Ubisoft’s racing franchise The Crew has always been a weird one, with mixed reception at the launch of both games but great and lengthy support throughout the years ensuring a not massive but loyal fanbase, with 2018’s The Crew 2 getting major updates even after 5 years. The new installment, Motorfest, takes a new yet familiar direction, one that may remind you of certain… horizons.
For za thrills
Whereas the other two games were set in a miniaturized but still rather big (for video game standards anyway) United States, with each region offering the kind of biome you’d expect, The Crew Motorfest flies us unto Hawaii, in what was rumored to be initially a meaty expansion pack that eventually turned into a full-fledged standalone title. Giving credibility to this behind the scene decision is the fact that the game features an evolution of The Crew 2’s engine and all its gameplay features, with players even being able to import every single car they unlocked from that game, as all of that is already included here already alongside the wagons of new content, both present and future. And indeed, it’s a smaller open world than in the previous installments, but it’s still a pretty chunky piece of land, with all kinds of biomes like mountain areas, beaches, a volcano, rain forests, fields of green, cave formations and a lot more.
Now, The Crew franchise, the second title especially, has never shied away from taking inspiration from the critical and commercial darling Xbox (and PC) exclusives, Forza Horizon. It’s only natural to take cues from what is, arguably, the strongest open world racing formula on market. The Crew Motorfest drops all subtlety, and takes the players unto this island where there’s a festival – I mean, a “Motorfest”. It has all kinds of themed events, coloured banners everywhere, wacky announcers, a female-voiced AI assistant GPS with an acronym name… even the game’s intro seems like a rejected Forza Horizon introduction, putting the player into various bite-sized cinematic moments at the wheel of different kinds of cars, with blasting energetic music and dramatic slo-mos for maximum effect. We know The Crew Motorfest is trying to be “Forza Horizon at home”, to paraphrase the popular meme format. The developer, Ivory Tower, knows it. The publisher, Ubisoft, knows it. But does The Crew Motorfest have enough going for it to stand out and, most importantly, to excite? The short answer is: yes, it does.
Blast from the past
Unless you imported your collection of cars from The Crew 2 or obtained some fancy pre-order or special edition bonus, the game begins with the Forza Horizon-esque selection of one of 3 fairly basic street cars at the festival site. At this point, the game’s vast open world opens up, as one of the various available playlists is suggested to the player. The playlists are themed collection of races, usually about 4 to 8 per series, with each introducing its own quirks to the formula. This is quite a departure from Forza Horizon games, where most events are loosely connected from the racing style or their general area at best. Here, we find offroad competitions, street events, drag races, drift challenges, time trials, usually with very specific cars on loan. All these are introduced by very fancy intros, too, and feature a nice array of cars that fit the theme of the event, with the playlists’ hosts giving us cool tidbits about the culture of the kind of event or car we’re exploring.
As said, these playlists often have their unique gameplay variations as well. These might be optional objectives such as keeping the damage to the minimum since we’re driving very expensive and rare cars, all the way down to the very memorable Vintage Garage series where minimap, turbo and such are turned off at first, as we throw back to historic cars from decades ago, with the soundtrack featuring retro tunes as well. Even the colour palettes and on-track decorations very from one another, making sure to give a further unique visual quirk to these various themed events, with the open world itself actually presenting such opportunities already. Since Forza Horizon still refuses to go to Japan, The Crew Motorfest goes there – sort of. On this Hawaiian landscape, there is a Japanese quarter in one of the towns, with the related playlist filling up the place with neon lights in the night and colourful inflatable dragons rocking the skies. It may not be Japan itself, but it certainly feels like it, with again even the vast soundtrack adapting to oriental-infused sounds in the modern EDM, rock, trap, etc. beats. Sometimes even the race structure itself drastically changes from one playlist to another, with some even introducing pitstops and tyre wear to the mix. On the flipside, a handful of these playlists are fairly generic, with the one made in collaboration with YouTube channel Donut Media that I’ve found to be rather cringe, given the hard to like, obnoxious nature of the presenter.
