The Crew is a Ubisoft franchise that began nearly a decade ago, yet it has never made a lasting impression on me, personally. While I enjoy racers in all forms, The Crew left a lot to be desired, and The Crew 2, while a large step forward, simply didn’t have lasting appeal. Of course, it’s important to point out that, regardless of my experience, Ubisoft clearly believes in The Crew as an IP. After all, according to a press release from 2019, the franchise had surpassed 21 million players.
With The Crew Motorfest, Ubisoft Ivory Tower took another new approach, this time in the form of a “festival” being hosted on the Hawaii island of Oahu. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone as, yes, it rings eerily similar to Forza Horizon. Having reviewed Forza Horizon 5 and believing it is the pinnacle of open-world racers, how would Motorfest stack up? As with all things in life, it’s best not to assume.
Welcome to the Festival
Upon first reaching Oahu you’re immediately placed behind the wheel and thrust into introductory races. Eager to demonstrate the variety of car and race types, Motorfest runs you through a variety, including modern street racing, off-roading, open-cockpit, vintage, and supercar. After getting a feel for the wheels, you’re able to customize your avatar with a rather basic character creator suite before being escorted to the festival hub.
Motorfest presents you with a wide range of playlist options ranging from famous brand histories to real-world car media brands. As you might have guessed with an online tag of “Porsche Power,” I chose to begin with the 911 playlist. Upon beginning the playlist I was greeted with real-life footage of Porsche’s history, including a number of famous models and races along with an accompanying overview of the brand’s importance to the car world. I adored this, and, with car/racing culture having such a rich history, I applaud any attempt made in games to educate players who may never have experienced it before.
This approach carries through in a number of ways in Motorfest. Lamborghini and Mustang playlists accompany the 911 playlist at launch, and Ubisoft has said that new entries will continue to be added over time. But the focus is not merely manufacturer brand associations, it includes aspects of the culture such as historic Japanese sports cars and American muscle cars, famous car tuners like Liberty Walk, and car culture media brands such as Donut Media and Supercar Blondie. These are fully integrated into the experience with videos, special events, voice-overs, custom cars, and collectibles. It’s extraordinary.
As you work through each playlist, additional activities will be placed on the world map for you to engage with. And even once you’ve completed a playlist and earned all of the associated rewards, a number of challenges are then unlocked for you to complete. It’s a fantastic way to keep the player immersed, with near endless things to do outside of racing while providing reasons to explore the entire island.
Perhaps more notably, however, is that the game will feature continuous updates and additions by the team at Ivory Tower. For the launch month the theme is American Pop Culture, and each week features different events and activities along those lines. Each month will feature a new theme with new cars, playlists, and activities.
Tying into this is the Main Stage where you can interact with others, see custom models created by the community while voting for your favorites, and even get your name added to the list of Motorfest Legends. It’s just another way in which Motorfest encourages players to participate in the “festival” aspect of the game. It’s rather straight-forward at the moment, but I could see it becoming a more notable feature over time.
As you set out on Oahu, you have complete freedom to explore at will. While playlists are the meat of the experience, there are ample appetizers and side courses to have your fill of as well. As someone who generally likes to explore and find hidden things in games, Motorfest is right up my alley, and the more playlists and content you engage with, the more there is to find. I really enjoyed this approach as it feels like there is a continual expansion of new things to find rather than simply having a long checklist from the start.
Striking me immediately upon setting out was the quality of the presentation and general performance of the game. Oahu is rendered beautifully, and with a full day-night cycle and weather effects, you get the complete experience of being on a Hawaiian island. The framerate is flawless as well (I was playing on a Series X), and I found myself admiring the gorgeous surroundings more often than I can count.
But what really begins to separate Motorfest from other racing titles is the ability to race bikes, boats, and planes in addition to cars. There are events featuring each of these, and the store already has quite a few models to choose from with more to be added over time. These events add a nice layer of variety to the gameplay, but it’s the ability to swap between vehicles instantly that evolves the way you play.
With Oahu being so beautifully rendered, and with activities and secrets scattered everywhere, I never tired of racing down the road and instantly swapping into a plane to take flight over a mountain. See an objective below you? No problem. Switch to the car mid-flight, drop from the sky, and race towards it. Want to check out the islands and water activities? Fly to it, drop your favorite speedboat into the water, and race the waves. While the concept of using multiple vehicle types isn’t new to The Crew, its versatility in combination with the exploration of Oahu is simply fantastic.
Aiding navigation of the event-filled island of Oahu is an incredibly impressive game-world map. The map is three-dimensional and includes the full topography of the island. But most impressive is the ability to zoom in and out while the island’s topography and live players adjust in real-time. All of the major locations are labeled, and Motorfest even pays homage to specific landmarks spread throughout the island through activities, photo opportunities, and more. It’s beautifully represented and very well-integrated into the overall experience. And that excellence applies to the entire UI/UX design across the board.
Accompanying you every mile of the way are several radio stations, each with their own theme and style of music, as you might expect. There’s a solid mix here, which includes everything from oldies and classical, to punk and rock, EDM, rap, reggae, and more. If there’s one omission, it’s that the stations don’t actually have DJs (as called to my attention by my good friend Mr. Hoeg). It feels as though the A.I. “Cara” was meant to replace this in a way, but it doesn’t offer the same feeling as stations’ DJs.
