The main similarity between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 presentations was the presence of cars. Cars in Forza, cars in in Gran Turismo, cars in Dead Rising. There was even a car in Watch Dogs, but it went away. I understand that cars are n launch game choice because there are no faces to render, and because hardcore racing game fans are nothing if not loyal. But the things that make car games fun are hard to see in a demo. Sure, you can show me a McLaren P1 looking amazing in a game, but that doesn’t mean the game is any good.

That said, Ubisoft’s The Crew seems like it could be good on gameplay alone. Not only do you get the authenticity of branded cars and customization options, but the entire point of the game is to drive the cars in a broad open world – not just look at them as they make a series of turns. And you can drive them just about anywhere in a level; about 5 minutes in to my demo, I drove directly off a cliff and across a patch of desert to reach a race starting point (because following the normal dirt trail would’ve taken longer.)

Production director Pete Young explained (as I raced against several AI controlled cars on a dirt trail) that the game has an MMO approach to levels and an almost role-playing game approach to customization. Winning that race (because Young advised me to mash on the boost button at just the right time) won me some kind of unlockable that would’ve allowed me to further customize my Nissan Skyline.

After that brief solo experience, Young took the controller to jump us out to a world map. For the demo, this was just the United States with only four playable areas. We fast traveled over to Miami where other journalists were entering a take-down mission against a hummer. Young explained that the idea behind the world map is to teleport instantly to wherever your friends are to get in on missions or races as quickly as possible.

The hummer mission involved racing through the city streets of Miami trying to smash into a hummer enough to knock it over. Young warned me that it’s typically the palm trees that take the most damage as players frantically attempted to weave through trees, chasing the AI-controlled hummer. For players that completely wreck or wind up very far behind in the hummer, there’s a handy reset button on the right bumper that instantly sets you back on the trail and within about five car lengths of the objective so that you’re not missing out too much. Our team was ultimately successful in first ramming the hummer to damage it and then clipping it at an intersection to flip it over and end the mission. Points were awarded to the entire team even if players weren’t able to actually hit the hummer (I did!), and a score ranking at the end of the mission reveals who did the most damage (I did not.)

Though brief, the experience was fun and the Nissan handled decently – although I didn’t get much of a chance to try drifting. I also got a very brief look at a companion app that allows players to view the world map and customize cars. The developer hasn’t decided yet how this app will monetize – whether it will be free, paid, or allow for microtransactions for people that really want to get into customization.

The Crew is due out in “early 2014.”

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