not top these speeds in any other car!
Circuit Spec is the final choice and this is for the more technical drivers among you, you can use this on a whole host of circuits available in the game and go as deep as you like with tis customisation. So deep in fact, I found myself getting a little lost along the way. What can I say, I’m an arcade driver at heart, breaks don't exist in my world.
I personally found myself sticking to the Raid Spec, covering it in glorious red paint, huge bumpers and flame decals all over it. They make you go faster after all, at least I always thought so. But its not all about your car, theres more here and its the world you inhabit that really offers something unique.
“The game has 6,000 Kilometres of road, but its one continuous area of the whole of America.
You can use any spec of car you want to explore, but you’ll have to change it around if you want some performance in certain areas. We've worked hard to create a really varied map, with snow cap mountains, the bijou, natural parks, salt flats and you've also got cities to explore! Just about everything you could dream of in the US.”
I know what you're thinking, 6000 km is simply mental and you're absolutely right. It is!
While I wanted to explore all of the map in one go, it took me hours to just about cover a quarter of what was available, probably more so because I couldn't help but make a pit stop and try out some of the skill challenges dotted around. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself somewhat in that respect, so I’ll explain the missions at hand!
There is a story mode, putting you in the shoes of a more than capable driver who’ll need to mix with the wrong people in order to get the man he’s after but this will really be more of a proving ground for you to cut your teeth on. Preparing you for the bigger game that opens up once you’re finished here. The real meat and potatoes of The Crew is served in the form of challenges, skills and PvP. You can ‘crew up’ with 3 friends and roam the map challenging strangers to street races, time trials and the like, which after spending some hours doing so, i can confidently say it doesn't get old.
If you’re looking to go a bit deeper than that casual drop in and drop out group play, Factions are where you’ll be hanging your hat, with 5 available to join from Eagles, Wolves, Bears, Snakes and Crocodiles. Once you've chosen your faction from the 5 available, something that globally everyone will join, you’ll be fighting to win extra content, XP and moolah to unlock even more beautiful gear for your car.
The biggest reward, comes at the end of every month when one faction will come out on top, creating a global war which I know I’m more than looking forward to becoming a part of!
From checkpoint races, to takedown missions and from stunt jumps to circuit races, theres just so much available with something to suit every driver out there. Variety is the spice of life, and the soul of The Crew!
I cant explain the joy of a takedown mission in a raid spec car with a group of friends, that simple pleasure of hunting down a single car through the rocky mountains while you and your friends fly left right and centre on your display is unadulterated bliss!
It can get weirder than that too, if you want anyway, I loaded up a fast and clean Lambourghini, only to run it straight down a Ski Slope, sending it soaring into the sky and over a vast field of trees. Sure, I destroyed it up landing, but I beat the score for highest jump distance which left an ire moveable grin on my face!
This is exactly what makes the crew so brilliant, it doesn't take itself too seriously and while still delivering amazing graphics and brilliant features, its pure madness and all the more fun for it!
After some hands on, I peeled myself away from the screen to sit down with Julian Garrity for a quick chat about his teams game and plans for the future of the series.
Q- So, starting from the beggining, how did the idea of The Crew come about? That mix of RPG-MMO-Racer?
A - Its an interesting story, it gets a bit video gamey so sorry, but the core team behind the crew have been working together for over 15 years. So they've been on games like V-Rally, Need for Speed: Porsche and they did a game together on the Xbox 360 called Test Drive unlimited. Now Test Drive was badly marketed by Atari, so almost everything that has become the crew was in test drive unlimited. This was a massive open world shared with all your friends and other players.
It surprised people because nobody went out of their way to by it, perhaps because it was presented in such a dry way and the promise didn't exactly come out particularly well, so it was a tad emotionless in presentation. Technically and experience wise, everything that became the crew was in there, so these guys have been working on this concept for 10 to 15 years. Im not saying the development of the crew took that long, but the skills behind it trying to melt all these concepts of cars and mmo's together. I love the game we have now, it may make me sound stupid saying that, but i genuinely love what we have.
The team have done a great job marrying all the ideas together and allowing you to play the game exactly as you want to play it. If you don't like the story, you can skip the cinematics or ignore it completely and just do skills or free roam and explore. If you're more competitive then there’s PvP, if you wanna just jump into the faction missions or endurance missions, theres just so much to do
and to experience. We know that there are people who want to play this type of game and are being ignored by there games which, they're great but they abandoned customisation.
Q-After spending so much time with the game, I could draw comparisons to titles such as midnight Club and Need for Speed Underground, did they have an effect on the development?
A-Definitely, I mean, fundamentally I think The Crew has its own identity, that vision of fusing test drive with more action orientated DNA. But certainly, I mean, Midnight Club was fantastic, Smugglers run was great, I always wonder why it didn't do better its such a shame.
Q - Was it a fight to get those longer, 4 hour missions in there?
