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(Ubisoft for PS4)
By Mike Delano
Confession: I have a pretty worn-out copy of Need For Speed: The Run up on my shelf. It's not the greatest game (I have a feeling that most of the other copies are heaped in trade-in bins across the country), but in my eyes it takes a worthwhile stab at the holy grail of racing titles: The cross-country USA trek. That journey is chopped up into many different individual races in The Run, but it still offers a fun facsimile of the thrill of racing from coast-to-coast, across incredibly varied terrain with unpredictable weather, as the sun sets and rises.
The Crew, an ambitious new open world racer, aims to take things one step further with an entirely seamless sea-to-shining-sea drive across the 50 states. The big question: Is that a worthy pursuit? Is it worth building an enormous replica of 'Murica rather than sectioning off a smaller landscape - a la Forza Horizon - and polishing it to a mirror sheen? Based on the fun to be had in The Crew, I'd say the answer is yes. A big reason for that is that the game isn't afraid to embrace the mundane. There are tons of iconic landmarks and awe-inspiring landscapes across the country, but in between those highlights, there are plenty of trees and stripmalls and nondescript highways. Some games treat those places like the plague, but I love that The Crew sees the value in rendering the spaces that might not be worthy of the box art or inclusion in a sizzle reel. They make the world feel more alive and it drives home the notion that you're exploring a real place rather than simply jumping from one high-octane, highly-orchestrated set piece to the next.
Having that big world means the game can create a variety of moments, from the "approaching the big city lights at night" to the "quiet drive through the midwest" to the "barreling through the alleyway, 90-degree-turn-making urban chase." It's a world you'll want to see every inch of, and that's in spite of the somewhat unsatisfying steering (neither arcade nor sim enough) and the silly tough guy story. And exploration becomes even more addictive if you're doing it with three friends in a crew, since you can take a break from the open road and compete in challenges or team up to ram an armored vehicle off a cliff for kicks.
So many modern games are built so big with so many things to do that they can feel daunting and watered down. But there's no denying the wide-eyed fascination that will come over you every time you boot up The Crew and have the entire USA as your racetrack, so this is one instance where bigger is definitely better.