With the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Ubisoft is going for the most ambitious racing game on a console yet with the open world of The Crew, which was easily one of the most show-offy titles at E3 2013. Behind closed doors, members of the press were able to play four-player demos of a "vertical slice" of the game to show how far along it is and get an idea of Ubisoft's intentions.
The demo started on an iPad, which allowed players to customize their vehicles. I took a truck and quickly switched out parts to optimize it for off-roading. The menus were intuitive, but they felt like they were designed for consoles rather than making sense on a tablet. Certainly, you could do a lot worse for a mobile integration, especially since there doesn't appear to be anything that requires using the app. Once we'd prepared our cars, the game had us select a location, which is laid out on a map representing a cross-section of the U.S., from Nevada deserts to the skylines of the East Coast and the Rocky Mountains, representing one of the largest open-world settings for a video game.
Once players dropped in to the environments, the basic gameplay was loosely reminiscent of Burnout Paradise, with missions spread out across the map, each featuring conditions for bronze, silver and gold medals. The driving physics were similarly reminiscent, with active drifting as an assumption of play. More interesting was how the environment actively affected the scenarios. My first scenario among the Rocky Mountains, was entirely off-road, with handling distinct from what I would later find in on-road play. It also featured an interesting set of hazards, including trees that were separated just enough so you could carefully weave between them in a checkpoint race that sends players across rivers.
After some time experimenting with the environments, players were brought together for a scenario from the Ubisoft trailer: a co-op mission where the goal is to wreck a single opposing car, which then attempts to flee through Miami. The first thing about the scenario is that it actively mixed on- and off-road play, and each surface handled differently, requiring slightly different techniques to compensate for. The opponent drove through yards and onto beaches and boardwalks. The second detail is that the mission was fairly difficult; it appears that the intent —during serious play, anyway — is that communication would be key to setting up plans to stop the opponent. This was difficult to achieve in the Ubisoft E3 booth, so players were left scrambling to win before the time ran out.
It's tough to describe the beauty of The Crew. There's an insane amount of artistic direction, and while the environmental detail level didn't seem higher than many current-gen games The cars were much more detailed than in any PS3/X360 game, capturing a shiny sculpted look that felt more realistic amidst the highly arcade-styled gameplay.
Ubisoft has invested in racing and driving games recently, between Trials, Trackmania^2, and now The Crew. Each is distinct, but they're all solid titles. The Crew represents what might be the pinnacle of the open-world racing subgenre, with an exceptional mix of online and offline components that really shows off the potential of the next generation in a way that surprisingly few games did at this E3. Between the physics details and the environmental variety, The Crew may be the first post-launch-window killer app for the next generation of consoles.
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