-I've read people say this is sort of what TDU/2 is supposed to have been. I never played them. The nearest to open world racing I have experienced is Burnout Paradise. My comparisons will be based on Paradise.
First, the main draw, I think, is the sheer scope. Meant to represent the continental USA, the game world is huge and divided into 5 sections: East coast, west coast, the South, Midwest, and one region I've unfortunately forgotten about. In each region, there is a handful of towns, of varying sizes from the region. the South for example, has Nashville, New Orleans, Miami(which is one of the 5 major cities in the game), Dallas, and others. The midwest, where the beta starts and focuses on, has Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis. Between them and the west coast is Las Vegas and the desert, as well as other towns.
Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago had landmark areas to visit that would give a quick sentence or two on a neighborhood, factory( Detroit's Ford factory included). Unfortunately I can't say I know anything about the 3 cities in game where landmarks are described, so i don't know how many are real or not.
-What about that open-world, no loading screen driving?
Well, the game touts being able to drive "coast to coast". You can do that. If you don't want to, pull into a town, and feel free to use the train station or airport as a sort of fast travel to different towns. You can actually fast travel to any specific spot you've driven to. What this means is I start in Detroit, fly to Miami or San Francisco, drive to the nearby wilderness, warp to detroit, and warp back to that isolated desert plateau.
Speaking of towns and landmarks, some regions have real world race tracks or mountain trails. Pike's Peak is very close to St. Louis, while Mazda's Laguna Seca course is close to the western coast line. There are other trails and tracks, but those were the two I personally visited and ran. For those of you curious, Pike's Peak is in its gravel glory.
-There's a lot of driving, what kind of driving is it?
Well, it isn't as arcadey as Burnout Paradise,Initial D, Fast and Furious, or other arcade machine driving games. With that said, it isn't Gran Turismo, Forza, or Rfactor either. Users of steering setups like Logitech's G27 can expect to use all 3 pedals if they so choose. I personally made use of the 360 controller for pc, and while it wasn't as perfect as a wheel could be, I did fairly well. Controller users, expect some slight difficulty shifting in default controls. Using the Right analog stick up and down as sequential shifting works well enough until you need to reverse. Likewise, don't expect to be precise on throttle and brake using the left and right triggers. The boost button is the "A" button, which means boosting as you shift WILL be awkward and slow you down. Having one of the wheels is definitely going to be a better experience in fun and outright skill.
As far as tuning your vehicles go, expect more "MMO", less "simulation" and "racing". For example, I completed a quick event while cruising and got a new ECU. it added +2 to braking. When you buy your car and it's considered "full stock", you will see some real stats: Torque, max speed, weight, drivetrain layout, 0-60 time. Once you begin upgrading it however, those will be replaced bby more MMO styled representations. My 370Z car in "Street" spec had a speed of 63xx, and after getting various unlocks, it ended up around 66xx. This may seem confusing, and I apologize if my description has lost you. Here's the bottom line: DO NOT EXPECT YOUR CAR TO HANDLE WITH SPECIFIC INPUTS AS IF THIS IS FORZA OR GT. The game definitely caters more to the feel/perception of driving than the technical know-how and experience.*Note I've only played GT5, which is a decent "sim" for consoles, but probably isn't the most in-depth driving sim either. It is a good comparison to this game and Burnout Paradise though.*
Viisually, car mods are well done. Swap bumpers, hoods, trunk spoilers, interior material, and paint. Bonus points for rally lights and snorkels for "Dirt" spec cars. Each part and sticker fits right. The cars are simply beautiful to look at. As you get damaged, paint scrrapes off, bumpers begin to hang off, glass gets cracked. Did you drive off-road? you've probably collected some mud.
So, the game's called "The Crew". Where's said crew? (Multiplay)
If you see a player you want to crew with, simply bring the menu up, select their trading card, and invite them. Once in a crew, the whole team (up to 4) can do most single-play events. If one player wins it, the whole team wins it. Got a friend that loves off-road, and another that specializes in hitting the apex on a hill climb or track? the off-road guy can do track events with the track guy. Team wins, off-roader can move on. Same with the track nut being able to sort of get carried through off-road events. The notes are true: *no* load times. You can drive from Detroit to San Fran without seeing a load screen. ***Except for a noticable 2-6 seconds transition to and from map screen. So what happens when you are in Detroit and your friends are already in San Fran? Well, if you've been to the spot they are at, you can simply fast travel directly on top of them. Otherwise, unfortunately, you guys have a bit of a drive to meet up unless you take a bus or plane.
For better or worse, you can't see every player that is online in your world. the game seems to split players into "Sessions". You can freely see players on your map if they are in your session. Whether your friends are in your session or not, you can crew with them. Animals and perhaps other things aren't synced. A friend was running over some boars in a forest while I watched him do donuts in an open field. Weather does seem to be synced though.
I tried to cover some of the technical aspects above. Driving physics and handling, the open world aspect, and multiplay.
The truth is, I had a fun time being in a crew with 2 friends, and going from meeting them near Laguna Seca, to driving for 20 minutes sowe could hit Pike's Peak. Yes, there's a single player story revolving around underground street racing and gang drama...but what I and my friends enjoyed most, was getting in our cars, and just driving. I was using a Ford Focus, while my friends were using a Dodge Charger and a Ford Mustang. As we were traveling, I had to really struggle at times to keep them in my view. My god it was glorious. Sometimes they let off the throttle, or we paused to swap to different cars. After switching to my street car (370z) I was able to keep good pace and even pass them. At that point, we were able to just trail each other closely.
Buy/consider this game if:
-You enjoy driving just to cruise. (Part of the charm is the 20 min drive)
-You don't need/want very technical, realistic driving. OR You don't mind a driving game with somewhat..exaggerated characteristics.
-You like open world games
-You like cars
-MMO/RPG type progression is ok to you: redoing missions for more XP/cash, less than accurate tuning( see above for ECU adding +2 to braking stat )
- Simply looking for another game to use that steering wheel/pedal/shifter set for.
Maybe skip the game if:
-the idea of an always-online game isn't fun to you
- You need/strongly desire simulation/realistic handling, roads, etc. The game makes some heavy compromises in each area.
-You prefer more traditional racing, such as Forza and GT for track racing; Colin McRae/Dirt for Rally/ light off-roading.
-you hate Uplay. (I had some very damning problems separate from the game)
-Not a fan of MMO's or grinding to level up the player or cars.
-You don't really want to use peripherals like a steering wheel, or analog controller. Like a real car, slight throttle, brake, and steering inputs will be the difference between a smooth drive and constantly smacking cars and guard rails.