Gamersyde Preview: The Crew
You may have noticed it, or maybe you thought we didn't bother translate the article, but we didn't take part in the hands-on preview of The Crew in early April. Fortunately, Ivory Tower decided to invite us to Lyon a couple of weeks ago to give us a chance to try their game for the third time. Because PAX had just finished at the time and journalists could do off-screen videos there, we were also allowed to film some exclusive footage of Ubisoft's upcoming title. After three hours spent in Ivory's version of the USA, we can finally tell you what we think about the game 6 months away from release.
Note: Videos are off-screen but sound was recorded directly at the source.
For most of the press present at the event, this preview session was really some kind of epiphany regarding the whole concept at work in The Crew. As for us, since we had been lucky enough to talk to the developers quite a lot back at E3, this hands-on session was more about confirming our good feeling about it than anything else. After a quick presentation by Julian Gerighty, creative director, we headed to the in-game garage to have a look at what really is the player's headquarter. The garage is indeed where all the customization aspect of the game will take place. The cars and their engines have been modeled with an impressive attention to detail since you can actually see every single part of the machinery. From brakes to suspensions, it's all there! It's even possible to see them all in action as you can accelerate or decelerate using the two triggers, and observe the reaction of the different parts, as if this was meant to teach us how cars work. Aimed at car enthusiasts, this feature is more to be taken as a bonus than anything else, but it's a nice addition anyhow. You can also turn around your vehicle, get inside of it, lower the side windows if you wish, in short, play with your toy and do all you could do in Test Drive Unlimited. The guys at Ivory love cars and it shows right from the start.
With The Crew's goal to deliver a MMORPG-like experience to the player, the garage is also the place where all the perks you gain at each new level (there are 50 of them) can be chosen. These perks will be given to you by the many characters you'll meet in the course of the main story. This RPG aspect becomes even more evident as you earn new parts to upgrade your car after each event, their quality depending on your skills. There are 3 main categories: bronze; silver and gold. Once you reach Level 50, all the challenges will be reinitialized so you can win the Platinum parts, the most efficient ones in the whole game. Needless to say that you'll have to spend quite a good amount of time behind the wheel of one of the 5 different classes (or specs) of vehicles before you can get to this point. Classes, another word that perfectly fits the RPG DNA of The Crew. Most cars in the game can be modified to satisfy your needs: the Street specs are perfect for street races; the Dirt specs are balanced enough to allow off-road and on-road driving; the Perf specs are great for speed devils who do not fear to lose responsiveness and control; the Raid specs are designed to take you off-road mostly, and finally the Circuit specs are thought for sim racers who are into technical driving. Of course, if you prefer to drive the full stock version of a car, you're free to do so.
Crewsing the US
The good news is you don't have to worry about the previous versions of the car when you change classes. Indeed, instead of forcing you to buy several makes of the same vehicle or to switch back to another class, all the cars you have are easily accessible in either one at any time once you've unlocked them. Changing cars is then quick and easy as you simply need to use the game's smart phone (which can be accessed by pressing start, the D-pad and the two bumpers being then used to navigate inside it). There's no pause in the game so just make sure you do that on the side of the road. The great thing about this is that you don't need to teleport back to your garage when you need to go off-road and you think you could use a more suitable car. There are no loading times in the game so everything happens instantly (including fast travel), for the smoothest possible experience. Going from point A to B then becomes natural, leaving you all the time in the world to enjoy the ride as you drive though the poetic humidity of Florida's bayou or go west towards a beautiful mountain sunset. Ad that's the beauty of The Crew, the fact that beyond its campaign mode (which can be played cooperatively) and its multiplayer races (pvp is also part of the package deal), there is the whole journey dimension. The developers' idea has always been to allow us to travel the US, to feel free and to enjoy every minute of it. Truth be told, it's very unlikely that you will be disappointed when it comes to that.
