The Crew features an open and persistent world for racing and free-roaming across a scaled-down recreation of the contiguous United States. The map is split into five regions: The Midwest, East Coast, Mountain States, West Coast, and The South. Each region has its own unique geographical features. Six main cities (one in each region, two in The Midwest) are featured in the game: Detroit and Chicago in the Midwest, New York City on the East Coast, Miami in The South, Las Vegas in the Mountain States, and Los Angeles on the West Coast. Various other cities, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Dallas, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and St. Louis, are also featured in the game. Over thirty smaller cities and towns line the countryside. It takes approximately 45 minutes in real time to drive from coast to coast in-game. The single-player campaign is 20 hours long, and entails infiltrating criminal groups with protagonist Alex Taylor (Troy Baker). Players can also participate in mini-games called skills challenges that are peppered across the world. They are triggered when a player drives through them and it involves completing challenges such as weaving through gates and staying as close to a racing line as possible for a period of time. Players’ scores are automatically saved so friends can try and beat their scores, in similar fashion to how Autolog works in games of the Need for Speed franchise. Missions can be played alone, with friends, or with online co-op matchmaking. The multiplayer mode lets a maximum of eight players to compete in races and other gametypes. There are no in-game loading screens or pauses. Players can also build cars with a tie-in app for iOS and Android.
The Crew creative director Julian Gerighty has called the game a role-playing game with large-scale multiplayer elements. The multiplayer is not separate from the single-player. Players can form “crews” to race together or against ghost records.
Though the player can play alone, the game requires a constant internet connection to play.