Somewhere near Yosemite, my crew is closing in on its target. I don’t know who this guy is or what he’s done, but someone wants him wrecked, and now he’s got a pack of three steel wolves closing in on him. He’s fast and surprisingly agile on the rough off-road terrain, but my buddies and I can match him, thanks to the hefty, shock-absorbent Raid chassis we’ve customized our rides with. We’ve only got a few minutes to shut him down, and the chase has us tearing up grassy plains, smashing through fences, and roaring across the shores of a lake as we repeatedly bump him at full turbo-assisted speed.
With seconds left on the clock, he momentarily gets stuck against the wall of a picturesque little church — and I bull into him, turning his once-proud car into a shattered mess. Thanks to the team’s effort, the mission – a takedown challenge called “A Little Nudge” – was a complete success, as well as a strong reminder that The Crew isn’t just about speed. It’s also got its share of shadier missions that wouldn’t be out of place in a Driver game, and The Crew’s MMORPG structure lets you tackle them with up to three friends in scenes like the pack hunt above.
As fun as the free-form challenge was, it was just my introduction to playing The Crew at E3 2014 — a way to get my feet wet, really, before moving on to the real challenge: three-on-three team races across the rest of Yosemite. Sticking with our Raid specs — the better to tear through the hills, valleys, and backroads of one of America’s best-known national parks — we took off from the starting line in a disorganized cluster. From there it was nothing but high-speed brutality, as my teammates and I alternated between bashing our rivals off the path to the next checkpoint (it wasn’t a road, really) and leaning on the nitrous booster as we plowed across open fields, up ridges, and through fences with almost equal ease.
My car handled beautifully on the rough terrain, even at high speeds, making turns effortless and opponents easy to dodge or wreck. Off-road driving in The Crew is all about speed and accessibility over careful handling, so it’s fine to charge wildly through courses in a desperate bid to get a leg up on your competitors.
That isn’t always the case, though, especially since the Raid class is meant for smashing into things and ripping up off-road scenery. If I’d picked a racetrack-ready Circuit Spec or street-friendly Perf Spec vehicle — both powerful and both requiring much more precision — the experience would have been considerably different. These vehicles demand a more delicate hand. Each Spec will need to be chosen carefully according to the mission requirements, as each one handles differently. Also, gearhead racers will be happy to hear that customization plays a big role; each car has 20 slots for upgrades, 11 of which include things like new gearboxes, fuel-injection systems, motor cores, and other parts that have a tangible effect on your car’s performance.
What little I played was hugely fun, and being confined to a few closed courses meant I only got a small sample of The Crew’s biggest draw: the vast, freely explorable model of the entire U.S. that makes up its world. It’s not a 1:1 map, of course, and its various areas are intended to capture the spirit and fun of their real-world counterparts, rather than slavishly re-create them. Still, looking over a wall-sized poster of the map, I saw an impressive number of cities, stretching from New York, Miami, and Washington, D.C., in the east, to Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, and New Orleans toward the middle, and on to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in the west. And that’s just to name a few. It’s a massive map, which makes the fact that The Crew is an MMO even more exciting. After all, why explore it by yourself when you can bring along a friend or three?
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