The game almost forgets to tell the player, but this is by all means an evolution of The Crew 2 with almost no feature lost in the transition. That means that the iconic vehicle transformations are back, with the player being able to immediately shapeshift between ground vehicle (being a car, bike or whatever), an air-based one (planes, essentially) and a boat (a speedboat, usually). This can be done on the fly at any moment, even mid-air, creating transitions that still feel mighty cool to this day, despite having done them a million times on The Crew 2 before. It’s curious because the game is absolutely focused on the car racing, the car culture, so there seems to be far less variety and content when it comes to races on water or air. Still, it’s a nice feature to have, and it makes the open world exploration a lot more thrilling when you can just hop on top of a mountain via shapeshifting into a fast plane, instead of having to find a lengthy road up. Though, of course, fast travel locations are unlocked as the game progresses as well. And there’s absolutely no shortage of vehicles, with all of The Crew 2’s cars, boats and planes making a comeback and plenty newcomers as well giving us a list of already above 600 available rides to play with.
Vehicle handling in a game is very much a matter of taste, habits and style, but it’s not a hot take to point out that The Crew 2 didn’t have the most satisfying of driving models, especially when compared to the other similar games on the market. Motorfest brings various tweaks to that, especially in regards to ground-based vehicles, which feel smoother and more natural than ever. The sole exception to this, for my sensitivities anyway, is drifting, which is not quite as arcade and easy-going as the rest of the game. This means that, unless a car is carefully tuned towards a very drift-focused direction, these actually slow down the car by a metric ton, making it often more effective to just bounce off an outside wall or ride it altogether instead. By turning on all drift assists it feels slightly better, but it still falls below recent titles like Forza Horizon 5 or Need For Speed Unbound.
Not everything’s as bright as the sun in Hawaii
In short, the act of racing against the clock or other drivers is excellent, and so is traversing the vast and varied open world of this rendition of Hawaii. It’s the remained of the side activities that doesn’t quite hit as hard. Like in every open world racing game in recent memory, do expect the usual variety of speed checks, drift zones and more, with the creative Escape mode making a return from the previous game as well. Apart from that, the open world feels extremely void for the most part, with each playlist merely unlocking a series of graffitis, little statues and so on that players will need to find on the minimap, drive over to them and hold the A button to unlock. With collectibles usually being located in fairly large clusters, these exploration phases really boil down to a mindless driving from point A to B to C, and aside from a few sets like a series of drone statues that can be found on rooftops, they really are easy and formulaic. Even the random coloured lootboxes from The Crew 2 spawn again in Motorfest, and the system hasn’t become more fun or complex since. And speaking of the loot inside of those…
Similarly uninspired is this loot system, which remained the same from The Crew 2 given the complete carry-over of any and all vehicles and their upgrades. Winning events and finding treasures in the aforementioned open world activites nets these coloured tier loot items for each vehicle’s class, with flat numbers that define its stats and, as their rarity goes up, gives some various boosts to XP, loot finding and more. With a limited inventory for said items and all progression boiling down to “this class goes up to 750 so I need to find an item that says 750 on it”, it really isn’t anything special and it barely adds to the general experience. Plus in most online modes the cars are stock anyway (though this is a positive), so these upgrades mainly serve for solo play.
A world of possibilities
The Crew Motorfest features a large, shared open world, once again very similar to Forza Horizon in execution. That means that players can find other racers all around the map, minding their own business and they can team up or race each other if they so desire at any time. Events can be played together in co-op, custom races too can be set up against real opponents, but perhaps most exciting of them all are the random events that pop up on the open world every 30 minutes. These range from large team-based destruction derby battle royales, even featuring the usual “drop” phase with our cars falling from a plane onto the ground, to extended multiclass races against dozens of other opponents at the same time. For some reason, the game’s handling, generous checkpoint hitboxes and cars not being crazy heavy makes for races that are far less chaotic and unsportsmanlike compared to what we see in other racers of this kind, with these events really being a blast at times. And with cars being leveled and the same rulesets applying to everyone, it’s pure competition like it should be.
