Just over a month ago, during the Ubisoft Forward 2023 Showcase, something quite unusual happened to me. It was when the Creative Director of Ubisoft Ivory Tower, Stephane Beley, took to the stage to introduce the latest entry in The Crew franchise: The Crew Motorfest. Beley lovingly described the upcoming game as a “portal to a medley of high-octane experiences” in “one of the most breathtaking and vibrant places on earth, Oahu.”
As hyperbolic as it may sound, Beley’s description had me eagerly anticipating the experience. Their words were reminiscent of a Michelin Star chef presenting a signature dish—both tempting and tantalizing. Now having sampled Ubisoft’s latest open-world, action-racing game during the recent Closed Beta, I can confirm it lives up to the hype. As Malu, one of the prominent NPC guides, explains at the start, The Crew Motorfest is an all-you-can-enjoy buffet of car culture.
From the outset, the game presents players with a multitude of activities, events and rewards to discover – so many, in fact, that the concept of ‘playlists’ had to be introduced to keep them all organized. Playlists are at the heart of The Crew Motorfest’s gameplay, most of which are effectively curated races, missions and other trials all tied to a common theme.
“The Crew Motorfest doubles down on many aspects that worked in The Crew 2 but has wisely toned down and/or shed gimmicky elements that did not enhance gameplay.”
The Made in Japan playlist, for example, challenges players to test their skills against the driving prowess of local Japanese drift masters on Honolulu’s neon-lit city streets and mountain roads. The Hawaii Scenic Tour, on the otherhand, takes players on a less stressful, non-competitive journey through some of Oahu’s most beautiful and authentic destinations in a variety of terrain-appropriate vehicles and makes.
Meanwhile, manufacturer-specific playlists such as ‘Lamborghini’ and ‘A Porsche Story: 911 Legacy’ aim to teach players a fun history lesson about these iconic manufacturers’ brands while putting them behind the wheel of their most popular models through the decades.
Completing Playlists in their entirety unlocks special edition vehicles as well as advanced themed challenges. Participating in practically any event or activity rewards players with XP that goes towards unlocking levels and rewards in Main Stage competitions, not to mention Bucks, the in-game currency used to purchase, upgrade, and customize one’s collection of rides.
That’s right, free cars and other stuff come far less frequently than they do in your typical Forza Horizon game, and they don’t pour out of giant slot machines either. Generally, you’ll have to buy them with your winnings (but at least you get to choose what you buy).
Speaking of Forza Horizon (and with no disrespect to developer Playground Games), Ivory Tower has literally turned The Crew Motorfest’s main festival hub into a playground. Several of the main stage event structures have been built directly into the venue itself and the surrounding area.
These include a giant double loop, a drift race track, a drag race track, an off-road sandbox and even more bizarre installations built either to accommodate other forms of racing (think boats or planes) or simply to echo the Hawaiian island theme (and in most cases, both). It all looks rather ridiculous but also somehow efficient. The Festival Hub is also home to the Car Meet Tent, where The Crew Motorfest’s car customization community and activities are centralized.
Once players venture outside the Car Festival Hub, however, they’ll quickly discover that even on their way to an actual Playlist event, there’s no shortage of side activities to engage in. These include speed trap challenges, impromptu slalom runs (where players must navigate turns while alternately passing markers on the left and right), sightseeing photo ops and more.
“Here’s hoping that I can enlist a few friends to join my ‘crew’…”
The Crew Motorfest doubles down on many aspects that worked in The Crew 2 (including the game’s playful colour palette and its multi-vehicle disciplines) but has wisely toned down and/or shed gimmicky elements that did not enhance gameplay. So, no more flashy, scripted Inception-style optical illusion effects when occasionally switching from a car to a plane or a boat during a race. Now it just happens within seconds with no unnecessary fanfare.
No more aimless, free-roam driving across the entire US mainland in between event areas. The game has now been distilled and concentrated into the much smaller but far more dense island geography of Hawaii’s Oahu island.
Finally, players are no longer regarded as a bizarre cross of stuntpersons for hire and online influencers desperately chasing social media follows and lucrative fame. Now as thrill-seeking Motorfest participants, they can single-mindedly focus instead on completing events and earning XP to level up—and, of course, collecting those Bucks.
To say that The Crew Motorfest borrows heavily from the Forza Horizon formula would be an understatement. The thematic focus on a specific country or locale, the heady, car-culture-inspired festival atmosphere, the thumping EDM soundtrack, and the network of event hubs scattered across the landscape featuring different activities that players are “strongly encouraged” to drive, boat and/or fly to while taking in the sights on the way; it’s all there.
Even your car’s built-in personal assistant and the rewind feature that has been a part of the Forza franchise since Forza Motorsport 3 have been lifted wholesale and incorporated into the world of The Crew for the first time. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, they say.
The Crew Motorfest’s exotic setting of Oahu also ticks all the necessary boxes that a successful Forza Horizon competitor needs, including spectacular vistas, various types of terrain, famous sightseeing spots and astonishing ecological wonders. Ivory Tower deserves to be commended for getting to it before Playground Games did.
They should also be praised for fully capitalizing on it, creating thrilling races that take full advantage of the Hawaiian landscape and the surrounding islands’ stunning biomes, including coastlines, beaches, deserts, volcanic peaks and craters, and lush, humid rainforests. In addition, Hawaii’s urban cityscapes and winding mountain roads. Close cultural and historical ties to Japan realistically allow for the aforementioned inclusion of Japanese street and drift racing playlists without appearing oddly out of context.
Aesthetics-wise, The Crew Motorfest uses a more stylized approach to how it renders vehicles and environments. It is crisp, vibrant, and playful, as opposed to the obsessive, hyper-realistic attention to detail found in Playground Games and Turn 10’s Forza games. Motorfest’s vehicles naturally look fantastic, and they move and drive equally well as the competition.
I didn’t spend anywhere near as much time poring over the texture details of my favourite cars’ engines in the game’s Preview Mode as I do in Horizon 5’ ForzaVista mode. But that’s actually a good thing. Motorfest delivers just the right amount of details without distracting me for too long from the actual enjoyment of racing and joyriding up and down Oahu if that makes any sense.
“Ivory Tower has literally made a ‘playground’ out of The Crew Motorfest’s main festival hub.”
The Crew Motorfest Closed Beta offered both a Resolution (Quality) and Performance mode up to 4K. This bodes well for interested gamers who intend to play The Crew Motorfest on their current-gen rig (i.e. PC, PS5, Xbox Series X). As a console framerate aficionado, I respectfully dabbled with the Resolution mode to see how sharp everything looked at 30fps, but once that curiosity was satisfied, I immediately switched into the 4K60 Heaven of Performance mode and never looked back. Motorfest simply looks superb to play in this mode.
As for how The Crew Motorfest feels to drive, I found the controls to be just as accurate and responsive as I would expect from a Horizon contender, but the inclusion of nitrous in several of the Playlist events surprisingly added a layer of challenge that caught me off guard at first. The difficulty curve smoothed out a bit once I learned to anticipate the noticeable delay between igniting the nitrous and the resulting burst of speed from my vehicle, allowing me to better line up successful boosts with well-timed overtake maneuvers.
Feathering the nitrous instead of draining it with every use, braking less, and learning to lay off the acceleration and cruise through some high-speed turns when the driving line is green were other techniques that helped get me on the podium more regularly, even at Level 3 AI Difficulty (out of 5). But don’t expect easy wins, even at Level 2, as the AI will also liberally use nitrous and draft in your blind spot whenever possible to snatch victory from your hands at the last second.
Believe it or not, a weekend with The Crew Motorfest was barely enough time to get my feet wet with all the Closed Beta’s activities. My attempts to join a random multiplayer event kept failing, so I concentrated on the playlists and completed three of them before the beta ended on Sunday night.
To be honest, I had little interest in The Crew as a franchise until The Crew Motorfest was officially unveiled at this year’s Ubisoft Forward, but I can’t deny that this new entry has reignited the racing bug. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a few friends to join my ‘crew’ for some thrilling racing adventures when the game launches on 14 September.