Maybe a day or two before I started typing a review, however, I played maybe the most ambitious driving game in history. That game is, still, The Crew.
The way you unlock the most ambitious driving game in history is to ignore the game. Ignore the races. Ignore the stupid story of dudebro Gordon Freeman doing oddjobs for criminals. Ignore the convoluted GUI. Ignore the global event bullshit, ignore the PVP. You unlock it when you get in a car, ANY car, and drive. You pick a part of the country you want to go--chances are it exists, albeit in a truncated form--set a mark, and head off. And you explore. The country, of course, isn't 1:1 sized, but it is, by game standards, massive. The first trip I took was simply cross country, from Midtown Manhattan to Malibu, California. With the exception of a few pit stops for bathroom breaks, it took an hour and 12 minutes to drive a straight line across the country. I wasn't racing anyone. I had no objectives after the first 10 minutes of urging me to go back to New York. I had a laptop with Spotify on random. And I saw my country. I saw sunrises, sunsets, I saw big cities, and tiny little villages. I saw amusement parks in the day. I saw blustery mountains at midnight. I met other drivers, and racing them down the highway, even with the slippery physics, felt free flowing, easy, and friendly. It was like Journey at 160 MPH. And it was exhilarating, It was a vacation. It was freedom.
I'm no stranger to that idea, since that's something I've found myself doing in GTAs since San Andreas, where I would pop in the disc, just to make regular trips up and down the state happen. But The Crew's America is just so stunning and lovingly rendered that I found myself just wanting to drive everywhere to see what I could. My country became a playground like never before.
Thing is, that's not really something a developer can really plan for. I dont think. A game that's just a car and open road could ever quite have the same feeling of discovery, of players CHOOSING freedom instead of having it foisted as a core mechanic. All you can really offer is the ability. Again, Rockstar figured that out a long time ago. But even a campaign as flawed and obnoxious as The Crew's has something to teach. And the lesson here is that driving should, in fact, feel like freedom. And the more The Crew takes that freedom away, the less of a game it is. The only way to win isn't necessarily to not play, but not playing according to the rules is definitely a step in the right direction.