Other than all that, expect the barrage of features and quality of life tweaks that are present in practically all open world racing games nowadays – for the most part, in this case, with little to no change to what we saw in The Crew 2. Custom liveries and car painting with the possibility of sharing your creations online and downloading those of others; a detailed and feature-rich photo mode that allows the creation of very customizeable screenshots, with even time of day and weather that can be changed on the fly; a combo system that allows scoring points and XP while in the open world, so that drifts, close calls with incoming traffic and all kinds of stunts help the players progressing; a rewind system that allows players to go back in time up to 15 seconds if they make a mistake; a day/night cycle with dynamic weather; and so on. Again, for the most part, the game’s core is near identical to 2018’s The Crew 2, with most of the differences boiling down to the actual racing events, so expect virtually everything you’ve seen there in Motorfest as well.
It looks the part
The previous installment in The Crew franchise wasn’t at one point the hottest game in town from a technical point of view, stuck to a frankly outdated 30 frames per second even on Xbox One X and Series X|S for the longest time, with most assets not quite on par with the competition either. That has eventually changed with a “next-gen patch” bringing the game up to speed a bit, most importantly unlocking said 60 frames per second mode. The Crew Motorfest mantains this option, though a Graphics Mode with 30fps exists too (which I’d never use in a fast racer like this). But most importantly, the game features much more convincing lights and shadows, better particles, which gives the whole game world a less flat feel. The vehicles itself remained pretty much the same as before, and in truth some assets like the human characters leave a lot to be desired at times, but The Crew Motorfest’s visuals shine where it matters the most: the actual races.
It wouldn’t be a big arcade racer without a bombastic licensed soundtrack, and I’m happy to report that The Crew Motorfest has one of the finest selections in recent memory. The Power of the Riff radio has all kinds of modern rock from the likes of The Black Keys to Bones, the EDM radio packs names such as Martin Garrix and Baauer, with even a radio called Hit & Outrun that has all kinds of retrowave and synthwave tunes from artists like Crystal Shards to Gramatik. With plenty of songs in various genres inspired by the sounds and cultures of the locations the game itself takes cues from, like the aforementioned Japanese playlist, it feels like almost every kind of event has its fitting handful of tunes you can’t go wrong with.
It’s no Forza Horizon, but…
Thus, The Crew Motorfest is a frankly quite shameless Forza Horizon imitation, with entire design elements, audiovisual choices and more practically copied 1:1 from Playground Games’ highly successful franchise. But despite that, or perhaps precisely because of that, Motorfest is the most exhilarating, fun and satisfying the franchise has ever been, with improved handling, graphics, less cluttered progression and even a few smart tweaks to Horizon’s ideas. It even features much more unique events, combined with a more varied selection of vehicle styles including bikes, planes and boats even – though the latter aspect feels like a remainder from the previous game, rather than something that received major focus. It may not reach the stellar highs of the Forza Horizon games, with the loot game and open world side activities remaining a bit stale like in the previous game, but The Crew Motorfest is a lovely open world arcade racer that fans of said formula should definitely try. And judging by Ubisoft’s and The Crew’s recent history, it’s safe to say that there will be plenty of excellent content additions for months/years to come.
The Crew Motorfest
Xbox Series X
- Great handling
- Impressive variety of events with unique playstyles
- Solid and varied visuals
- Online racing is a blast
- Tons of content carries over from The Crew 2 as well
- It's practically a carbon copy of Forza Horizon games
- Planes and boats feel like leftover content from The Crew 2
- Doesn't have Forza Horizon's extreme freedom
- Open world activities are a bit weak