I've just come away from a few hours of playing The Crew, the new open-world racing game from Ubisoft/Ivory Tower and felt the need to share my first impressions of what I've experienced.
I'm playing it on the XBox One (insert appropriate cheering/booing), having gotten my beta key earlier in the day and had actually been a little excited to get home from work and give it a go. I had some mixed expectations of the game after first seeing the hyped up trailers from E3 for the game and then reading reviews of how it fared in reality, the news not being all that great, but trusting that time and development would improve the game before it reached my hands...and I have to say I'm not all that impressed from what I got now it is in my hands (sort of).
First off, let me say that I'm a pretty dedicated racing game fan, having recently poured a few dozen hours into Forza Horizon 2, another 'open world' racing title and have been enjoying it immensely. I've played other racing games such as Formula 1, the old Project Gotham Racing series, Burnout in many of its different iterations, as well as having been a loyal Need For Speed player, particularly enjoying the last couple of offerings EA has offered. So the prospect of The Crew offering up what is touted to be 'all of the US' to drive around in does seem to be quite the prospect, along with the gritty/campy storyline elements ripped from a Fast and Furious film (something about avenging your brother and taking down a state-wide street race gang) and social aspect of driving around with your friends in your own 'crew' got me interested.
Now, the game I'm experiencing is touted very much to be a 'Beta'. Something that was made very clear by the fact there's a watermark constantly present at the bottom of the screen, so we should expect that there is still stuff needing to be done before the devs let the game out into the wild proper. However, you'd expect a few things to be present at this stage that surprised me a little right off the bat. Screen alignment for example; that watermark I mentioned, is currently not fully shown on my screen, the first little bit of it cut off due to the fact the game seems to think my TV is bigger than it actually is and there is no option to adjust the screen boundaries, so a few HUD elements are either dangerously close to the edges of the screen or even slightly cut off.
However, that's just me nitpicking...I'll admit, the slow download of the file which would allow me to play the rest of the beta after I'd completed the opening tutorial section left me to ponder this nitpick for a while, but that was probably due to the amount of people trying to get the Beta downloaded at the same time as well.
The tutorial seemed to be well-structured for the kind of game it's trying to be, throwing me into a truck in a police chase right off the bat through some nondescript countryside outside Detroit before offering me a ride in a more souped up muscle car to take part in a race, some healthy doses of plot being offered up with it. I won't bore you with the details, but one thing in the story leads to another and eventually you get to pick one car out of four free ones and given a few more tasks to complete before going to your garage to plan your next step, where I was then stuck with having to wait for the rest of the beta to download.
That first half hour or so in this tutorial allowed me to tinker with a few of the settings and led me to wrinkle number two: as I mentioned, I'm a racing game fan and so I checked to see what kind of difficulty settings the game would offer and was pleasantly surprised to see that I could select a manual gearbox setting, having expected it to perhaps stick to a more Need For Speed 'things are gonna be way too quick for us to trust you to change gears' kind of outlook. However, this is where I found out that The Crew uses the rather unique setup of using the right thumbstick to shift up or down and then no way to change this. Any other racing game fans who don't own a wheel might also find this a little odd, most other franchises using face buttons as defaults for changing gears and then offering the choice to switch the control scheme if you wished.
The non-inclusion of an option to change control scheme is a bit grating considering the choice to use manual gears is offered, along with a host of choices to tune other things like steering sensitivity and brake pressure through the controller and will also limit the ability to use the right thumbstick as a way to look around your car if you want to or even if you need to look behind you, the left bumper instead being dedicated to the 'look back' role. I tried to get used to the thumbtsick-shift for a while, but after many years and many games of not using the stick that way, it felt very awkward and I eventually gave up, switching to an automatic setting after a while.
There's a couple of other odd choices with being able to choose an overall handling setting from 'all assists on' to 'sport' to 'hardcore', but no options to choose individual handling settings such as ABS or Traction Control. Considering I'm allowed to choose how sensitive the throttle can be, not being able to keep my ABS on but turn my traction control off for a bit of sideways mucking about seems a bit offputting and another point of frustration.