Certainly not a cruise
Playing The Crew makes you feel like the MMO racing genre might never plateau. You can only get so much out of coming in first place on closed tracks in traditional driving games. Making a name for yourself on the streets and highways of an entire country is another challenge entirely.
Going from Detroit to New York to Miami in the span of a two-hour demo has given us an apt tease of what driving around the whole of the USA might feel like. It's a daunting expanse of land, and while The Crew does feature fast travel, patient players of the road-tripping kind can drive to set waypoints for a more authentic experience.
Calling this game The Crew is not only reflective of its Fast and Furious-inspired narrative, but also its emphasis on cooperative multiplayer. But no matter how tight the bonds of friendship might be, someone always has to be on top. This is certainly the case in the game's takedown missions, where our gang of four friends have to ram and sideswipe an AI-controlled vehicle in an off-road chase. The winner is determined based on who deals the most damage, not who deals the fatal blow. If that bit of balancing doesn't make you want to find (car) wingmen, every mission can also be played solo with the difficulty scaled accordingly.
Our time spent adapting to the chaos in an off-road pursuit around and along a beach town was the opposite of learning and memorising the specific curves and nuances of a city course. However, the openness of the rural spaces gives you ample time to anticipate obstacles like, say, a quickly approaching beach house a quarter of a mile away. The natural tendency of racing fans to memorise street layouts will be a time-consuming endeavour in The Crew, as it'll take a while to catalogue all the shortcuts and differentiate which obstacles are destructible. To that end, it's easy to picture compulsive players focused on winning every race in one city before moving on to the next. Spending over 20 hours of drive time before reaching the opposite coast is a real possibility (just like in real life).
Whether you're systematically conquering one city at a time or leisurely exploring the roads and cities of the United States of America, studios Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections have liberally drizzled a ton of optional challenges on almost every road. A number of these mini-goals are finesse-based, like slaloming around poles, or threading the needle between tight checkpoints.
When it comes to managing thousands and thousands of players online, the expansive size of this interpretation of the United States actually works to the developer's benefit. Everyone is technically playing on the same server, but the studios have partitioned each city and region into bubbles of smaller car populations that are easier to manage. It's remarkable how much is going on under the hood, so to speak - there are no loading times when transitioning from city to city. It's a stark contrast to the limited player counts of other open-world racers, such as the modest six-player lobby limit of last year's Need for Speed Rivals. That said, The Crew does limit the headcount of point-to-point races to eight players.
Road trip-style games, which have been around since the original Out Run, put you on the coast with a convertible. 28 years later, it's impressive to witness this subgenre evolve to the level of detail and expansiveness showcased in The Crew. One thing's for sure: driving cross-country certainly won't be boring if you're redlining a Ford Mustang with 420 horsepower.