A playground as far as the eye can see (and more)
Ubisoft's open-world driving game is almost upon us, as it releases on December 2. I've been playing the final open beta, which allowed the team at Ubisoft to stress-test their servers and ensure the game is ready to launch. With the entire US map open to explore during this time, there was plenty to see that's gotten me excited for the final version.
I was playing on Xbox One and the following screens are taken from that version of the beta. Please bear in mind that the beta version of the game is not necessarily representative of the version we'll be playing when it's out. But anyway - let me show you what I got up to and explain the subtleties of the experience so far...
Crashing into other cars is fun
This isn't a terribly graceful thing to do, but colliding with another road user creates a pleasantly Burnout-esque flurry of sparks and crumpled bodywork. It isn't a OTT as Criterion's racing series, but the impact does feel a little more weighty than the likes of Need For Speed: Most Wanted.
Despite the pyrotechnics, the collision system is relatively forgiving, allowing you to brush past trees in densely-wooded areas without coming to a standstill every few feet. A lot of scenery is destructible, too. Which brings me to my next point...
"Let's waste time / chasing cows"
That's how the song goes, right? By the Snow Petrols? Well, whatever. On my first foray out of the starting area, I happened across a herd of cattle outside of their enclosure and causing a traffic hazard. I soon fixed that by driving my car through the fence (which falls apart with lovely physics) and then attempted to herd them back in using my car as a sheepdog. So effectively a cow-car.
It didn't work. I may then have tried running them over (odd thing for a vegetarian to do), but either it's got Crazy Taxi-style invincible pedestrians, or I'm rubbish at running over any 5ft-tall animals with a whole herd to aim at.
You can just drive... and drive
With the whole of the abridged United States of America to race around, there's no immediate need to get on with the story, at least after the first few essential missions. Setting the waypoint marker for somewhere way across the map lets you experience a proper road trip, reminiscent of old Need For Speed games.
It's a really enjoyable experience, too. The car handling has been tweaked since the days of the first beta and is now solid, controllable and with a decent sense of inertia. Couple that with the in-car radio playing some suitable driving music and you've got yourself a great journey, even if you haven't decided on any particular destination. That's deep, man. It's like Test Drive Unlimited 2, only good.
Using nitrous to catch target vehicles is fun
I am initially confused as the control layout is a little unusual - most driving games use B for the handbrake, but in this beta, B is 'reset vehicle' and X is handbrake. It doesn't matter too much, especially as button A is where the fun's at, allowing you to trigger a nitrous boost.
That's the only way you're going to take down a target vehicle in one of the pursuit missions, at least if you're playing solo. In a multiplayer event, replaying a previously-completed mission, I was able to come in from the side on this banked curve and smash the target into next week. Woot!
Think I stumbled into a Kriss Kross video
There are challenges liberally scattered around the game world, some of which trigger as soon as you drive through them. One such example is a jump challenge that asks you to hit a designated ramp and fly as far as you can. Which is what I'm doing in the screenshot up there. Yes, it was at night.
If you fail, or even just fail to nail the gold, you can hit restart, although the car is rarely the speed you were doing when you first passed it, meaning you'll need to go around for a better run-up. Better to just do it right first time.
The car upgrade system is extensive
You get your choice of four different cars at the start of the game, but you can pretty much immediately tailor them to your taste. I went for GamesRadar+ Orange, of course, although like any right-minded person, I do hope that there's pearlescent paint in there later on.
I like the ultra-simple upgrade system, which allows you to install parts quickly and easily just by pressing A after completing an on-road event (like that jump ramp). I must admit, I didn't notice any of the changes affecting the handling immediately after equipping them, but I'm sure the cumulative effect is worth it. And when I came to the story mission with the drag race that's clearly intended to make sure you're leveling up your car properly, I won on my first attempt - cleverly by holding the 'go' button. So I must have been doing something right.
And the racing is a lot of fun
I don't want to sound over-excited, but this dirt race brought Dirt 2 to my mind. The detailed in-car view, the close racing with sliding, jumping cars vying for position... it's a lot of fun. With a mix of AI cars and real humans making up the field, there's always someone to race, even if your crew itself isn't full up. Incidentally, the option to quick-invite local players outside your crew when you start an event works really well. People seem to want to get involved - let's hope that trend continues!
In fact, even when you're out in front (which I usually was, of course), you still get a little Gamertag displayed on your screen with a distance read-out, telling you how far behind you the opposition is. As you can see, Aaron Uncensored there must've taken an early spill...
What did you get up to with your crew?
I was mightily impressed with the core driving experience of The Crew's final open beta. Did you try it out too? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments!