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Ubisoft's racer The Crew blurs the line between online and offline worlds

Online? Offline? It's all the same to The Crew.

EA ain't the only company capable of cranking out enticing-looking racing games. Mere hours after EA showed off the cloud-connected world of Need for Speed: Rivals, Ubisoft announced The Crew, an open-world racer crafted by Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections (which you may know as the tandem behind Driver: San Francisco.)

The Crew tasks you with infiltrating crime gangs in a huge map modeled after the entire U.S., customizing your car from the rims up and engaging in street races, off-road time challenges, and missions in which you actively take down gang members by ramming them into oblivion. Actually, it looks an awful lot like a really big version of Burnout mixed with a healthy, nitrous-tinged dose of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit--an arcade racer built for fun, not realism.

So far, so good--but also so ho-hum. That changes with the game's persistent online world.

Ubisoft claims the game blurs the lines between single player, co-op, and competitive multiplayer. That car tearing down the road while you're tooling away at single player missions may be an AI competitor--or it may just be another living, breathing player. The game also makes it easy to call your compadres to your side in-game, sans a discrete lobby. (All the better to make the world more persistent, my dear.)

To show off The Crew's immersive world, Ubisoft dragged four players onstage to give the game a whirl. At first, each was doing his own thing--a race through the streets of New York here, an off-road romp through the Black Hills of South Dakota there. Eventually, one player needed a hand taking down a tough gang member in Miami. He called the other three in for an assist without ever once hopping into a multiplayer lobby, and the quartet then proceeding to slam into a fortified enemy truck throughout the sunny streets of Florida.

The Crew sure looks fun, and it'll be augmented by a mobile app that allows you to customize your cars and track the whereabouts and misadventures of your pals, judging by the screens that quickly flashed by. When, exactly, will all that multi-device, super-seamless synchronicity occur? Look for The Crew to hit the streets (and hills) of the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in early 2014.

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