The game map is huge, a lot bigger than most iconic open world titles which includes the likes of GTA V or Red Dead Redemption. It's however smaller than Fuel's but that's only because the developers wanted to make sure each spot would be unique and would have something to offer. The Crew wants to keep you busy anywhere you are but it also urges you to explore and take your time. Some players will certainly want to go as fast as possible, to reach their final destination instantly using fast travel, but that's clearly not how we wanted to play the game. To reach the next mission, to get to the nearest shop to buy a new car, or simply to visit important landmarks, we just drove. We left Times Square and the busy streets of New York City behind to go south and end up in sunny Miami, but before getting there, we wanted to stop by at Cape Canaveral to see the space shuttles. What a ride to leave at night, see the sun rise and the traffic get more fluid when arriving in the countryside, stop the car to enjoy the view, leave the road, drive through a bumpy field before finally reaching our goal and deciding to set a new course to see another state. That's what The Crew is truly all about. The icing on the cake is that you can do all this HUD-free, without the GPS line hanging in the air (that you will have to cope with during missions though). Even the mini-map can be deactivated if what you're looking for for an even purer experience. That's the soul of The Crew, a never-ending change of scene, an invitation to travel alone or with friends, to talk while driving or to stop and admire the view just because you feel like it.
Exploration is then at the core of gameplay, as you'll learn soon enough when Ubisoft makes new announcements regarding the game (yes, we know things but we aren't at liberty to say). You already know that there are multiple landmarks to discover, monuments but also wonders of nature you'll find in the most famous national parks, you'll visit the Rockies, the desert, forests, it's so huge it was very frustrating to stop playing at the end of our day in Lyon. There were so many things that we hadn't had time to see that we just wanted more time with the game. Even the wild life seems to offer much variety in terms of species. Previewing games does not always leave you with the need for more but it was definitely the case, and we didn't even scratch its surface. What appealed to us the most was undoubtedly the feeling of freedom we had in this massive environment, the possibility to go just anywhere, to see the skyline of a big city in the distance and know we could actually get there. The developers are even more ambitious, they also want to attract those who usually do not care much for racing games by making a game about cars (there may be a main character but the real heroes are the cars themselves). How can you appeal to all types of players without turning your back on some of them? For the game to be interesting, it had to play well, therefore the physics engine and the driving mechanics had to make you want to stay behind the wheel. Did Ivory Tower manage to do that? After three hours playing with a controller, the answer is a definite yes!
Indianapolis and the fast Crewsade
You may know it already but The Crew has three distinct driving modes on offer; the mode "Full Auto" which, as the name suggests, provides all of the driving aids necessary for enjoyable but not too difficult driving; Sport mode, which dials down some of the aids a tad and the Hardcore mode which will leave you sideways in the corners. Despite the name, the Hardcore mode seemed quite doable with a little practice, at least when driving the less powerful cars; still, it was quite challenging to chase a SUV in the dunes as jumping carelessly would make us lose control, even with a Raid modification for our car. The game may not be a sim racer per se, but the cars required some real skill to handle in Hardcore mode. We can't wait to try the Circuit specs in Hardcore mode on America's most famous tracks to see if the physics engine is as versatile as it looks. We're not quite sure which official tracks will be available, but there's a good chance we'll be able to race on Laguna Seca or Sebring, and maybe even Indianapolis, who knows? Also great is the fact that each vehicle has a different handling. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to play with a driving wheel but we've been told by some players who spent two day at Ivory's that it definitely feels more like a real simulation. The developers seem to have found the perfect compromise between arcade and simulation, making The Crew a much more interesting game to play than Test Drive Unlimited, which we enjoyed a lot at the time despite its flaws.
It's always hard to compare driving games but The Crew definitely feels closer to Forza Horizon and Dirt 2 than to the Need for Speed or Burnout series. Taking the Mini or the Raid RUF out for a drive using the external camera gave us feelings of the good old days of the first Colin McRae. It's rather nice that the difference in friction between the paved roads and, say, a corn field leaving our simple Mini Cooper in a world of trouble when trying to cut through. Get ready to feel every single bump, the controller giving great feedback to make the game even more immersive. Even more surprising, we felt the team had managed to really convey a sense of weight when making jumps which feel relatively realistic and grounded, unlike so many racing games whether sim or arcade. Thanks to its physics engine, driving cars in The Crew is however not only fun at high speed. Taking your time, respecting the law if you want, it's all completely natural, the opposite to something like Need for Speed where the player really only need concern themselves with the top speed of a car rather than handling in different gears. The Crew adopts a more realistic approach to this, not unlike TDU in its day, but with an even more well realized take on driving. In a rather clever move, the developers implemented a sequential shifter on the right stick emulating the real thing rather nicely. Of course, the one drawback to this approach is the lack of a right stick camera. Regardless, it feels fast and slick so it's surprising that so few games have ever attempted it.
