In December of last year (2014) Ubisoft and Ivory Tower released the ambitious Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) racing game, The Crew. The game, which is set within a scaled-down version of the United States, sees players come together to complete story missions, skill challenges and PvP events. All of these tasks can be completed solo, however in order to extract maximum fun from the experience, it is recommend that you do so in a ‘crew’, a group of up to four players.
The game launched to mixed reviews with most fingers pointing to the dated graphics, poor physics and AI. Thumbs up were given to the game’s story missions and vast open world United States.
Fast-forward just under twelve months and we have the game’s first expansion, Wild Run. In this base game supplement we are introduced to several extreme car specifications such as monster trucks, drifting and dragging. There’s also the ability to purchase and free roam on motorbikes.
Same cities – new look
Move over Spring Break, The Summit is the new place to party
Brand new world
From a technical point-of-view the game received a complete (much needed) graphical overhaul, as well as adding a dynamic weather system. The driving physics also seem to have been given minor improvements. While there is no extension of the story in the Wild Run, there are a few new modes to tide the enthusiasts over for a few more hours. Firstly there are Freedrive challenges and stunts; these include things like driving past fifteen cars without crashing or driving a certain length of road on the right-hand side. Lastly there is the pinnacle of the Wild Run: The Summit, which I’ll get to in a second.
Initially I was sceptical to step back behind the wheel of Ivory Tower’s openworld racer, but in the end my yearning to drive monster trucks (something I haven’t done since my childhood days of playing Monster Truck Madness) got the better of me.
The first improvement I noticed was in the graphics. Ivory Tower must be applauded for going to the lengths they did to overhaul the graphics, while it doesn’t set a new benchmark by any stretch, it at least looks like a current-gen game – something that couldn’t really be said of the original release. The other bonus is that this graphical update is available for all owners of The Crew. The textures look much more detailed up close and the cities exhibit a certain liveliness because of it. The dynamic weather system is really nothing more than rain every now and again (I never came across the supposed hurricanes or thunderstorms), which does alter the car’s handling, but it wasn’t as effective as it could have been.
The handling of the cars in general has improved and while it is still an arcade racer at its crux, it offers a challenge when learning the new car types. The biggest struggle I had was learning the drifting mechanics, especially after recently playing the Need for Speed reboot which was all about the drift. Over the 10-12 hours I spent playing the Wild Run I was never fully able to master the drifting mechanics, whether that was because of skill or my lowish level car parts. I found myself continuously spinning out every couple of corners no matter what speed I was driving at. It made the drifting unsatisfying and instead of grinding to get extra cash to upgrade my drift kit, I focused on the other vehicle types.
Out of all the new vehicle types the monster trucks are the highlight. Recklessly driving around arenas littered with ramps, half-pipes and roller-coaster loops is an abundance of fun, even if they are a bit clunky to handle. The aim was to score as many points in the allotted time frame as possible. Points are scored by getting air-time, performing back and front flips and running into the points coins scattered throughout the arena. Driving the trucks in free roam is slightly less satisfying as the trucks aren’t as dominating as they appear, several times I’d crash into another car hoping to simply go straight over the top of them, however it was like any other vehicle crash.
The drag racing mode is nothing more than a stopgap for those who desire to go as fast as possible. It requires you to burn your tires to a certain level, then accelerate on go and then manually change gears at the right time and if you do all this you will have a faster run than if you don’t. The better the drag specs of your car, the better the time you’ll record. The other event is the Time Trial, which is the only new event that doesn’t require you to purchase a new car kit. Using your performance wheels you’ll hoon around a circuit trying to record the fastest time possible.
Monster Truck Madness!
The Freedrive and stunt challenges are a wasted attempt at using the new vehicle types. The challenges you’re given are mundane and what makes them worse is this is one of the only times you can drive a motorbike. Regardless of how fun the motorbikes are to ride, the fact that they are so restricted as to when you can ride them makes their inclusion almost pointless. There is no dedicated mode to the bikes; it’s purely free roam and Freedrive. I was really hoping that Wild Run would include some Road Rash-type missions. The one good innovation in Freedrive is the ability to create your own circuits/races and face-off against your crew, that is if you can find one as there is no matchmaking. Fun can be had in free roam and I spent a good hour and a bit traversing the Desert Mountains of Las Vegas in my monster truck jumping off every launching pad I could find.
Bikes, Bikes, Baby
All roads in the Wild Run lead to the monthly competition: The Summit. The Summit is a monthly tournament event that encourages players to go up against one another or together in a crew in search of the ultimate glory and rare parts and upgrades. At The Summit, drivers compete in either Monster Truck, Drift, Drag or Time Trial challenges. The whole point of The Summit and The Crew is to get drivers from all over to interact with one another. This facet of the game is something that the original lacked. Too many times PvP lobbies would be empty and players in the same game world would never accept invites or send invites to form a crew. Although the players are competing against one another so it’s not a real crew spirit, it’s still nice to be involved with other players.
To gain access to The Summit players must compete in the qualifiers, which are held weekly. Doing well in qualifying rounds will net you a golden ticket to The Summit. At The Summit, drivers must use their newly acquired skills to record their highest scores. The higher the score, the higher the ranking and the better the rewards are. The idea of The Summit, bringing the players together, is excellent. But it also has the potential to alienate players who are not as well versed in driving games – even arcade ones.
Time to qualify
Just making up the numbers
I managed to scrape my way into The Summit, however I was merely making up the numbers as my garage wasn’t tuned high enough to be competitive. Which brings me to my biggest gripe with The Crew in general; everything is so expensive and for some unknown reason you cannot sell your existing cars to generate cash. It almost forces you to go back and replay missions and challenges simply to have enough cash to buy the new Drift, Drag or Monster Truck kits. It’s like Destiny but with cars. The fastest way to fatten your bank balance is to do PvP or Faction events, that is if you can find a game. But if you want to jump the queue and cash straight in you can always buy ‘Crew Credits’ with real money – something that I flat-out refused to do. Because of this choice I was unable to upgrade my cars to be competitive, and in a way it felt like punishment for not grinding or paying for cash. I was also unable to attempt any of the crew qualifiers as the only player I managed to join up with didn’t have an access pass for the qualifiers, go figure.
If you’re willing to put in the kilometres required to get the best parts (if you haven’t already), or have a crew that you can roll with, you may find yourself enjoying Ubisoft’s and Ivory Tower’s latest offering. But for most of you, especially those that cannot find players to ride with, the fun moments will be few and far between. With madcap monster truck arenas and the ability to create your own circuits the main highlights, I doubt there is enough to keep Sunday drivers on the roads, especially those riding solo.
Reviewed on PS4