The Crew Motorfest is no mere Forza Horizon clone

The Crew Motorfest preview

I’ll admit that The Crew, Ubisoft’s open-world racing series, hadn’t previously grabbed my attention. In a landscape where the massively popular and delightful Forza Horizon series on Xbox exists, it doesn’t leave much room in my life for another mega-sized driving game. After playing several hours of The Crew Motorfest, I’m actually eager for the competition.

When so many companies try to make games bigger and filled with more capital-C “content”, it’s refreshing to encounter something that tries to do more with less. The Crew Motorfest, based in sunny Hawaii, still gives you a big map to explore, but it’s densely populated, eschewing the mile-wide, inch-deep philosophy of many open-world games.

It doesn’t hurt either that cars aren’t your only method of transportation. At any moment while exploring, you can immediately swap to either a speedboat or a plane. Other than conjuring fond nostalgic memories of playing Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64, it’s a great way of diversifying your in-game commute. Don’t want to drive all the way up a mountain? Just fly over it, swap to a car mid-air, and crash back to earth with no consequences!

The Crew Motorfest plane

As evidenced by this, The Crew Motorfest doesn’t take itself too seriously. It still balances that middle ground of arcade and simulation racing gameplay, while firmly placing the emphasis on having fun.

The Crew Motorfest goes pedal to the metal, all the time

My first impression playing the three-hour preview build was that The Crew Motorfest is Forza Horizon cranked up to 11. Idyllic racing locations? Check. A seemingly endless roster of luxury cars to drive? Check. Lots of over-the-top enthusiasm for car culture. You betcha. Many cars even wield nitro boosts for even greater speeds.

The Crew Motorfest Lambo

While racing, the game’s characters talk a lot about the car you’re driving. Although there’s clearly a lot of love for vehicles, The Crew Motorfest doesn’t match the charming earnestness exhibited by Gran Turismo 7. While the latter generally saves its automobile exposition for off-the-track, Motorfest assaults your senses mid-race with car factoids. It’s a bit much trying to concentrate during a race, engines blaring and music pounding as these characters you have no emotional attachment to speak endlessly about your whip.

Fortunately, it’s only a minor annoyance compared to the overall sensory joy The Crew Motorfest produces. Every location looks beautiful, as if viewed through a colour-enhancing UV filter. Racing through the diverse Hawaiian environments thrills, with plenty of weather conditions keeping you on your toes while adding lots of visual variety.

It’s about drive, it’s about power

Even in a limited preview session, The Crew Motorfest showed more event variety than I’m used to in racing games. Its core gameplay loop revolves around playing thematically-linked playlists populated by different race types. These playlists consist of events based on different manufacturers, vehicle types, country of origin and so on.

Most of the races included in the preview were car-based, but speeding along the water in a boat and scorching through the skies in a plane cleverly change up the gameplay. Other playlists include formula racing that includes pit stops and tyre management, while vintage cars remove modern tech like GPS navigation and nitro boosts. My favourite playlist of the preview revolved around Hawaii’s Japanese population, bathing the streets in neon as you drifted your way to victory.

The Crew Motorfest Japan playlist

The Crew Motorfest wouldn’t be a true open-world game if it didn’t include exploration-based activities. Here, they’re referred to as “Feats”, many of which require you to drive as fast as possible. One neat variation to activities I’ve seen in the likes of Forza Horizon involved a pursuit challenge. Once activated, you try to outdrive a chasing beacon for as long as possible, giving you the thrill of a car chase without the tonal dissonance of actually including one in a game like this.

On The Crew Motorfest‘s Feats, I appreciated that they don’t immediately clutter your map all at once. Instead, they appear after you’ve activated a playlist. This ensures that you’re not overwhelmed with a digital checklist of tasks to complete, and lets you tackle things at a manageable pace.

Live service elements

However, it’s 2023, and just about every game from major publishers has to contain live service elements. By this, I mean regular in-game updates and events that keep you coming back for more. In The Crew Motorfest, this takes the form of the Main Stage, a rotating group of remixed events that will update monthly.

The Crew Motorfest Standard Edition – PlayStation 5
  • EXPLORE A VIBRANT HAWAIIAN OPEN WORLD – The Crew Motorfest has settled down in one of the most breathtaking places on Earth: the island of O’ahu, Hawaii. Join high-speed street races through the bustling city of Honolulu, test your skills off-road on the ashy slopes of a volcano, or master the perfect curve on the tracks
  • CELEBRATE ALL THE FACETS OF CAR CULTURE – Enjoy a variety of thrilling driving activities and choose how you want to have fun with your cars.Discover the playlists and dive into thematic campaigns that will immerse you in the most exciting car culture universes, including American muscle, Japanese-style street racing, and legendary machines of the past
  • COLLECT THE MOST LEGENDARY CARS – Compete in intense driving races, show off your own style, collect the most iconic cars, and much more.Master every driving challenge and fill your collection with the most legendary vehicles ever created
  • Pre-order to get the Liberty Walk Pack including the Toyota GR Supra 2021 LBWK Edition, car vanities, and the Liberty Walk outfit

Although I only briefly dabbled, I liked the self-contained nature of the playlists that seemed less daunting to play over time than the behemoth of live events Forza Horizon has morphed into. Monetisation was switched off for the preview build, but I noticed multiple progression tiers and currencies you accumulate while playing The Crew Motorfest, which always puts me on alert.

There’s only so much you can glean from a game in a preview session, although I’m optimistic about The Crew Motorfest. Its reduced scale and sharper focus compared to the competition make it seem like it’ll be an open-world racer perfect for dipping in and out of regularly.

The Crew Motorfest drifts onto PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S on 14 September 2023.

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