The Taming of The Crew
Last but not least we need to address the technical aspects of the game which, of course, tends to be the very first topic of discussion and point of disappointment for so many these days. First important thing to note is that you won't be able to criticize Ivory Tower of downgrading the game from its first showing. With the specs of the new consoles already known when the game was first presented the idea has always been NOT to oversell their baby by presenting its actual developmental progress at that point. Since June 2013, the game has actually seen a number of subtle visual upgrades. The team has really done a rather remarkable job on creating a huge variety of landscapes and environments. The Crew may not be as flashy as some of the most visually impressive "next-gen" titles released thus far (think inFamous Second Son). However, continuous progress and refinement are leading to an incredibly solid and polished product that we expect to exceed even what we've seen thus far. Our first look at the game back at E3 suffered from a somewhat unstable frame-rate but this time out it was operating at a smooth 30 frames per second. It is worth pointing out that we've only ever seen the game on the PC but the settings were dialed into mimic the consoles.
The only real issue we have with the visuals at this point is some of the more or less obvious LOD transitions. While difficult to avoid in an open world game, some of these transitions felt a bit too abrupt and we hope it is sorted out by release. The lighting, though, is absolutely gorgeous, and so are the reflections with cars and puddles of water reflecting trees or the landscape. It's really a sight to behold. The greatest strength of the game is undoubtedly the multitude of breathtaking panoramas that the player will run across. From climbing to the top of Pikes Peak to meandering along the path bordering impressive canyons, these are just two examples of the kind of terrain you can expect which, for fans of TDU, should be all the convincing necessary to give this a look. Especially since the pleasures of the ears were not forgotten. Those, like us, who couldn't help but crack a smile listening to the hum of a Lotus Exige in TDU should be excited by what they've delivered thus far. Take a listen to our videos below and you'll see that Ivory Tower has put a lot of care into the sound design. Engine power is properly represented, the ambient sounds around the car are immersive, and impacts are full of clarity and strength, even after jumps. It all sounds convincing except for, perhaps, the rather irritating sounds used for challenges which we hope can be disabled ala the HUD (which can be fully disabled).
Driven by a desire for petrol and discovery, The Crew offers a chance for you and some friends to gang up and take a road trip across all 50 States. Ivory Tower doesn't stop there, though. There's a near endless list of challenges, skill tests, side quests, and more waiting for you in a gargantuan menu. Add in the three distinct driving modes alongside the multitude of very different handling vehicles and it's easy to see that we're looking at the potential successor to the original Test Drive Unlimited. The downside? As it stands the general opinion across the Internet will clearly be a bit down on the game's graphics suggesting that it doesn't stack up against other next-gen games. For us, though? The only problem we faced was having to put down the controller. A guarantee of quality from our perspective. Our next look at the game can't come soon enough!
A few more things
• Perks and parts won't be available for purchase with real money in the game. Those who don't have time to play will be able to buy cars, but the game has not been designed like a pay-to-win, more like a pay-to-save-time-if-you-don't-have-any. The players who'll buy cars with real money will still have to play on order to compete against other players, as parts and perks only unlock as you gain levels - which can't be bought obviously.
• People playing with wheels will be able to use a controller to navigate in the in-game menus if they want to.
• The game's soundtrack will be a mix of local radio stations (with varied types of songs and music styles) and the original score composed by Joseph Trapanese, known for his participation to movies like Oblivion or Tron: Legacy.
• We advise you all to stay tuned as we have three more videos in store that we can't show you yet (and most likely won't be able to until a few weeks or months), as they feature locations which haven't been shown yet.
• If you haven't read it already, don't forget to check the very first preview of the game we made during E3 2013, it's still one of the most thorough article about the game you'll find on the web.
Let's finish with a little guide on the driving modes used in our videos:
• Full-assist mode
- 20 first seconds of the "Free ride" video.
- 50 first seconds of the "Missions" video.
• Sport mode
- The "Dirt & Road" and "Visiting the East" videos.
- Most of the "Free ride" video except for two passages: between 20s and 50s and between 1min38 and 1min52 - both were played in Hardcore mode.
• Hardcore mode
- Most of the "Missions" video, except for the first 50 seconds.
- Two short sequences in the "Free ride" video (see above).
About the game
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