Not Double-Clutching Like You Should
As our resident racing aficionado, two of the aspects I was most curious about in Motorfest were the selection of vehicles and how they felt to drive. Beginning with the latter, Motorfest definitely leans into the arcade-style racer than sim by a good margin. Cars are relatively easy to handle with many assists being activated as standard and even a nitro feature that you can activate for a speed boost. There are nuances, of course, depending on the car model, and I was generally impressed with how the drive-train and weight impacted the feel of each car. Overall, it strikes a good balance that feels right for this type of game as it’s very accessible. And for those interested, there is a “Pro” menu where you can adjust more meaningful settings for each car independently.
Once you hit the pavement (or dirt, or air, or water) and enter actual races, you’ll find an experience that feels rather dated. The A.I. drivers are certainly not a highlight and, despite multiple difficulty levels, don’t offer much variety in how the races turn out. It feels very similar to racing games I’ve played for decades now where the back of the pack is easy to pass, the front one or two places are noticeably faster, and, once you catch them, you’re on your own to the finish line. It sounds weird to say out loud, but the racing may be the weakest part of this otherwise excellent racing game.
Car selection, meanwhile, is a mixed bag. Understanding, of course, that to try and put every car players want into a game is impossible, Motorfest does a decent job representing the major brands and classics throughout its lineup. There are a number here, and, as I noted earlier, some of the playlists putting a spotlight on them should be applauded. That said, there are some pretty glaring omissions for the car lovers out there.
For instance, the BMW M3/M4 is here, but only the last two generations. Not having the E30, E36, E46, or E92 M3s is a pretty large miss in the car world. Legendary icons like the Ferrari 288 GTO and F50 are also nowhere to be found. The same could be said for a number of classic models across different brands. It’s worth calling out that this could be corrected over time with additions. But as of this writing, Motorfest is reportedly receiving 22 new vehicles in year one, which is in no way enough to close the big gaps.
Modifying your cars plays a large role in Motorfest and is both extensive and simple simultaneously. Increasing your vehicles’ performance is managed in a very straight-forward way that removes the need for any car tuning knowledge. In terms of accessibility and ease of management, it’s a good system that anyone should be able to make sense of.
As you win events, conquer playlists, and find treasure caches hidden around the island, you’ll unlock parts for your vehicles that have a simple rating attached to them. The higher the number, the bigger performance gain it offers your vehicle. And swapping these new parts in only takes a matter of seconds.
Meanwhile, playing into the “CaRPG” aspect of Motorfest, tuning parts also have a rarity scale from Uncommon, to Rare, Epic, and Legendary. It’s a simple system with Rare parts having one bonus attribute, Epic having two, and Legendary having three. These bonuses impact your overall stats as a player, and you can enhance the way you like to play the game. Love racing bikes? Add parts that give you a bonus to your lean attribute. Love treasure hunting? Give yourself a larger radius to be alerted to nearby treasure caches. It’s not a game-changing system, but it is a nice addition.
Taking to the skies and water, boat and plane navigation feels well-balanced and intuitive. They are easy to manage and perform well with almost immediately. I particularly want to call out some of the boat races which occur in choppy waters because, in these instances, the water modeling was impressive. Balancing the boat’s speed and movement across crossing currents and waves was a thrill. It’s another example of how Motorfest presents a broad range of experiences within its total package.
It’s also worth calling our the extra-curricular activities that are available. These include obvious things like co-op and multiplayer along with “grand” races that spread across the island, to not so obvious things like a Demolition Derby/Royale.These are really fun additions and I found myself laughing out loud while me and others destroyed each other at high speed.
Going the Extra Mile
All debates about live-service games on The Bitcast aside, this game is exactly that. Motorfest presents a very fully-featured package out of the box, but the structure for on-going delivery has me excited. As I said, the first month features a new event each week aligning with the American Muscle theme, and this is to be continued well into the future with new themes and events every month. I hope that Ubisoft Ivory Tower continues to support the larger licenses and car-world associations as, should those be developed upon for months and even years to come, the total package by the end could be one for the car game history books.
Player-progression is certainly aligned with the long-game. Avatar customization is rather basic at the beginning but grows over time with a range of clothing items, player titles, and even “Legendary Points” which act as player stat bonuses within the game. Up to 1,000 points can be earned, which can be used to further increase your bonuses for chosen aspects of gameplay. These work in tandem with the equipment bonuses on your vehicle and, thus, further enhance the moment to moment action. While it doesn’t feel substantial immediately, building this over time is certainly fun.
Your actual progression through the game is broken into three-core buckets. One is for gaining general experience by completing races and playlists, one is for tackling open-world activities, and one is related to the on-going experience earned through your style meter. Unlocking the “Legend” status occurs after reaching level 3 in one of these. Once doing so, you unlock a new “Legend” progression bar where you can unlock further bonuses, including the Legendary Points for your player and cosmetic items. Think of it as a basic battle-pass that’s built into the game. It also tracks your total legend score among your friends and a worldwide leaderboard. Individually, these aspects aren’t especially notable, but taken on the whole, they culminate into a nice enhancement on the festival and community aspects of Motorfest.
Bring Me the Horizon
The Crew Motorfest surprised and delighted me. While it’s easy to say that Ubisoft Ivory Tower took direct inspiration from the Forza Horizon series, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After investing over 30 hours into Motorfest, it would actually be reductive. While it doesn’t necessarily hit the same highs in some areas, it excels in others.
Motorfest, put simply, is a superb open-world racer. And even “racer” doesn’t feel like an appropriate description given the larger scope of experience available here and how it evolves the moment to moment gameplay. While I have some qualms with aspects of the racing itself and other minor areas, it’s a wonderful, overall package.
With Motorfest, Ubisoft Ivory Tower takes The Crew to the next level. With a beautiful playground and countless ways to interact with it, Motorfest is some of the most fun you can have behind a wheel. See you on Oahu.
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