A - So the story about this, and I've never told anyone this, during an interview I said that we had a 4 hour mission and one of the team saw this and said ‘we don't have a 4 hour long mission’ so they got to work creating a 4 and a half hour mission. I got it wrong in the beginning, it was only a 2 or 3 hour mission, but the endurance aspect of it and the playground its in, the game isn't soley built for those long drives. The most fun I have in the game is with the Raid style vehicle the pure off road stuff and having races with checkpoints that are enormously spaced from one another. So you’ll drive for at least 3 minutes between each checkpoint, creatively trying to clear your path. Our world is built for stuff like that and the fun that you can have with 3 other guys or in a PvP session with 7 other guys is just fantastic with our experience and no body is doing that today.
So even if we sell just 2 copies to me and you, I’d be a happy guy!
Q- If you could suggest 3 things that every new player should do, what would you dive right into?
A- Thats a really good question, the first I would say that I found really found to be fantastic is to tackle a dirt race around the Bijou, you’re trying to find you're path and at the same time you've got 7 other people bearing down on you. theres a lot of slipping and sliding, its an environment thats rarely been used in video games.
Another thing is to just explore the world, finding collectables and check out the 250 landmarks we've got dotted around the game, giving you XP a bit of money and sort of stamps your passport to say cool, I've visited all these landmarks!
The last thing is to try out the jumps! We've got all these jumps placed around, they're really great fun, especially if you pick a really specced up beats of a car!
Q- Well one of the first things I did was to run a Lambourghini straight off of a ski slope at full speed!
A- Of course you're going to do that! Its great! One of the missions you’ll get to see later on, its a takedown mission but you start on the ski slope and come charging down in a great big off road car and you’ll go flying into so many trees! Apprently there are 15 million trees, this could be a wild exaggeration on my behalf so i hope you'll forgive me, but i swear to god all these trees were in front of me and it was such a challenge! Its fantastic!
Q- The RPG elements with gold parts and all the collectables, was that always an idea or something that develped over time?
A- Always! its something that we've always believed in. We thought that this was going to be the big difference between our game and everybody elses! its this compulsion of improving your car piece by piece! Before you hit level 50 you only have access to bronze, silver and gold pieces, once you access level 50 you can then go back and get those platinum pieces!
When you see that platinum built car completely smoke you in a race and you're just sitting there in gold, you’re gonna say ‘ok, whats he done to his ride?’ and you’ll want to put in that extra time to build the best you can do! I want to see people take that Ferrari and completely tune it to exactly how they want and build it to their driving style!
Q- Do you think thats the element that will keep brining players back?
A- Yeah definitely, I think the age has really long legs as well. The story will take you about 20-25 hours to really complete but it doesn't take itself to seriously which is great because like its source material it cant be too stiff and serious but it moves things on really quickly and introduces you to all of the game types, specs and all the depth thats available so by the end, youll be perfectly positioned to continue on to the end game content. The faction missions, platinum parts even the PvP if you've been nervous to try it out.
Q-I’m not sure how much exactly you're allowed to talk about at this stage, but are there plans for DLC?
A- [LAUGHS] I can talk about it, because I don't care, its all a bit up in the air at the moment but i have ideas I’d love to see happen, I really wanted content packs to come out over the year, maybe not story content, but more skills, PvP races and challenges, all that good stuff.
On top of that, id love some major features like photo mode and things like that but the one that I’d really love to see, by no means do I know if this will happen, but I’d love to see user created content. So you being able to create your own race, because as soon as that happens, the entire playground becomes an even bigger sandbox.
Q- It would be nice to see, similar to what Forza have, user created cars and skins become available!
A-Absolutley, all these extras like that are a shoe in to become extra content that we would deliver free to the community! I’d love to do that! This game has the real spirit of an MMO, so in keeping with that we want people to return to it with all these extra pieces by continuing to deliver content so by the end you have this entire country, with over over 3000 races unlocked by the community. Would you ever need to buy another racing game?
Thats my hope for the game anyway, I want people to own it, enjoy it and just keep on experiencing it for a long time to come!
Q- My favourite off topic question to end, but if you could have worked on any game, past or present, what would you have loved to be involved with?
A- A good question! You know what, Im really in love with these guys but GTA IV, is just such a fantastic game Its a fantastic experience with such attention to detail, GTA V is great too but i have a connection with Niko Belic, but that game is so fantastic. I think design wise, GTA V is a better game but narrative for me, IV is just amazing.
To answer in a different way, I met someone on a press tour recently who is a writer for all the magazines I used to read as a kid growing up. He used to work on Commodore 64 and Spectrum magazines in the UK, this guy is a legend and is a huge part of who i am and who i became in the industry, I mean i only started making video games about 15 years ago so this was long before I knew I wanted to work in games. I didn't even know there were jobs in games back then!
It made me realise that its one of the richest thing about our jobs is that we get to meet so many interesting people and visit all these places and just experience so much! Im incredibly fortunate that I love the game I work on which I'm sure isn't true of every developer and i just hope everyone else enjoys it as much as I have working on it!