The Crew™ Beta_20141127000518

A lot of focus for this year has been on how Ubisoft was conducting itself with various game launches and while the company hasn’t made massive fudge-ups this year, they’ve certainly had a way with words that has made a lot of people on the internet angry. However, the way in which The Crew’s launch has been handled is weird to see – with review embargoes set to only go down after launch day and no reviewers getting their copy of the game beforehand, the most that anyone had to go on was cinematic trailers, some gameplay trailers and participation in the alphas and betas, if you were able to.

Its a really odd thing to wrap my head around – a game that had a lot of hype and much promise as the spiritual successor to Test Drive Unlimited 2 just launched yesterday to zero fanfare. I didn’t even see advertising for it outside of the official Twitter and Facebook accounts and Nvidia’s Geforce game bundles.

Part of that, I suppose, is the way in which people took the news that the game wasn’t going to get day one reviews and the discussion threads that popped up with the alpha and beta tests of the game. Lurking on NeoGAF, Overclock.net and other forums around the world, I discovered mostly apathy about the game’s launch, with little bits of excitement from TDU fans looking for a game that offered the same. People just didn’t seem to care. They shrugged off the news and went on with whatever they were doing beforehand. Some of the sentiments and questions by others that I saw were :

  • “Yeah, it’s going to bomb, I cancelled my pre-order after playing the alphas.”
  • “30fps? Get out of here, Ubi! Platform parity is such a shameful excuse!”
  • “I played the betas. Does anyone know if the PC version looks/runs better?”
  • “What do you do in the game once the story’s over?”
  • “Is it as buggy as Unity?”

I played the beta for The Crew on PS4 and got through to the end of the prologue, at which point the game was downloading other parts of the story that were needed to proceed through the beta. At that point, I was literally stuck. Restarting the game just brought me back into the garage to wait for the installation to finish. I thought about starting up the game again on another profile, but I’d just be going through the prologue again. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to try out the game proper because you’re rushed through the prologue and don’t have the option to just stop and admire the views.

[youtube]2wkqQ3_pIPk[/youtube]

At that point, I had also discerned a few things from my 30 minutes playing the game. One was that the storyline is pretty generic and the main protagonist looks like a younger Bryan Cranston/Walter White with styled hair. The antagonist from the street racing/organised crime gang you’re infiltrating thanks under the direction of the FBI looks like Aaron Paul/Jessie Pinkman. I didn’t find myself being interested in any of the characters. I don’t understand why people in the gang were grouped into engine types – some people are V4’s, others are V8’s. Will there be people who are straight sixes, V16s or Hybrids? What’s a flat-four? Will there be a character in a boxing circle who is… a Boxer?

In fact, the beta left me with more questions than answers. For example, why does Ubisoft bill it as a MMO CarRPG when there’s only seven other players in the same area as you at any given time? The reason for max eight players is to have two crews of four people able to take part in faction wars, but calling it a MMO? At best, it’s an online-only game, in my opinion. Because I got stuck in the garage waiting for the game to finish doing whatever it was doing (taking an hour to move from 27% to 31%), I never got to see how being in an actual crew worked, either.

Other questions, like; “Why can I buy parts with Crew Credits right from the start of the game?” or “Why does this game have microtransactions?” or “How long do I need to grind to get better cars and parts?” were all flowing through my head while staring at that installation screen. Its not like I could say “it’s fine, I’ll check out the launch day reviews”, could I?

No, I couldn’t. Because no-one would have time to write anything up. I think we might only see actual reviews in about a week or so, mayhap two weeks if some people are going to be thorough. Perhaps The Crew‘s launch is Ubisoft’s experiment to see if games that see no marketing succeed on coverage from game streamers and word of mouth, but taking that risk on a brand new IP seems a bit… daft, maybe?

I did discover that your car heals itself from major damage if you’re just cruising around, though. That part and seeing it in action is legitimately awesome. And the game looks good as well, I have no complaints graphics-wise… although, having played GTA V on PS4, I expected the characters in the cars with you to actually have some sort of lip-syncing going on because while in cockpit view you can turn your head and look at them. Instead they’re staring off into the distance, unmoving, all creepy-like.

There are some things that I  also won’t be able to un-see, like the way which the cars move around in some cut-scenes, as if someone’s taken Hotwheels cars and mo-capped them. I can’t un-see the price list of microtransaction options either. I know it’s there now and its going to be a dominating force in Ubisoft’s games moving forward. At least it only applies to car purchases, not upgrade parts. I didn’t get far enough in the beta to see if you can still pay your way across the map.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to buy The Crew. It seems very grindy and even if you have enough Crew Credits and in-game money, you still need to bump up your character’s level to get better parts. The driving experience out of the box was okay, but I later learned that there are some options that need tweaking to make it feel substantially better.

The game could be legitimately good if I spend more time with it, but I’m probably going to rent this one first before committing to a retail purchase.