Family lore holds that my dad – now an 81-year-old law-abiding Florida retiree – was a fairly famous illegal street racer in Detroit in the 1950s. Cars were called hot rods back then, and my dad would drag-race up and down Telegraph Road, taking on challengers from as far away as California.
So I was excited to check out the new driving game “The Crew” ($59.99, rated T), which takes place in the modern world of illegal street racing and begins its story in the Motor City. I never did inherit my dad’s love of motor sports, but I thought I could maybe make him proud in some kind of virtual fashion.
Yeah, not so much. For fans of the insane driving game genre, “The Crew” has a lot to offer. Its vast open-world street maps span the continent, as the story takes you from Detroit to L.A. to Miami to New England. To explore all the locations, you’d need to dedicate several hours a day, several days a week, for several months.
Role of street racer
The main storyline in “The Crew” plays out like a B-movie “Fast & Furious” spinoff, with dialogue and story missions featuring the usual tired tropes of criminal gangs, double-crosses and family loyalty. Players assume the role of Alex Taylor, renowned Detroit street racer, who actually looks more like a literature professor than an underworld menace.
In terms of story and dialogue, there’s not much to recommend with “The Crew,” but that’s not what you’re paying for, anyway. Developer Ubisoft is attempting a true next-generation racing game, with a persistent world environment designed primarily for large-scale multi-player action.
Urban and rural obstacles
In the game’s many, many missions and challenges, you’re encouraged to team up with friends or random other players via online co-op matchmaking. In fact, the game requires an always-on Internet connection to play – even if you’re rolling solo. This has been a point of contention among players, as it has been with other releases that require persistent connectivity. If your Internet connection is at all twitchy – or if PSN or Xbox Live goes down – you’ll have to sit there and cool your engines until everything resets.
When everything does click, “The Crew” is most impressive in its amazing smorgasbord of environments. In the dense city grids of New York or Detroit, you’ll find plenty of urban obstacles to keep you busy. But you’ll also find yourself speeding through forests, swamps and endless dusty offroads. (As the Dukes of Hazzard taught us, always keep an eye out for makeshift ramps to jump those pesky rivers.)
I also liked the wonkier RPG aspects of upgrading vehicles and purchasing new rides, but you’ll need to sink a lot of hours into this stuff if you want to max out the game’s potential. The actual racing physics I found to be just OK – the steering can get awfully splashy on the PlayStation 4 controller.
Hardcore racing gamers will certainly want to explore the vast world of “The Crew,” but the game’s ultimate appeal is rather limited, otherwise. Judging from my dad’s stories, illegal street racing seems like it was a lot more fun in the 1950s. Now that’s a game I’d like to see.
“The Crew” is now available for Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Double Secret Bonus Pick: If you’re the kind of gamer who likes to peek behind the curtain of video game development – and you don’t mind picking up a book once in a while – I recommend the new “Video Game Storytelling” by industry veteran Evan Skolnick. The book is aimed primarily at game developers, but it’s fascinating stuff for anyone interested in games as a storytelling medium. The first half covers the English 101 basics of narrative, and the intriguing second half (“In The Trenches”) explores how old storytelling principles apply to various elements of game design.