If there's one thing Test Drive Unlimited 2 taught me, it's that it doesn't matter how much content a driving game promises if the actual driving isn't fun. I didn't enjoy that game, though I really wanted to, and so lots of ambitious content went uncovered.
Ubisoft's The Crew surprised me when I played it at E3 this week. A number of open-world driving games have struggled to surmount numerous problems. Fuel had terrible AI and gave you far too little to do. The less said about Driver 3, the better. Given the scope of The Crew's massive world, I was worried that fun driving might take a backseat to the game's sheer size. Instead, I was comfortable from the moment I first got behind the wheel. Granted, I wasn't showcasing impressive driving skills, but the handling was responsive and my ride felt appropriately weighty.
I put the Corvette through its paces on the streets of New York City, taking on brief challenges that were so plentiful I felt like I could never run out of things to do. I was taunted to race as far away from a particular point as I could in a limited time, was asked to drive through green waypoints, and needed to speed as fast as I could without veering off the road. Drifting around corners required deft use of the handbrake, and there was oncoming traffic to contend with. (Don't worry about pedestrians; they just leap out of the way.) Later, I took to the roads just outside of Las Vegas and drove into the city, racing ghost cars and AI opponents, and blasting through checkpoints in record time. (The records I was breaking, of course, were those I created in my mind, such as Best Time Reached after a Ridiculous Crash Into an Oncoming Sedan.)
Of course, as fellow GameSpot editor Shaun McInnis reported earlier this week, The Crew is not just a single-player adventure (though it is that, to an extent), but a multiplayer jaunt across the United States. I joined up with three other E3 attendees to take down a target in Miami. At first, it seemed like I was spending too much time seeking out ways to head off our rival, smashing against dead ends rather than finding shortcuts. But my tactic paid off, and I was able to ram into my crew's AI opponent head-on as it barreled down a straightaway.
The buzz of the racing stayed with me once my time with the game was over, and that's a good sign. My experience was limited, but I had fun, and short-term fun isn't always a key element of expansive games that rely on long-term engagement. If The Crew can combine moment-to-moment joy with progression and variety on a large scale, this upcoming open-world racing game could set some records of its own.