The Crew Motorfest doesn’t shy away from how heavily it’s influenced by the Forza Horizon series. That’s something that’s been abundantly apparent in all that we’ve seen of the open world racer in the lead-up to its launch, and it becomes even more so the moment you start playing it. From the festive vibe of a vibrant open world setting to how it touts to be a celebration of car culture, The Crew Motorfest feels like a Forza Horizon game in all but name.
That, by the way, is a great thing in my book, because I adore Forza Horizon. It’s a good direction for Ubisoft’s series to head in after its previous two instalments, and though I don’t think The Crew Motorfest touched quite the same heights as the games it borrows so liberally from, it does come across as a solid and suitably close approximation, delivering a lot of the same thrills and charms, even if it doesn’t deliver on the same scale.
More than almost anything else, The Crew Motorfest’s change in direction benefits the atmosphere of the whole experience. The first two instalments in Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s franchise were solid enough in their own right, but their recreations of the United States mainland felt a bit too bland, a bit too lacking in personality. Motorfest doesn’t have that problem in the slightest. The Hawaiian island of O’ahu is a stellar setting for the racer, and simply existing in it and driving through its beautifully realized environments feels significantly more enjoyable than anything Motorfest’s predecessors had on offer.
“Though The Crew Motorfest touched quite the same heights as the games it borrows so liberally from, it does come across as a solid and suitably close approximation, delivering a lot of the same thrills and charms, even if it doesn’t deliver on the same scale.”
It helps, of course, that there’s an impressive amount of variety to be found across all of O’ahu. From dense rainforests and pristine beaches to urban locales and the slopes of a volcano, The Crew Motorfest’s world is brimming boasts incredible environmental diversity, and it has the visual and technical chops to back it up as well as it deserves to be backed up. Regardless of where you find yourself on the island, regardless of what time of day it is, regardless of whether the sun is shining brightly or if you’re caught in the middle of a downpour, Motofest always looks gorgeous, and nearly every road you drive through is a joy to behold. Better yet, in my experience, the game has had next to no performance issues. I played on an Xbox Series X on performance mode, and very rarely did I notice any meaningful dips in frame rate, with the game largely sticking to a smooth 60 FPS.
As for what you do in the open world, the game is much less inventive on that front, though still sufficiently enjoyable. A lot of that is down to the fact that the moment-to-moment gameplay here has seen significant improvements over The Crew 2. The driving feels much more satisfying, handling feels much more responsive, and vehicles feel meaningfully different from each other as soon as you get behind the wheel, in a way they did not in previous games. Admittedly, the game has an annoying knack for bombarding you with awfully written dialogue from NPCs, all of whom are little more than caricatures, and peppering in cutscenes before the beginning of an event or a Playlist. As annoying as that is though, when you’re actually behind the wheel – which, of course, is where you are for the bulk of the game – it’s hard not to have fun.
The primary activities in the game come in the form of Playlists, each of which is a curated collection of races designed around a specific theme. Ubisoft Ivory Tower is billing The Crew Motorfest as a celebration of car culture, and it’s with these Playlists that it puts that facet on display for all to see. One might put all of its attention on American muscle cars, while another might turn the spotlight on Japanese street racing. One might be designed around taking you on a scenic tour through the open world, while others still might be focused on specific car manufacturers, like Porsche and Lamborghini.
“The moment-to-moment gameplay here has seen significant improvements over The Crew 2. The driving feels much more satisfying, handling feels much more responsive, and vehicles feel meaningfully different from each other as soon as you get behind the wheel, in a way they did not in previous games.”
Each Playlist also comes with unique elements to go along with their themes. For instance, in the Vintage Garage Playlist, you’re not only being put behind the wheels of old school vehicles, the game also takes away your GPS and driving line to align with that theme. Similarly, when you’re blazing through the races of the Made in Japan Playlist, you’ll be doing so at nighttime through neon-lit streets, with Japanese decorations adorning the environments in glorious fashion. I do feel that the game could have leveraged the themed nature of its Playlists better than it does – a lot of the events end up being regular races, which I found a little disappointing – but there’s still enough variety on offer here that going from one Playlist to the next does bring about enough of a change in style for the gameplay experience.
Meanwhile, outside of the Playlists, you can participate in a healthy selection of open world activities that provide their own brand of bite-sized fun, including slaloms, speed traps, and more. A couple of these activities actually end up being quite different from what you’d ordinarily expect to see in an open world game, like being tasked with driving through a series of small gates at high speeds, or escaping an ever-growing danger zone. Beyond that, there are challenges to tackle in the Playlists you’ve completed and the game’s multiplayer offerings to dive into. Ubisoft Ivory Tower has, of course, promised healthy post-launch support for The Crew Motorfest in the months and years to come, and if it follows in the footsteps of what we saw with The Crew 2, there’s going to be no shortage of new content in the future- but even in its current form, Motorfest has no shortage of things to do.
One aspect of the game that’s a bit disappointing is how heavily it de-emphasizes planes and boats. Like The Crew 2, you can seamlessly switch between cars, planes, and boats at any time, and doing so while you’re zooming through the open world is as fun as ever. But the actual, authored content in the game almost completely sidelines the latter two. Yes, the addition of new vehicle types like bikes and ATVs does inject more variety into the experience, and yes, they’re a lot of fun to drive- but the fact that there’s just a single Playlist that combines events for both planes and boats is definitely a bit of a bummer.
“I do feel that the game could have leveraged the themed nature of its Playlists better than it does – a lot of the events end up being regular races, which I found a little disappointing – but there’s still enough variety on offer here that going from one Playlist to the next does bring about enough of a change in style for the gameplay experience.”
Another sticking point I’ve had with The Crew Motorfest is how its progression is structured. When the game begins, you only have access to a handful of Playlists, with all the rest being locked behind certain requirements. Side activities, like open world activities and photo opportunities, are also only gradually added to the open world as you unlock and initiate more Playlists, which means that in its opening hours, its open world can feel a bit sparse. That problem does start going away as you unlock more Playlists, but the slow progression definitely holds back the first few hours of the experience. What doesn’t help is the fact that fast travel isn’t available right off the bat either, which means you’ll be frequently forced to drive from point A to point B- though thankfully, in these situations, you can just hop into a plane and significantly cut down on the time it takes to get to your objective.
The Crew Motorfest is a solid step forward for Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s open world racing franchise. It’s a better game than any of its predecessors were, not only because the moment-to-moment driving is more fun, but also because it’s got a much stronger personality, and because it’s an open world setting is an absolute joy to behold, even after you’ve spent hours driving through it. Does it ascend to the heights of the Forza Horizon games it’s so clearly trying to emulate? No, not quite. But it does succeed in a lot of the same ways, delivering a racing game that’s well worth checking out for all fans of the genre.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.