After releasing the wonderfully ridiculous Driver: San Francisco in 2011, Ubisoft is ready to take another shot at the open-world racing genre with The Crew. Developed by Test Drive Unlimited veterans Ivory Tower along with Ubisoft Reflections, The Crew is a PC and next-gen exclusive where your driving playground is a shrunken down version of the entire United States. With 10,000 kilometers of roadways and a map that will take players two hours to drive from coast to coast, The Crew's gargantuan sandbox is looking awfully impressive.
But besides its sheer scale, one of the most interesting features about The Crew is the way it incorporates multiplayer into its open-world design. This is a game aiming to do away with discrete single-player and multiplayer modes; its goal is to act as a sort of invisible matchmaker--similar to what Bungie has stated it's planning to do with Destiny--by performing behind-the-scenes networking and grouping players together based on where they are in the world.
Whether you're cruising downtown Manhattan or off-roading in the dusty hills outside Las Vegas, you'll always be connected to eight other players. Those are the people playing The Crew at the same time as you who happen to be closest in the game world. Head off in another direction and the game will swap in new players of a more appropriate geographical distance. The cool thing about all this is that you're never shown a "connecting to Player X" screen or anything of that nature; it's all done invisibly and seamlessly under the hood.
How you engage--or don't engage--with those players is up to you. You can challenge them to various races and activities, or simply cruise by them in your highly customized licensed vehicle with the smug knowledge that their stock car hasn't been tuned to high heaven like yours has. At the most basic level, players are grouped together to add more human life and activity to these driving environments. From there, it's up to you what you do with these players.
But no matter where you are in the world, you'll always be shown a map of where your friends are. If you're doing a street race in Miami and happen to grow suddenly grow incredibly lonely once you notice you're friends are all off-roading in the Rockies, you can simply pull open a map and fast travel right to them. In fact, you can fast travel anywhere you want at any time--so long as you've unlocked those portions of the map through the story mode.
Combine all of this into an arcade racer with a 500 square-kilometer map full of events you can trigger at virtually every intersection and you've got--in our eyes at least--a very promising next-gen racer. Hopefully The Crew doesn't hide too much of its fun behind the overall story progression, because this looks the type of game that could be great for getting a few friends together and cruising the sandbox just goofing around.'