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The Crew Calling All Units review

Martin Bigg On April 24, 2017

The Crew is one of the most underrated racing games of this generation. Ubisoft’s ambitious MMO racer got off to a stalled start on its initial release, but it’s evolved into a thriving community of regular players embarking on extended online road trip adventures, while a significant graphical overhaul, reworked handling, and a slew of extra content has made it the game it should have been at launch.

It’s still not without its flaws - the storyline is instantly forgettable and the AI has some of the most blatant rubber-banding you’ll ever experience, and while the staggering scale of Ivory Tower’s open world recreation of the United States never fails to impressive, it doesn’t provide enough activities to occupy players and encourage the online cooperative 'crew' gameplay the title alludes to. 

As well as capitalising on the lack of a new Need for Speed game release since the underwhelming reboot, the cops and racers-themed Calling All Units expansion attempts to address this following the release of Wild Run, which added extreme new vehicle specs to the series.
 

Hot Pursuit

Chief new addition in Calling All Units is the ability to play as the police and chase down reckless racers in souped-up squad cars. Comparisons to Need for Speed are inevitable here - stare at the screenshots or watch a gameplay video of the police-spec Nissan GTR and Koenigsegg Agera RS in action, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking Calling All Units as a Hot Pursuit sequel. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the expansion was originally released in Need for Speed’s traditional winter slot, either. Even the addition of the Ferrari F12berlinetta sparks familiarity since it was the cover car of Need for Speed Rivals to mark the manufacturer’s comeback to the series.

The Crew Calling All Units screenshot

The similarities to Need for Speed don’t end there, either. During chases, racers have access to an arsenal of Hot Pursuit-style weapons: activating EMP Shocks causes pursuers to momentarily lose control, Flashbangs temporarily blind the police, and Guardian which disables police abilities. Cops can also use similar weapons against racers, including speed hacks that slow down racers, as well as the useful ability to instantly catch up to the target if you fall behind. Each powerup recharges after use, so knowing when to use them gives you a tactical edge - a well-timed EMP blast can send clusters of cop cars careering off the road and crashing into nearby obstacles.

Calling All Units won’t win any awards for originality, but it does improve the game’s police chases which left a lot to be desired in the main game thanks to the overly aggressive AI. New racer events in the expansion challenge you to deliver crates to a destination while evading swarms of pursuing police cars intent on stopping you. Successfully delivering crates awards you with a fragment part – earn 10, and you unlock a new car. Police chases in Calling All Units are fun, fast and frantic, with an intensity recalling the original Need for Speed Most Wanted at times - yes, they really are that good and put the tame chases in the Need for Speed reboot to shame.
 
This is thanks to the drastically improved AI. Police in Calling All Units are smarter and more tactical than before: they’ll work together to box you in and slow you down to a halt, perform pit manoeuvres to spin you out, deploy roadblocks, and call in helicopters to track you down. There’s a genuine sense of peril when you narrowly escape capture with seconds to spare after being boxed in during a madcap dash to the delivery point.

Police academy

Less successful are the new story missions – playing as a cop simply isn’t as entertaining as being a racer. You play as new character Clara Washington in 12 story missions exclusive to the expansion, a rookie cop enlisted by FBI agent Zoe Winters, who returns from the original game, to take down a gang known as The Harvesters.

The Crew Calling All Units screenshot 2
 
While the loose narrative adds context to the chase missions, don’t expect any character development in the story. The missions are also very samey: the vehicles and locations vary, but apart from the occasional cop checkpoint race disguised as a training mission, the objective remains the same in every chase mission.
 
The Crew’s revenge storyline was woefully generic, but it was elevated by legendary voice actor Troy Baker’s portrayal of lead character Alex. Calling All Units, on the other hand, has some of the worst dialogue in any racing game. Clara spouts out the same hammy one-liners in every mission, and it’s obvious that Zoe is voiced by a different actress which is jarring for returning players. The dreadful voice acting makes Nancy’s performance in Chase H.Q. seem award-worthy.
 
Apprehending a fleeing racer requires you to hone in on the target car and stay within a range of 30 meters for several seconds. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but if your car is levelled up it’s not uncommon to complete a story mission in a couple of minutes. The ending of every chase always feels anticlimactic, too: since you don’t need to force the car to stop or take out the racer by repeatedly ramming them like in the game’s Takedown missions, the chase abruptly ends if you stalk the target car’s rear bumper for a few seconds, which isn’t very satisfying.

The Crew Calling All Unis sceenshot 3

The 12 story missions don't take very long to complete, but progression is gated by some frustrating design decisions. Your first police car is donated to you, but later missions require Raid, Perf, Dirt and Circuit spec vehicles that need to be purchased in-game. Calling All Units is clearly designed for experienced players, as prices for the faster cop cars are extortionate – buying a Circuit spec car will set you back at least 500,000 credits, and that's for the cheapest car.
 
This probably won't be an issue for veteran players of The Crew who may already have enough credits to afford the higher-spec cars, but newcomers will either need to do a lot of grinding to earn enough cash, or resort to micro-transactions just to access the expansion’s content. When the payoff is unlocking a small handful of brief, near-identical chase missions, there’s little incentive to pour in the hours.

Fortunately, if you have the patience some of the new cars can be unlocked by collecting fragments from completing missions, but the amount of grinding required to unlock content you’ve already paid for in the expansion is excessive, making for a disjointed experience.  



New vehicles in Calling All Units range from the Nissan GT-R, which looks stunning as a cop car, to police bikes and a Hummer. However, unlike Wild Run which introduced customisable drag cars, drift cars and monster trucks, police vehicles aren’t available as specs, meaning you can’t upgrade existing vehicles into cop cars which is a missed opportunity.

Chasing cars

As you would expect for an MMO racing game, the online component in Calling All Units makes up for the sparse single player content. Players can receive invites or seamlessly dive into chase missions if they happen to be close to another pursuit in progress, which is a welcome addition in an MMO where interaction with other players is surprisingly rare unless you’re in a crew with like-minded players. 
 
Working in teams to apprehend racers or take down cops to help another player deliver a crate is fun and exhilarating, but matches often don’t last very long. Compared to the Wild Run’s year-long Summit campaign which rewarded dedicated players with regular rewards and a sense of progression, the lasting appeal of Calling All Units is limited – with only one main game mode, the chase missions soon lose their appeal. Also, being a persistent online world that requires an internet connection to play means you still can't pause the game, which is hardly ideal in a pursuit scenario when a distraction can lead to an arrest. 
 
Calling All Units is also criminally overpriced – especially when you consider that the racer content, arguably the best part of the package, can be accessed free of charge. Paying £19.99 will give you access to the Wild Run expansion as well which sweetens the deal, but there’s no discount if you already own the previous expansion. If you’re new to the series, The Crew Ultimate Edition offers far better value, bundling the main game and the two expansions for the price of a full game.  

The Crew Calling All Units screenshot 4

Overall, Calling All Units is an enjoyable expansion for The Crew, but it lacks the variety and lasting appeal of Wild Run, and doesn’t offer returning players enough content to justify the steep asking price, while newcomers will find the restrictive progression system too frustrating. It's a shame, because the police chase missions are entertaining and exhilarating for a while, particularly with groups of competitive online players, but the less said about the negligible narrative in the single player, the better. Where Ivory Tower takes the series next is anyone's guess, but The Crew is starting to show its age - it could do with either a substantial map expansion or a sequel to reinvigorate the series and keep players invested.  

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