The Crew has always underwhelmed. Promising a ‘best of’ of the United States, it delivered a game world that didn't feel much bigger than rivals like Fuel. Promising an always-online world of competitive and collaborative racing, in random and bespoke crews, it delivered a broken buggy mess in which on release we never managed to see a single other player in the game world with us. On top of that, its driving was plain, never exciting, never involving.
But now The Wild Run DLC [official site] is out, with a promised graphical overhaul and a bunch of new content to flesh out its echoey maps. Is it making a better second impression? I've mucked about in it for a few short hours.
Checking out the new Stunt mode (woo, stunts!) straight away, I have only been mystified as to what’s going on. Holding down the right d-pad, it offers this mode, and thrilling stunt challenges like, “Drive for 1.8 miles without crashing.” Fuuuuccccccking heeeelllllll! Are you sure? Is this even safe?!
Or even more thrilling, “Near miss 20 cars.” Not hit them, no no, miss them. Actively avoid something stunt-like from occurring. “Drive on the right side of the road for X miles.” WAIT WHAT NOW?! Drive on the CORRECT side of the road?! And they let children play this?
Except, I’ve yet to complete a “stunt”, because each time I get about three quarters of the way through one, it announces to me that I cancelled Stunt Mode. No, no I didn’t.
The Crew doesn’t like my internet connection. It calls it “Moderate”. I’m not sure 73.9Mbps is moderate (I live immediately next to the exchange). It says I should enable UPnP on my router. It’s enabled. That I should give it port 3001 – it has port 3001. It says my “NAT Type” is “Strict”. I’ve set my router to the less secure “Game Mode” that lets all games work through the NAT.
It turns out, the settings The Crew automatically assigned to my router, along with all the ports it opened, are wrong. After forcibly removing it and manually creating my own, it seems to let me join up with the incredibly few other people playing. (It still said the ports were closed when I clicked “check”, but a restart seemed to fix that.) Sometimes. If it can find three of us wanting to do the same thing.
A stunt run with a crew is the same as the self-destructive solo version, but your efforts are shared. So now, on completely different parts of the map with no interaction, you can contribute toward driving for 18 seconds at over 75mph, or on the left side of the road for 800 yards, or whatever weedy non-stunt it demands. Every now and then for no given reason it teleports you somewhere else, then carries on giving you stunts, until eventually the game seems to get bored. At one point it teleported us into a barren desert, and then asked us to near-miss 20 cars. There were no cars. At that, it just seemed to give up offering us nothing to do, until my impromptu crew dissipated.
Stunts with bikes or monster trucks are a bit more (but not much more) interesting, but so often impossible. “Jump for 15 seconds” it says, while you’re on the flattest land imaginable. The same doesn’t help for “Go downhill for 800 yards”, which is also perhaps not the most thrilling of stunts.
So I tried one of the other new features – the Freedrive Challenge. Well, when I say “tried”, I mean I tried to try that feature. After opening the map screen and showing me an unexplained countdown clock of about 30 seconds, it then tried to assign me to a crew. After a minute or so it found me one, and then promptly lost it and started searching again. It still is. I’ve no idea what the Freedrive Challenge is.
However, other new content is a bit more obvious. There are drag races, monster trucks, and drift challenges. Drift is the game noticing when you’re skidding, but as a seasoned Mario Kart drifter, I found this bizarrely un-fun. Skids are incredibly difficult to control at the best of times in this most floaty of driving games, and attempting to maintain any drift doesn’t feel cool and exciting, but rather fiddly and frustrating. Perhaps I’ll eventually master it, but it’s not an appealing prospect.
Drag races are precisely that, but then how could they not be a drag? It’s about driving a car in a straight line for a bit. The method to make it gamey is surprisingly poor, rendering it a game of computer golf more than anything else: Before you move forward you must accelerate such that you don’t exceed a green line on a graphic. Then when the lights are green you must accelerate until a dial hits a small green block and change gear. Get the gear changes in the green sections and you win. It doesn’t explain any of that, I should say – but once I’d worked out what it wanted from me, I got a “Perfect” straight away, and that seemed to be that. You don’t even get to deploy the parachute yourself.
But obviously monster trucks was the addition with the most potential. And pleasingly, they’ve built huge, daft monster truck assault courses, allowing The Crew to borrow from the last driving game it hadn’t nicked something out of yet – Trackmania. These are silly, lumbering cars that you attempt to leap about and loop-the-loop, collecting tokens as you go to create your score. And while not particularly special, it’s fun enough. Monster trucks are inherently entertaining simply by being a thing human beings have ensured exists – bumbling about in one is a pleasing diversion from the bland nothing-driving that forms most of this game.
There are Summits you can take part in, that require you to complete qualifying events, and then you can enter monthly competitions against other drivers. I’m impressed with anyone who commits to a game like this for such a thing – clearly there will be an audience, but it’s an audience that surprises me.
I’m absolutely stumped as to what’s supposed to look better. Admittedly, it’s been a year since I last looked at the game, but I don’t remember its being particularly ugly back then, and it’s not strikingly gorgeous now. At full whack it’s still scratchy in places, blandly textured in most. (Although I’m delighted to note that Chicago’s L tracks are still stood on columns that stick out the middle of lanes in the road.)
A year ago I called it Test Burnout Need For Paradise Shift Unlimited, and the same remains true. It’s a mishmash of every other game, most of all Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit and Test Drive Unlimited, confused about what it wants to be at every turn. However, it’s still horribly poorly presented, the bewildering screens of tasks and numbers difficult to close, let alone figure out what they’re supposed to be telling you.
I love the ambition of The Crew – this MMO-like online world of car gangs. But I just don’t feel it, even now with the addition of monster trucks and bikes. There’s a whole bunch of stuff to do, but none of it feels interesting. They’ve accidentally made themselves a very straight driving game – it feels more like something that should have bold italicised white words reading, “DRIVING ABOUT SIMULATOR” and the instructions in German. It doesn’t thrill, races don’t feel amazing, exploration is unrewarding with every city feeling flat and dreary. Adding more probably felt like the right thing to do, but it’s more of a fundamentally humdrum game. One thing it absolutely never feels is wild.