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    Ubisoft treads new ground with The Crew

    The latest generation of consoles have brought about some startling changes in game development, and first and foremost multiplayer appears to be the “in thing” in the industry at the moment. Although online gaming has been in existence since before the days of the 56k modem, recent times have seen an ever growing shift in the direction of melded gameplay, in which single player and multiplayer no longer exist as separate entities. The MMO approach to online is slowly becoming the norm, and with everything from shooters to action adventures rushing to remould their genre by including seamless multiplayer, it’s no surprise that racing games are hot on their heels. While we’ve already seen the likes of DriveClub this year, which featured a more traditional multiplayer component, Ivory Tower’s debut title The Crew has been garnering a lot of attention since its showing at E3 2013, promising to bring the genre into the new age of gaming.

    In what Ivory Tower and Ubisoft are calling a MMO arcade racer, The Crew is set to be a persistent open world racing title which will see players travel the entire length and breadth of the United States of America, taking part in races, challenges and events either by themselves or with their crew. This might seem like a massive undertaking for a first-time developer, but the French-based Ivory Tower is composed of a sizable portion of former Eden Games developers, the studio responsible for revolutionary Test Drive Unlimited. Released in 2006, TDU was a title that “layered” the online component over the single-player game, allowing players to form clubs to race in all the events of the game as well as compete in races and playerset challenges. Wanting to do more than just a sequel
    though (which Test Drive Unlimited did eventually get), the founders of Ivory Tower broke away shortly after the release of the original and immediately set their sights on creating a game that would not only build upon the foundations that TDU laid, but present something completely new to the genre. It wasn't until Ubisoft came on board however that The Crew really began to take shape, and with the input of Ubisoft Reflections, the studio behind the Driver franchise, the publisher greenlit the project in 2009.

    The result is a title that looks to be hugely ambitious in every way. While The Crew will actually feature a single player campaign (inspired by narrative heavyweights such as Fast and Furious and Point Break), like most MMO’s this will serve only as an excuse to allow players to jump into the game’s online offerings. In fact, this isn’t the only element that The Crew is lifting from usual MMORPG formula. Players will gain levels through competing in events, form parties known as crews, loot will come in the form of car customisations and each car will have a different
    spec (read class) that can be changed on the fly, allowing players to drastically alter the way the car drives as the situation demands. To call the game a full RPG is perhaps stretching the truth a little too far, but there is definitely some credibility to creative director Julian Gerighty’s statement that the game is a “MMORPG where your character is the car.” The game will also be entirely open-world, and gamers will be free to explore the whole of the US from border to border, though it will only take players roughly an hour to travel from the east coast to the west coast. More than just racing, The Crew will offer gamers a variety of mission types including takedowns and getaways, along with various challenges such as reaching a point without taking any damage. In all honesty, none of these events look to be particularly original by themselves, however given the online nature of the game you can expect everything to take a radically different approach when compared previous racers.

    Beyond the novelty of an MMO racer however lies the world in which all the action will take place, and it is here the that The Crew truly impresses. With roughly 5000 km2 of territory to play in, along with six major cities and countless smaller towns, there should be no shortage of new sights to explore. New York City alone will be nearly equal to the size of GTA 4’s Liberty City, and that makes up only a fraction of the world. If this wasn't extraordinary enough, the game promises terrains varying from snow covered mountains to dusty deserts, and each city will have its own distinct look and style. To top it off The Crew boasts no loading times whatsoever, so you can switch from Las Vegas to Detroit to Miami at a moment’s notice at any point in the game, as from the get go no sections of the map will be locked off.

    While blending MMO and open-world racing might be the selling point of the game, the true test of any racing title will lie in the cars it has on offer and the mechanics that power them. The exact number of cars that The Crew will feature have been difficult to pin down, with Gerighty having stated that it will be “extremely similar to a ‘Need for Speed’ game”, and all the vehicles will be fully licenced, so expect to see Lamborghinis, Chevrolets and Ferraris tearing up dirt and tarmac next to you. Ubisoft have also promised additional cars will be released via content updates, so chances are the number will swell fairly rapidly post-launch. This is even before individual customisation comes into the picture however, and with six specs per car each containing 20 different parts to chop and change, variety on the road is not going to be a problem. More than just aesthetically pleasing though, customisation will form a key part of the gameplay, as there will be plenty of off-roading on
    offer, with specs designed to adapt the handling and feel of a car for each environment. Don’t anticipate calamity should you not tinker under the hood every five seconds however, as The Crew will fit firmly in the arcade racer category, so worries such as damage affecting performance and engine blowouts need not be entertained.

    Simply put, The Crew is aspiring to redefine the racing genre, to fundamentally change what we think a racing title should be. There is staggering amount of content on offer in the game, and if Ivory and Ubisoft’s promises hold true, this will be a title that will see you lose days of your life in high-octane, pixelated glory. There will be a lot that The Crew needs to carefully balance in order for its potential to truly be reached, but as it stands, there should be more than enough for anyone even casually interested in racing to get excited about.

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