I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
I love The Fast & Furious series. It’s a franchise whose cavalier, devil-may-care spirit has propelled it from the humble beginnings of a paint-by-numbers 2000’s bro-action film into a behemoth of goofy, over the top slop of the finest quality. There’s nothing particularly clever about the series. The writing is terrible, the performances worse, and, if rumors are to be believed, the egos so inflated you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for the political campaigning of 90’s pro wrestling. It should be the easiest slam dunk in the world to translate something like this into a video game – the excessive bombast and wacky action sequences of the films are the ripest fruit a game developer could ever wish to pluck from the almighty Tree of IP – yet by the time I was done with Fast & Furious Crossroads, I found myself more interested in knowing about the behind-the-scenes stories of making the game than I ever was in playing it.
Make no mistake here; Crossroads is an abysmal video game. In some ways, it manages to evoke a throwback sense of a time when every blockbuster film had a shitty, overpriced piece of shovelware coughed up onto the market like some particularly disgusting phlegm, but most of the time, it’s just baffling. It’s hard to fathom how Mad Mind Studios, a developer known exclusively for making fairly well received racing games, has churned out a driving experience that feels this bad. This, a franchise that’s all about going fast, drifting with style, and blowing some shit up along the way, has somehow managed to take the fun out of every single aspect.
At its core, Crossroads is a driving game, and it’s here that things immediately start to fall apart. The handling of your cars is close to indecipherably bad; it’s tough to even describe the absolutely bizarre systems working under the hood here when it comes to even basic tasks like cornering. It doesn’t seem to matter how fast or slowly you take a corner, at some point the car just sort of wrests control away from you as a player and goes into what usually feels like a predefined drift, which mostly results in you careening straight into the nearest wall. My assumption here is that the idea is to attempt to recreate the Sick Movez of the movies, but by apparently snapping the player into a drift while they’re already halfway through a hairpin, it serves only to create complete confusion as you smack into yet another invisible pillar.
The handling isn’t complemented by the game’s inconsistent sense of speed, either. The game runs so poorly that it often has a hard time keeping up with itself, and so various cars and HUD elements speed up or slow down with unpredictable cadence throughout missions. This can make it extremely frustrating to engage with the mechanics built around driving, like shooting EMPs and missiles, or hacking trains, rocket ships, and other cars while behind the wheel. Most of these tasks are glorified QTEs, but when the reticles are dancing between single-digit frames and a full 60 at random, getting the timing down feels like a crapshoot. I don’t remember the last time I saw something like this happen in a game; it’s an impressive feat to make even Quick Time Events a completely busted mechanic.
Mission design is similarly all over the place. There’s generally two kinds of missions in Crossroads; either you drive forever in more or less a straight line over a completely flat environment with plenty of dust and/or fog to obscure a draw distance that even the N64 would find amusing, or things descend into complete chaos with a visual onslaught that’s so intense that it’s difficult to follow what exactly is going on. Trying to ram a bus off the road while driving through heavy traffic and being attacked by a million different goons in supercars is a visual onslaught, but somehow, it’s also boring as sin.
Thankfully, none of these missions are even remotely challenging, but when you’re pinballing off every piece of geometry on a level because there’s a billion things happening, it’s not exactly fun. That’s one of the game’s biggest sins to me, as a fan of the franchise; it manages to take all that wild ‘n’ wacky stuff and make it an annoyance and a bore, which should be impossible for something with the Fast & Furious branding to achieve.
Where Crossroads gets kind of interesting though, is in its story. Not because the story is particularly good – it reads like bad fan-fiction – but because it’s so sloppy and betrays such a lack of effort on the part of its stars that it’s hard to not believe things behind the scenes were chaotic. For most of the campaign’s four or so hours, you take on the dual roles of Vienna and Cam, two American best friends who move to Barcelona for some reason and open a repair shop. While Crossroads deserves praise for Cam’s portrayal being one of the better examples of non-binary representation in a game, almost everything else about these two OCs is as uninteresting as can be. Vienna’s Spanish boyfriend gets mixed up with the Moroccan mob, and eventually the pair get recruited by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), to help infiltrate the mob and stop uh, Peter Stormare? Who has some kind of WMD? I dunno man, it’s a mess.
Of course, none of this is helped by the fact that not one person in the entire cast, with the possible exception of The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Vienna, gives anything even resembling a fuck. Diesel has gained a reputation over the past few years of allegedly being difficult to work with, and it feels like where Crossroads is concerned, that may be warranted. Dom shows up only a handful of times in the story, and if you told me Mr. Diesel gave them only one hour to get as much recorded as possible, I’d believe you.
Most of the storyline is spent thinking up reasons for Dom to not be around, and when he is, he says almost nothing. There are entire sequences where while playing as Dom, other members of the crew are having full conversations, while Toretto remains wordless. There’s a particularly funny scene where Dom’s driving with Roman (Tyrese Gibson), who spends the entire time essentially having a conversation with just himself. The climactic scene where Toretto engages in a feat that could only be termed superhuman in complete and total silence while the rest of the crew coordinate at the top of their lungs is downright laughable, and turns what should be the kind of bananas scene fans would love into a weird imitation.
None of Diesel’s co-stars give a fuck about this game either of course, but at least they showed up. For Diesel to be so absent from a game that he stood on stage at The Game Awards and plugged in the final segment feels insulting to players, fans, and the people who presumably worked very hard on a game that feels hamstrung by its own rights holders. I guess the fact that characters and moments from the series get little winks and nods throughout is cool, but unless you’re a hardcore fan, it’s tough to imagine caring.With its nonsensical storytelling, half-assed performances, dreadful handling and abysmal technical chops, Fast & Furious Crossroads is a failure on just about every conceivable level. It’s a game that feels like the people who built their careers off the source material didn’t want to be a part of, that the developers couldn’t do much more than force out in any state whatsoever, and that will leave fans sorely disappointed. Crossroads commits the ultimate sin; it makes a joyous, bizarre and lovable franchise unbearable. It’s dull, it’s boring, and it’s hard to imagine it satisfying anyone. Instead of spending $60 on this, go grab some friends, order in and watch Tokyo Drift instead. It’ll last you about as long, and it’s a way better time.