Set in an open-sandbox digital re-creation of the U.S., The Crew is a Massively Multiplayer Online game for gearheads. It's a paved playground where you can jump online and, instead of swinging a sword or pulling a digital trigger (for once!), find all the hot-footed speedster maneuvering your little redlining heart might desire.
You'll also find, though, that the game's storyline centers around a notorious gang of street racers called the 5-10 Motor Club. This unlawful organization's reach stretches from coast to coast and involves everything from illegal street racing to underground gambling to the sale of drugs and other unspecified black-market materials.
After showing us a sample of his superior driving skills, the game's hero—a bearded lead-foot named Alex Taylor—meets up with his older brother Dayton. Now Alex has purposely steered clear of the street gang scene in Detroit. But Dayton is buckled securely into that cars-and-contraband world. So Dayton asks Alex to drive him to a secretive meeting, and before you can say "Is that hot hunk of sheet metal hiding a hemi?" Big Bro is shot dead and Little Bro is left with oil and blood all over his hands.
FBI Special Agent Coburn quickly carts Alex off to prison. But the dude's tale isn't quite over yet, of course. After a few years in the slow lane behind bars, he's approached by another FBI agent named Zoe. She reveals that Agent Coburn is dirty, and the FBI needs a man with a particular set of skills behind the wheel to infiltrate the 5-10s and expose the agent's well-greased connections to the gang. If Alex will help them out, not only will he be freed but he'll get help gaining the cars and crew to pursue his brother's real killer—a 5-10 honcho named Shiv.
With that as the starting line, gamers set off on a 40- to 50- (to 80-) hour series of main story "work your way up through the gang ranks" racing missions. And if variety is the spice of life, The Crew certainly tries to be savory. While racing through the well-detailed streets of Detroit, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and eight other cities in between, Alex can pick up and continually upgrade a cadre of cars—from American classics to European road rockets, with each ride possessing its own unique power stats, maneuverability and feel.
The races themselves try to give a sense of variety as well. Each of the scattered starting points is flagged as a "Performance," "Raid," "Circuit," "Dirt" or "Street" race, and requires a specific vehicle type and racing grade to join. But whether you're blazing down a traffic-packed Manhattan street, careening through an abandoned plane graveyard, or four-wheeling through a Louisiana bayou, the action generally boils down to making a standard timed run, escaping from a handful of pursuers or chasing down an enemy racer to shunt him off the road.
Each challenge then offers up in-game cash for further car purchases and upgrades, along with experience boosts and specialized car parts that can make your ride move quicker—not to mention look cooler.
To be quite frank, then, this T-rated racer is fast and furious fun. Customizing a stable of awesome autos and bulleting them through boulevards and over hill and dale can be exciting. And even when you miss a turn and smash these beautiful vehicles to bits, they'll pop back into their freshly painted perfection once a race is finished. And since this is an MMO, you have the option of joining in a race with up to eight other real in-game racers for some non-AI racing challenges if you choose. Or you can go about your own single-player way.
A Road Full of Thugs
That isn't to suggest, however, that there aren't some erratic elements to consider closely before slamming the pedal to the metal—especially when it comes to the younger kids this game is aimed at. Because, as you might remember, even though our in-game representative, Alex, is working for the authorities and a good guy at his core, he's still mixing things up in a fairly gritty world full of gangbangers and dirty cops.
We see and hear of characters being killed. Some of the women in the group sport quite a bit of digital flesh. And we listen to dialogue laced with s-words and uses of "d--n," "a--" and "h---." Alex also has to outrun pursuing police in a number of cases, heightening an overarching sense of disrespect for authority and, well, speeding up a gamer's urge to ram cars, fences and signposts while generally driving like a maniac.