Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s just Ubisoft Ivory Tower coming to rewrite the formula for Forza Horizon through a carbon-studded vessel known as The Crew Motorfest. Given the fact that both IPs share one too many similarities and a center stage that’s as equally vibrant as it is sprightly, chances are you too have pondered the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the latest installment in The Crew series might’ve taken a couple of pages out of Playground Games’ book. And that’s fine, because when all’s said and done, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and all that jazz.
Blatant similarities set aside, there is actually a lot to love about The Crew Motorfest—a long-overdue entry to a racing saga that, quite frankly, many had long believed to be dead and buried. Granted, it wasn’t a sequel that a lot of us would’ve been expecting following the lukewarm release of 2018’s The Crew 2, either, but it was a welcome addition nonetheless. And boy, it was one that I just had to experience for myself, too — more so after plucking the bare bones of the Mexican shores in Forza Horizon 5 for the umpteenth time.
Having spent a good portion of time brushing through the themed racing event and belittling an enormous chunk of fledgling drivers, I can safely say that I am, for better or for worse, a bit of a dab hand at, you know, crashing vehicles under the guise of a blazing inferno. But for the sake of adding a bit of context, I ought to take it back a couple of notches, if only to paint a clearer picture for the sake of potentially swaying you towards the nearest checkout or, you know — the exit. Sound good? Then let’s go.
Back at the Wheel
Before we go diving into the intricacies and all the gadgets and gizmos that make The Crew Motorfest tick, it would make sense to add a lick of paint to the outer shell—a coating of armor, so to speak, if not to flesh out its overall design, then to highlight the USPs that it tries so desperately hard to spoon feed to you. And believe me when I say, the one thing that it wants to shove down your throat the most is this: The Crew Motorfest, in spite of its blatant similarities, is not a rehashed version of Forza Horizon. Understood? Great.
To put you in the picture, The Crew Motorfest is an open world racing game in which budding racers compete over a web of checkered trials across the tropical landscapes of Hawaii. Again, similar to—sorry—Forza Horizon, progress on said island is achieved by completing races, side activities, and seasonal events. For the most part, though, it’s just you, a garage crammed to the brim with elite vehicles, and an open road that’s rife with opportunities to prove your worth upon the asphalt, sand, and grass.
There’s a festival, you see, that acts as the centerpiece for a year-long racing event across the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. This island, although squelched down to something of a bite-sized version of the actual island of O’ahu, boasts a myriad of unique events—episodic adventures in which goals stretch beyond winning races from behind the wheel. True to the nature of The Crew, there are also boats and aircraft-related activities to partake in, too. So, clearly a lot more than your bog-standard racing game, then.
A Festival for One
To give you a rough idea of the map in The Crew Motorfest, you can pretty much romp around the borders in twenty minutes or less. Matter of fact, you can do it in fifteen, even—thanks to the island of O’ahu having not only an archipelago of empty streets, but a wide range of desolate plains, too. And while this does make up for a pretty exhilarating time—breezing through the luscious biomes of a Hawaiian jewel with a high-octane attitude—it does leave a lot to be desired. Sure, it’s beautiful in its own right, but its lack of life does greatly diminish the overall appeal of what should, in theory, be a densely populated island-wide event.
The fact that traffic is next to nonexistent doesn’t help a great deal, either. Yes, it’s something we’ve come to expect from racing games, but boy, even the lack of AI drivers in The Crew Motorfest makes a difference—and not the good kind, either. Fact is, after breaking free of the prologue and having the entirety of an island to explore, I felt, I don’t know, alone—almost as if there was this great big event taking place somewhere, but I just wasn’t there. On the contrary, I was elsewhere—on the other side of the Hawaiian network and a few hundred miles from the hustle and hustle of the festival vibes.
Don’t get me wrong, the first fifteen minutes are fantastic. This introductory phase, really, is a way of introducing the player to the types of events (also referred to as Playlists) that the island of O’ahu has to offer. But after shaking a couple of hands and getting behind the wheel of a few vehicles, these moments quickly transition into a lonesome expedition. Mixed feelings on that one.
But There’s Freedom
It’s a lonely road, being a fledgling driver with an undying hunger for the apex of the podium, but it’s also one that comes with an indescribable amount of freedom, too. And while the world itself could do with an influx of life, the island of O’ahu does provide all the basic provisions to just let you get out there and, you know, drive.
After slugging through the initial hurdle of events, you’re pretty much left to fiddle with your own devices, which ultimately brings forth a seemingly endless supply of events that can be tackled in any order you see fit. There are classic races, as well as a whole bunch of Playlists that revolve around boats and planes, which means you can dive into whatever tickles your fancy right off the bat and without any restrictions. To that end, I can’t fault it; it’s nonlinear format is great, albeit much tighter compared to the one featured in The Crew 2.
As far as drivable vehicles go, Ubisoft Ivory Tower claim that there are upwards of 600 to collect. As it turns out, though, a huge portion of said 600 are really just replicas of certain makes and models. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, as there’s more choice when it comes to picking out your favorite flavor; however, there isn’t quite as many vehicles as its creators let on. Unfortunately, I was just one of the many who bought into that boast. Tut tut, Ubisoft.
And the Gameplay?
Vacant world aside, the gameplay in The Crew Motorfest is actually quite good, all things considered. Not that this comes as much of a surprise, mind you, what with The Crew 2 also having been littered with fluid mechanics and a tapestry of custom features to explore and build on. Needless to say that, as far as modern racing games go, Motorfest is definitely one of the slickest, glossiest, and arguably most exciting we’ve seen in quite some time. That is, of course, providing you’re able to brush over the monotony of searching far and wide for the next story beat that doesn’t involve forking over real money to get to. Yeah, those pesky transactions were a bit of a pain, I’ll be honest.
While the single-player Playlists can be a barrel of fun in their own imaginative ways, a lot of the focus in TCM tends to steer more towards its online modes. Like before, there’s an option to invite up to three other racers to formulate a “Crew”—a team that you can drag about to compete in a mixture of world activities and competitive events. Nothing particularly innovative there, but implementing such a feature does boost the overall gameplay experience by a few dozen or so hours. And when all’s said and done, that’s something every player needs: a bulky experience that gives out just enough to keep the hours ticking over and the level of immersion at its finest. To that, I’d say TCM has just the right amount of boxes checked.
I won’t beat around the bush about this. Truth is, The Crew Motorfest isn’t quite up to the same standard as Forza Horizon. It’s a love letter, alright, and one that contains a substantial amount of versatile passages and characters for newcomers to gloss over. Having said all that, the small-scale map and lack of energy does impact the overall quality of the experience, which sadly means there’s a lot left to be desired for anyone who’s rummaged through the breadth of Forza Horizon or The Crew 2.
For what it’s worth, The Crew Motorfest isn’t a bad game; it’s actually a very good game—and not to mention one that has the potential to be something even greater. There’s a lot of freedom to carve your own path, which alone makes it a journey worth embarking on in spite of all its empty molehills and motionless vessels. Does this make it worth the price tag of $70? It depends, really, though for anyone who happened to fall in love with the first two installments, it seems like the obvious route forward.
The Crew Motorfest Review (Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 & PC)
The Loneliest Festival in Hawaii
There’s a lot to love about The Crew Motorfest, including its dynamic gameplay and extensive selection of carbon beauties. That said, with a map that’s roughly quarter the size of The Crew 2 and not enough to make said Hawaiian paradise feel lived in, it does raise the question: Is it a step in the right direction, or a complete U-turn for the acclaimed racing series? Mixed thoughts on this one.