Hands-on Preview: The Crew BETA

My experience of The Crew Beta opened with the thunderous roar of my engine and those of my pursuers. I was driving a beefed up Ute (or pick-up truck, if you are that way inclined) and the cops were hot on my trail setting up road blocks for me to avoid as I raced toward my designated meeting point. Eventually the scripted initial missions led me to a street race not unlike something from the original Fast and the Furious film. Concluding my obvious victory the story kicked into gear and opened what we will be experiencing for the estimated 20 hours of story gameplay.

For the sake of spoilers, I wont go too deep into what I tinkered with but it felt solid enough for this genre. I wouldn’t expect it to be exceptionally elaborate, leaning again more towards a typical “Fast and Furious” story line of revenge after an excruciating event. Lead character Alex, portrayed convincingly by Troy Baker, is taking down a corrupt gang of car racers across the United States.

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Visually the various vehicles and cut scenes looked fantastic, particular mention should go to the character designs. I cant quite put my finger on what it was but from my perspective on the Vita screen they looked brilliant in the cutscenes. Unfortunately the open world aspects were not as vividly designed, perhaps it was to save download space for the beta or that’s how it’s final design is. I’m not sure, time will tell for that regard, I just felt that landmarks such as houses, bridges, trees and even pedestrians hadn’t received a lot of love. Possibly the fact that this game has no real loading screens forces all minor details to be just that fraction lower in quality. Not excessively lower but still considerably noticeable.

To counteract that small gripe, I take huge pride in stating that this game has a remarkable soundtrack to accompany you on your travels. It really hit the tone perfectly, usually each and every occasion and is something I felt needs to be perfected for any driving focused game to be fully realised. Ubisoft nailed this aspect as I was bopping along at 180 km an hour. I cannot wait to see a full list of the tracks when we bring you our official review.

Now, onto the game play. If you are one of those people who are major fans of driving simulators, I am not sure this game will be for you. If you are more of a fan of Need For Speed or the likes then this may be right up your alley. I haven’t played a racing game for quite a while but there was still that slight element of the cars being uncontrollable due to the power under the hood. Combining that with the ferocious speeds you travel at can make for some really great crashes. Fortunately there are options to tinker with the stability among other customisations of your car to find your perfect driving style and comfort.

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Being an open world game there is obviously an abundance of land to cover and it’s been said to take you a considerable amount of time to travel from one side of the country to the other. There is plenty to see and do along your travels. Small challenges throughout the world can be initiated by driving through their gates and proceeding to complete a specific task, some are weave in and out of markers, jump a greater distance than the others and even just go as fast as you can for as long as you can. Completing these challenges gives you experience which in turn levels you up and provides access to better car based equipment, specific items can also be rewarded right then and there for completing the tasks. There a variety of different cars to purchase and upgrade ranging from various aesthetics to performance upgrades. Any car lover is going to be impressed, even I was and I’m not so much of a car lover. So to say that I was remarkably proud to see the wonderful mechanical beast I created is saying something.

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Races are scored in a similar way, extra points are awarded for being in first place for the longest amount of time possible and other various means. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to experience The Crew’s full multiplayer potential by joining or running my very own crew to take to the streets of this game. I did however get the chance to partake in a few shenanigans with other users on the same servers as me, typically we played a friendly game of dodge ’em cars, threw in a few burnouts but mostly just played follow the leader, it was a unique experience and combined with that soundtrack I cannot wait to participate in more of those shenanigans.

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I do have to quickly pay a mention to some design choices I found to be exceptionally strange though. You aren’t always confined to the spaces of the road, you can drive off road also, up mountains, anything that looks half accessible by car usually is. So what I found odd is that during my off road adventures I was able to completely drive right through trees of all shapes and sizes to no penalty to speed or damage to my car at all. I literally just drove through a tree! Returning to bitumen however, even the slightest connection to a small bollard or even wooden fence picket would decimate my car usually forcing a restart if I was going fast enough. I just didn’t understand it, I could go right through a tree but not even up root a tiny fence picket? Logic at its finest.

Throughout the year I have had a personal dilemma as to which car game I should purchase this year. It has always been between The Crew and Driveclub, I haven’t played Driveclub as of yet but what I’ve heard from it’s failures, I have been more than skeptical. Ubisoft have made a smart choice running a second beta and delaying the release of their game to really work out any potential kinks or problems that they may have. This way they wont see a repeat of the failed launch of Driveclub and they can deliver a working experience. From my brief hands on it feels like they are already kicking goals and I cannot wait to review this game in it’s final form.

The Crew is releasing on PS4, Xbox One, 360 & PC on December 2nd.