Unique social functions and second screen experiences are the new chic for the video game industry at the moment, with every other publisher attempting to shoehorn in ways to ‘enhance’ your gameplay experience. No publisher is pushing for this innovative change more than Ubisoft and its seamlessly online-integrated race-em-up, The Crew, is heavily influenced by this trend.
At the recent Digital Days 2013 event, The Crew had a small set-up with two versions of the full game and two tablets featuring the game’s companion app. While we were waiting for our turn with the console title, we were encouraged to utilise the app to create the car that we would play with. The downloadable companion — which launches day one alongside the game — is not yet completed and, for the purposes of the demo presentation, was limited to car customisation – although it must be said that this was also scaled back for time constraints.
We were able to choose between two car makes and change the colour, front and rear bumper, side skirting, wing mirrors, rims and even apply decals. All the while you’re able to spin the car around and look at it from every angle, ensuring you have a ride befitting your crew. Once we were happy with the vehicle, we added the car to the garage and it was queued up for our demo. While the app was a very trimmed-back version of final download, we were promised that it would be far more fleshed out come release day. You’ll be able to interact with the map and see what your friends are doing and where they are, check on your stats and have a more complete customisation suite, all at your fingertips while you’re away from the main game – or even if you aren’t.
There’s a great deal of potential here and there’s no reason — other than the time it would take to develop — why we can’t see Ubisoft’s companion apps supported on PlayStation Vita. When pressed as to whether it would ever see support on Sony’s handheld, the representative talking us through the demo smiled and shrugged. Take from that what you will.
One of our biggest questions before playing the game was the size of the map. Based on the United States as a whole, the game world has the potential to be one of the biggest ever seen. This might sound impressive, but it would also be hugely cumbersome to drive through. Thankfully, Ubisoft has strived to cut out some of the more expansive scenes of desert and forest, focusing instead upon major cities and landmarks. That’s not to say the map is small by any means, with 5000 square kilometres acting as your stomping ground. We were told that it would take roughly 1.5 hours to speed from one side to the other in a highly tuned performance car, and that fast travelling would be possible once you’ve visited a location.
We took to the road with our matte black Ford Mustang in the desolate desert surrounding Las Vegas – which we quickly regretted. If the customisation was a little more complete, we’d have been able to alter the ‘tuning specs’ of our vehicle to ‘dirt’, which would have made the terrain far more accessible to our poor, street-tuned car. Not to be bested by mere mud, we soldiered on along the dirt track we spawned upon and on the map there were dozens of little green checkpoints that signal challenges to be undertaken. Approaching a nearby challenge, we were thrust into a race with some NPC drivers – although one would assume it could be possible for these to be seamlessly connected players in the full release.
Our car instantly struggled with the loose terrain, skidding out and smashing violently into a small cluster of boulders. The camera panned out and gave us a lovely view of our failure, and while there was some physical damage to the vehicle, it wasn’t as impressive as a Burnout or Motorstorm smash. However, as the Ubisoft representative was keen to point out, this was not the final build of the game, so it wasn’t totally polished yet – a point emphasised as a bird flew merrily through a cliff and out the other side.
That being said, the title does have that lovely ‘only possible on next gen’ sheen to it, with lens flare and clouds-of-dust-physics aplenty. The cars also look the business, which is to be expected — Ubisoft certainly wouldn’t have been granted the licenses to so many manufacturers if their respective vehicles didn’t look or behave exactly as they do in real life.
When you complete a challenge or mission, you’ll be rewarded with XP, money and car parts. Plus, every time you level up you’ll unlock a perk. These range from increased boost to improved handling but you must be careful to choose perks that are appropriate to the garage you want to build.
Upon bringing up the full screen map it was impressive to see the level of detail that’s crammed in. For starters, all of the major cities were literally covered with avatars, pinpointing the exact location of certain players — we even drove past a few on our dusty Vegas trek. It’s also possible to zoom right in to the point of a Google satellite-view of each street, although just how instantaneous this will be is unclear.
Upon locating our friend on the map, we were teleported to Miami to begin a co-operative mission with the person sat next to us. As we began the mission it was instantly familiar as the one showcased at E3, with the two of us attempting to take down a larger vehicle by stalking it across the city Chase HQ-style and nudging it until its empty health bar yielded a crash that nobody could have survived. Speeding through the city streets, skidding round corners, smashing through fences and avoiding pedestrians highlighted just how much fun the driving could be if a vehicle appropriate to the terrain is used.
However, while you’ll be able to undertake such events with a team of 4 people in the final game, we couldn’t help but feel that working together in a crew might result in more in-fighting than co-operative work. This is because not only was it entirely possible for one person to take down the larger vehicle single-handedly, but the person that performs best is rewarded with the most XP — which is bound to make the hectic madness of jockeying for who gets the killing blow more competitive. This basic principle of human nature was evident in our preview, as there were a couple of occasions where we ‘accidentally’ smashed our partner into buildings to get at our objective. Maybe it’s because we’re horrible people, maybe it’s because we weren’t playing with people we knew, but regardless, Ubisoft needs to work on making co-operative play as attractive a proposition as possible.
Our hands on time with The Crew was very much a whistle-stop tour. The companion app has tremendous potential and if utilised properly will be essential to your crew’s success – even if we don’t see it on Vita. Single player racing was a little dull, but the game is built around multiplayer, so if they can get that right, we envision a world where a specific crew — all kitted out with terrain-appropriate gear — rules each section of the map. It’s all looking very encouraging, but with Sony-exclusive title DriveClub potentially eating into its real estate, The Crew has to pull out all the stops to avoid losing its pink slip.