Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
September 14, 2023
Ubisoft Ivory Tower
I always make an earnest effort to not directly compare video games to their counterparts in my reviews, but it’s impossible to talk about The Crew Motorfest without talking about Forza Horizon 5. Put simply, The Crew Motorfest takes direct inspiration from what is widely considered to be the best open-world racer of all time. To be fair, Ubisoft Ivory Tower has done a decent job of emulating that experience, with a more modest map size and some unique playlists taking you through different facets of automotive history. What Ubisoft has ended up with is a competent racer that has a little more style than it does substance and some fun ideas that will certainly have you revving your engines but not quite achieving a first-place finish.
The Crew Motorfest is set on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii, a gorgeous area to drift around. Luscious rainforests, gorgeous beaches, active volcanos… it ticks all the boxes when it comes to visual variety, with weather effects impacting the road conditions. An homage to all kinds of racing, you’ll bounce from neon-lit street racing with fire-breathing dragons cruising around in speedboats across pulsing waves, and everything in between. With beautiful lighting effects, O’ahu provides a feast for the eyes, as does the gigantic garage of cars you’ll be able to race around in from the last century.
What is abundantly clear from the frankly stellar introduction sequence is that these developers love cars, and that’s a valuable foundation that Ivory Tower manages to build on. The key thing that separates Motorfest from its Horizon counterpart is Playlists, essentially a list of races or challenges all falling under a theme with an individual focus. The opening race has you bouncing between several playlists at once, testing out different cars, getting a bit of background on why they’re special, and really forcing you to engage with the different feelings between each. You’ll get whiplash moving from modern sports cars blitzing the pavement to vintage darlings, and it shows off the range of the game from the moment you hit the accelerator.
“…each Playlist visually pops as if they’re different locations…”
Playlists have you driving from the beginning of each race to the next, exploring the island as you go. The “Hawaii Scenic Tour” is probably a good place to start; featuring long races that really do give you the lay of the land, it’s a calm and not-so-competitive intro to the island and all of its fundamentals. “Made in Japan” is a bit more mixed, showcasing modern Japanese-manufactured vehicles and putting you through your paces with drifting, drag racing, and more. “American Muscle” mixes off-road with street, and then there are some hyper-specific celebrations of car brands, like “A Porsche Story: 911 Legacy”.
The playlists each take you on a specific journey, with commentary in each talking you through those vehicles’ places in history. One features the Japanese custom shop Liberty Walk, complete with real-life footage to ground what you’re doing in reality. Another more cheeky Playlist has you taking on challenges for Donut Media, basically a popular online motor enthusiast, who has you ‘picking a side’ in multiple car showdowns, and riffs on their most popular show segments, including one where you do laps in two vehicles, one ‘off the rack’ and another fully kitted out with the best mods possible.
Playlists all have their own aesthetic, too. That aforementioned neon with fire-breathing dragons and Japanese iconography converts the city into a super-slick Tokyo for the Made in Japan Playlist, while Donut has… well… a lot of silly parade floats like donuts all over the place. American Muscle gets the full stars and stripes treatment with fireworks to boot. It makes each Playlist visually pop as if they’re different locations when it’s the same island the whole time, which is a nice touch.
Conceptually, this ole’ Playlist thing works well, but the rest of The Crew Motorfest doesn’t have the same clever thought process to keep you satisfied. Riding around O’ahu is mostly kind of uninteresting, with only a couple of distractions on the path between one race and the next. The odd speed trap or slalom is thrown at you, and once you unlock challenges there are some additional bonuses for exploration, but they don’t feel meaty enough to sink your teeth in. Some are just a matter of finding artworks on the sides of buildings, and holding down the A button when you’re close enough to them to register them. It’s… fine.
I initially liked the idea that you could bounce between playlists, experimenting with different ones and mixing them up, but each playlist is pretty much designed to be played one after the other; the Siri-esque talking GPS gives you more context as you progress through them one after the other, and they’re in close-ish proximity. To put it bluntly, if you pick a different track from a different Playlist, it will take you way off course from the previous one, making it a pain to go back… and fast travel isn’t unlocked until you manage to complete ten Playlists. That’s about 80 races, by the way. Sheesh.
It would have been handy if it was available earlier (to make said bouncing easier), but then additionally, The Crew Motorfest doesn’t make it especially easy to unlock all of them. Beyond the starting few, Playlists have a vehicle requirement, a car that must be purchased (with game money or real money) to access those tracks. What’s weird about that process is that once you buy that vehicle, you don’t even use it in the Playlist itself. Every track simply gives you a loan vehicle for that race. If you’re going to give me those loaners, why make me buy an expensive car to get access? I mean, aside from the fact that you want to gate my progress and take my money.
It’s a real shame that the system is so grubby because the racing in The Crew Motorfest does a solid job. Vehicle handling feels more realistic and satisfying than in The Crew 2, which is more noticeable given the wide range of cars you’ll be taking for a spin. There is a lot of detail on each vehicle as well, but the ho-hum upgrade system (with various “rarities” and “levels” to make them palatable for non-car people like me) doesn’t inspire, especially when you get given so many as rewards so frequently. Each race does feel like a unique challenge at least, as you’re not just using the same vehicle for all of them, though you can replay them in the vehicle of your choice if you’re chasing the absolute best lap time.
There’s also a decent amount of online activity, including weekly challenges (where, again, you have to buy a specific vehicle but at least you use them in this one), and other modes like Grand Races, which are 28-player battles across a giant track, multiple vehicles and ever-changing checkpoints (a riff on the Mass Races from Ubi-cousin Riders Republic). It’s also just fun cruising around the island with your mates and doing Playlists together. What Motorfest absolutely succeeds in is making multiplayer incredibly easy to access with very little fuss, so if you’re looking for a friendly road trip, fill up the tank, and let’s go.
- Playlists have a lot of variety, showcasing automotive history in a cool way
- Visually impressive, with unique themed tracks
- Vehicle handling is solid as a rock
- Open world just doesn't have heaps to do
- Unlocking new Playlists is arbitrarily gated behind currency
- Imitates a much better racer, with varying degrees of success
The Crew Motorfest very much wants to be the next Forza Horizon 5, but in forcing us to compare the two, the blemishes that hold this Hawaii-set racer back are made even more obvious. The Playlist system gives a sense of variety and scale that is exciting initially, with genuinely interesting romps through automotive history and a wide range of vehicles keeping things interesting. But the uninteresting open world that connects them all and limitations around how you unlock more of them could have you putting on the brakes sooner than you might expect. Even so, The Crew Motorfest is visually lovely and has an incredibly solid racing foundation, so it warrants a pit stop at the very least.