The Crew is set to let us race through a massive open world on next-gen consoles and PC, at least, when it finally releases. To find out more about the ambitious proposition, I sat down with product manager Charles-Arthur Bourget earlier this year to learn more about what the exciting project has to offer - both in terms of raw scale and its innovative attempt to move the boundary between singleplayer and multiplayer.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): When The Crew was first announced at E3 2013, it very looked exciting, but was rather difficult to pin down. So perhaps most importantly of all: what is The Crew?
Charles-Arthur Bourget (Ubisoft): What we started with when we first starting developing the game is to recreate the entire USA. So we started with a huge playground to play with, and a lot of variety in that playground. The map is actually 5000km², it features a lot of different environments. So not only can you do your classic illegal street racing in the busy city centres, but you could also go offroad through the forests, on dunes, in the desert, there's pretty much no restriction when it comes to driving around.
So when we say it's an open world, we take it very seriously. It's for you to decide where you want to go.
In order for players to enjoy that huge playground, we gave them the tools to drive every inch of that terrain. So this is how it ties into the customisation system we have in the game. You'll be able to customise your car to perform better on roads and off-road, if you are more of a rally racer or a Dakar racer, you'll be able to customise your car to enjoy those kinds of driving experiences.
Dealspwn: Sounds good. And we'll be able to use a companion app to remotely customise our cars, I gather?
Charles-Arthur Bourget: Of course! The customisation can be done in-game, but can also be done on the way home. You know, when you're commuting basically from your iPad. So you're able to not only customise the body of your car and choose between important parts, but you could put on stickers and really customise your car to your tastes too.
Dealspwn: We were very impressed by the scope and scale of your world, and the map. Is every inch of it drivable?
Charles-Arthur Bourget: Exactly. It's worth mentioning that it's a continuous map, there's no restrictions, you can pretty much choose to go anywhere. All the roads and everything in between are contiguous.
Dealspwn: How did you get around the problem of scale? The USA is enormous, and there's lots of empty space - mapping all of it would take centuries!
Charles-Arthur Bourget: It's not reproduced on a scale of 1:1. That would take a tremendous amount of time! What we made sure to do is capture the sense of that makes the US interesting as a driving playground. So of course, it's an idealised version of the United States if you like. We sent our landscape teams to different cities so that they could select the landmarks that [epitomise] the identity of the city, and made sure to reproduce them in-game.
So of course you won't be able to find the parking lot that you have next door. But you will have the Rockies, you will have the canyons of Colorado, you will have the Statue of Liberty and the New York city centre, everything that you expect to sightsee when you visit the US.
Dealspwn: If I start off on the East Coast, how long would it take to cross the country?
Charles-Arthur Bourget: So that's another reason why we didn't reproduce the US on the scale of 1:1. Basically it would take an hour and a half if you stick to the roads in a good car, and two hours and a half offroad with a tuning kit. Going full circle will take about four hours.
Dealspwn: Sounds impressive, but size isn't everything. We'll need loads of fun stuff to do as we drive around. Could you tell us about some of the races and activities?
Charles-Arthur Bourget: The first level of enjoyment is purely touristic [sic], you can choose to only explore all the landmarks we've reproduced and the famous locations. On top of that, when you're free driving, there are skill challenges that we've peppered across the world. Those are designed to keep your travel entertaining.
For example, we have a slalom challenge that requires you to drive through the gates as fast as possible, and we have ten different sorts of skill challenges. Those are like minigames, arcade-oriented, about twenty to thirty seconds long that you can enjoy on the way to your next mission. This is one of the many ways we feature asynchronous competition, through ghosts. So basically, when you trigger the skill challenges, you can see your ghost but also ghosts from one of your friend.
One of the points I forgot to mention, that underpins the whole idea of The Crew, it's actually a multiplayer world. An online world. It's very much living and breathing. Not only do you have traffic AI around you, but you also have other players that you can interact with.
Dealspwn: Do you mean that other players are streamed into your session? What does that involve?
Charles-Arthur Bourget: You can have up to seven players around you, eight in total, in a session. So when you're free driving you can ignore them or interact with them. It's up to you whether you want a solo experience or a multiplayer experience. Basically we're blurring the lines between the solo campaign and the multiplayer side of things.
Dealspwn: Say I'm feeling sociable and don't want to ignore my fellow players. What can I get up to in multiplayer or in a "crew?"
Charles-Arthur Bourget: So there's a whole social interface that I can't go into details about yet, but of course, you may come across a player who seems to be a good driver and decide to recruit him into your crew. Crews are basically four players total.
It's important to remember at this point that all campaign missions can be attempted solo or with friends, and there are up to seven sorts of missions you can do.
Dealspwn: When you say "campaign missions," does that mean that The Crew has a fully-fledged storyline?
Charles-Arthur Bourget: There's a story behind it. I can't go into too much detail, but we need to get the player across that huge playground and introduce all the features and different gameplay elements that we have.
Dealspwn: Will players be a character in their own right, or will there be a traditional named protagonist? Do we have a face, a voice?
Charles-Arthur Bourget: I can't answer that yet. The whole purpose of the story is for you to infiltrate a gang through the USA, and try to sabotage their operation one region at a time. That way we can ensure that [players] can enjoy the whole playground and that they are introduced to all the gameplay mechanics.
Dealspwn: I take it that there'll be plenty of hidden secrets to find...
Charles-Arthur Bourget: Well, I can't really say...
Dealspwn: Ooh, but you could though. Go on. I won't tell anyone.
Charles-Arthur Bourget: Of course, we have a lot more in the game that we're not ready to share with you just yet.
Dealspwn: Fine. Spoilsport. One last question - our favourite question. In your opinion, what is the coolest, most awesome, most memorable thing that players can do in The Crew?
Charles-Arthur Bourget: I would say it's the cooperative aspect, you know, it's how the mission can change when you play it solo and when you play it with friends. When you have different approaches to the same mission. So the replay value in the game is huge, and the experience is never the same twice. So a solo player could have a completely different experience compared to playing with others.
That's something I'm really excited about, how players will work as a team and come up with different strategies.
Dealspwn: Sounds like fun. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.
The Crew is slated to release in FY2015 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Note that this interview was conducted before the delay announcement. I'd have been certain to ask Bourget about it...