A year ago Ubisoft introduced gamers to The Crew, a racing MMO that focussed on putting players together in an experience that spans all over North America. Riddled with great ideas and ambition, the game still never lived up to the expectations that the developer and players had set. But now we’re a year later, and Ubisoft is giving the game a second chance at life with The Crew: Wild Run, a large expansion that foregoes the narration that the base game came bagged with and sets players up with some more extreme additions and fixes that do change the game in a lot of ways.Starting at the graphical presentation, it isn’t hard to ignore the fact that last year’s release wasn’t much of a looker. Aliasing, texture and other issues were very apparent, but a year later the tides have turned somewhat, and along with the new additions of Wild Run’s arsenal it also throws a pretty significant graphical upgrade into the mix, which is why this release of the new expansion warrants a redo when it comes to reviewing the game’s graphical aspects.
The first thing you need to know about The Crew is that it isn’t a contender to be the most graphically ambitious title out there. But that’s not to say that the current iteration of the game doesn’t deserve a shout-out of its own. The first thing you need to know about the world of The Crew is its monstrous size. The game spans the entirety of North America (in an abridged fashion of course), which provides players with a vast variety of environments. Wether you’re driving through the streets of New York or along the coasts of California, there’s something in it for anyone who’s looking for a change of scenery. Environments in general are decently detailed, though urban areas are often a little limited when it comes to detail in the geometry of structures. The natural aspects of The Crew do fare better, which is also thanks to the visual upgrade that the title has received. The title update for Wild Run has given the game an edge when it comes to the visual presentation of the world, but the fact that its nature is still quite dated in comparison to many current generation racing games is still apparent.That being said, The Crew: Wild Run does introduce some new tricks to the game’s arsenal. Dynamic weather and lighting improvements have been made as the team at Ivory Tower has made attempts at creating a more lively game world for players to experience. The only issue here is that the dynamic weather system is often quite under-utilised. For example, despite the effects on handling and traction by rain, the actual visual implantation seems to be quite underwhelming in comparison to other games out there such as Forza Horizon 2, which would probably be the most fitting title to compare The Crew to when it comes to visual and gameplay ambitions.
That being said, despite the dated nature of the game’s visuals, it does improve upon what was an even more dated title that launched a little over a year ago. But where the game makes improvements, it also leaves some issues standing without any fixes whatsoever. The UI could be described as intuitive, but its nature is much more visually intrusive than originally anticipated. Elements of the UI are often blocking essential real estate during gameplay, which is especially apparent when menu elements block most of your view of oncoming traffic during gameplay. These are pre-existing issues, but none the less things that could have been addressed whilst refining the game for Wild Run.The fundamental difference between the vanilla version of The Crew and Wild Run is that the latter expansion pack focusses completely upon the arcade aspect of the game. Rather than throwing players into a forgettable story Wild Run introduces ‘The Summit’, a large festival that consists of a selection of events that range from monster truck rally’s to motorcycle races, which in many ways does seem like a natural evolution considering the audience that the game has been trying to attract for quite a while. In order to register for The Summit, players must first go through ranges of events where they’ll have to earn their entry into the main event, which is essentially where your career in Wild Run starts off.The contents of Wild Run are divided between full-fledged events and so-called FreeDrive challenges, which are challenges that can be done on the fly whilst exploring the open world. For instance, you’ll have to overtake an X amount of cars on your side of the road or maintain a certain speed for the duration of the challenge, which will provide you with XP and points for upgrades, and in a lot of cases the upgrades themselves as well. These additions are decent at best, but very repetitive and sometimes even nonsensical in nature. This is due to the fact that the difficulty curve of these challenges are sometimes questionable at best, with certain events being very questionable when it comes to pulling them off, without taking player skill into consideration of course.
The main events are a bit more straightforward, and include types such as drifting, drag races and such. Drifting is pretty much what the title itself implies. You’ll be set on a course set somewhere in the game world with a set score to beat in order to continue. Drifting in The Crew works for the most part, but even the updated handling model can make maneuvering throughout the course feel a bit stiff when it comes to the steering mechanic. Drag races are a little more complicated in a fun way. In order to set the best time you’ll have to heat up your engine, shift at the right moment and retain a straight line throughout the event in order to beat the competing time, which is actually a lot more fun than the initial description had led me to believe.The stars of The Crew: Wild Run are without a single doubt the Monster Truck and Bike events, which will most likely be the selling point for new and returning players. Monster truck events especially are an incredibly fun past time due to its nature in gameplay. Players are set off in what is essentially a playground of ramps and loops, which are there for the player to traverse and reach a high enough score to receive a medal, which is pretty rewarding by itself. An important addition to the expansion that is essential for this is the new updated physics model, which creates a looser and more natural approach to the handling. However, the new physics model isn’t all that perfect all the time. Especially when landing certain jumps or performing flips you’ll often notice that the feedback upon landing often feels stiff and unnatural, which affects the pacing of your run quite a bit.
That being said, The Crew: Wild Run still hasn’t solved an issue which has been apparent ever since the initial release, which is the actual appeal of the online aspect of the game. Whilst I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with the MMO aspects of the game, there simply wasn’t a lot of reason for me to actively participate in crews and multiplayer events throughout my sessions with the game. Apart from the online leaderboard aspects during solo gameplay, I never really felt that I was actively playing a multiplayer game, which is quite a shame considering how Ubisoft always marketed the concept of The Crew. Meeting up with players and taking place in crew events is fun in essence, but the game often feels like a large-scale interpretation of the open-world Need For Speed titles, where the always online aspect of the game can act more like an annoyance than an actual enticing gameplay aspect.The Crew: Wild Run improves upon the original release of the game in many ways, with fun new events and a much needed graphical upgrade in order to keep up with competing titles. But does Wild Run make picking up the game worth it for new players? For returning players it seems like a great deal of new content in order to keep things fresh, but new players might not be as enthusiastic in practice. Wild Run is a decent expansion that gives the game an edge when it comes to fun and content, but its underlying issues and questionable always-online ethics create a title that still has a long way to go when it comes to finding its place within the current gaming market. The Crew: Wild Run is a great example of a great idea that simply doesn’t fare better than ‘OK’ in its execution.