Mild in the streets.
Ambition has never been an issue for The Crew. When it launched last December, Ubisoft's open world "carPG" attempted to provide players the opportunity to drive across the entire continental United States with a full squad of friends, competing in a wide variety of events like traditional circuit races and chaotic desert raids along the way. Unfortunately, much of the game's potential went unrealized. The world map--while indeed massive--led to hours of empty commuting through bland environments. The online multiplayer's myriad technical issues crippled its cooperative aspirations. Even the driving felt too floaty to offer much satisfaction. The Crew, in short, was disappointing, especially given how appealing its original aims were.
Now, just shy of 12 months later, Ubisoft has released the Wild Run expansion, and like the original, it bursts with ambition, building out the base game with motorcycles, monster trucks, drag and drift builds, new licensed vehicles, dynamic weather, visual upgrades throughout, game-wide physics adjustments, and a massive on-going online competition called The Summit. With such an impressive suite of new opportunities on offer, it's painful to report execution once again undermines ambition.
Admirably, several of Wild Run's broadest updates are available to all players, not just those who purchase the expansion (if you already own The Crew, your game most likely updated itself last week). Chief among these: upgraded graphics and physics, as well as all new weather effects. And while each objectively improves its previous iteration, The Crew as a whole continues to trail behind the competition. Take the dynamic weather: During the dozen or so hours I spent driving around Wild Run, I encountered only moderate rain. That's an improvement over the complete absence of weather in the base game, but honestly, it's hard to get excited about some underwhelming white dots that vaguely resemble rain drops refracting headlight beams.
To the game's credit, wet streets noticeably change your cars' traction thanks to the improved physics and handling. Every vehicle now reacts more believably to user inputs, making the simple act of driving a bit more enjoyable than it had been previously. This update doesn't resolve every issue, though. At times, it still feels like cars aren't even touching the road but rather gliding on top of it. Most of the subtle sounds and visual cues that make games like Forza satisfying remain absent here. Same can be said of the visuals: Issues like assets that pop into existence as you approach them have been resolved, but textures are still bland and uniform while objects like pedestrian cars still feel oddly boxy and unrealistic. The Crew finally looks like a current-gen game, but it's still deeply unimpressive compared to something like Need For Speed.
You could argue The Crew's dated graphics are an inevitable consequence of its incredible scope, but its open world is still more of a nuisance than an asset, especially for new players who can't fast travel to undiscovered areas. Wild Run attempts to assuage the potential tedium of cross-country commuting by introducing FreeDrive Stunts, an anywhere, anytime mode that throws randomized goals at players. On-demand mini-objectives are a fine idea, but the objectives themselves--drive on the wrong side of the road for 800 yards, near-miss 15 vehicles, and so on--are forgettable at best and impossible at worst. How can you jump a certain distance within a time limit when there are no ramps around? Similarly, FreeDrive Challenge--which allows players to quickly drop checkpoints on the world map to create ad-hoc events--is an amazing idea that falls apart in practice because it's only available while players are participating in in a co-op Crew. If you're playing solo or can't keep random internet players around long enough, you'll never see a FreeDrive Challenge in action.
Fortunately, Wild Run's new vehicle specs prove a bit more reliable--and yes, I do mean "specs." For the uninitiated, The Crew allows players to select a variety of tuning profiles that automatically equip your chosen vehicle with everything it needs to rip up the streets or the race track or the untamed wilderness. Wild Run introduces three new specs that can be added to many of the game's existing cars: drift, drag, and monster truck. Drift and drag cars are so unruly--fishtailing wildly in every direction--they're nearly impossible to use outside of the extremely limited number of events specifically designed for those specs. Within those events, however, they work well and add even more variety to The Crew's already impressive collection of race types.
Drag events are simple but satisfying: Players must rev their engines to fill a meter to exactly the right level, then match prompts while accelerating and shifting. There's not much to it, but if you're looking to test your timing and push The Crew's speed limit, you now have a new best option. Drift events, as you might expect, ask players to rack up points by chaining drifts together within a time limit. Thankfully, the scoring system is a bit more generous than the comparable Need For Speed, but the handling never quite clicked for me, too loose and fiddly to feel truly satisfying. Overall, drift trials deepen The Crew but may not fully scratch your drift itch.
Monster trucks and the newly added motorcycles, on the other hand, are a total blast no matter where you drive them. As you might expect, motorcycles are fast and nimble, which presents a welcome contrast to many of The Crew's more sluggish vehicles. The real winners here, though, are the monster trucks. It's hard not to love hilariously oversized tires that let you roll over just about everything in your path, especially when they're attached to something like a Fiat. Monster trucks also bring with them massive Trackmania-style arenas, which are basically big, ridiculous skateparks for monster trucks. Not much can match the joy of pulling double backflips on a half-pipe in a Ford Raptor.
Unfortunately, I was only able to find monster truck events within the new month-long, Burning-Man-meets-autosports competition called The Summit. Given that the competition consists of weekly qualifiers leading up to a final Summit at the end of each month, we'll get just one new monster truck event per week at this current pace. Thankfully, the Summit offers plenty of other options that, while not as enjoyable as its monster trucks, give players a tangible reason to consistently return to The Crew. You'll find drift and drag events, of course, as well as time trials and circuit races, but you can also engage in unique PvP events like Blitz Brawl, which challenges players to race between semi-randomly appearing zones and hold each zone until the next one appears. Each leg of the Summit offers six or seven unique events, which a healthy enough number to allow its evolving structure and leaderboard-driven competitiveness take root.
In spite of all this new content, many of the base game's frustrations persist. The UI is still an unintuitive mess, the story is still laughably bad and impossible for new players to avoid, and finding players to join my Crew frequently took far too long. And while the driving mechanics and general visuals have undoubtedly improved, they still haven't caught up to other, better racing games like Forza and Need For Speed. As a result, The Crew as a whole remains a lackluster experience, even with its monster truck half-pipes.