For years, Forza Horizon has ruled the open-world racing genre with no competition on other platforms. That will change this year, however, with the release of not one but two open-world racers jostling for pole position: Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown and The Crew Motorfest.
While we’ve still yet to see a single second of TDUSC gameplay, The Crew Motorfest was showcased at Ubisoft’s Forward event, where we were given a firm release date and plenty of tantalising new details.
Before the show, we were given access to an early preview build to take The Crew Motorfest for a test drive and see if Ubisoft’s open-world racer can take on Forza Horizon.
Welcome to Hawaii
While the first two games were set in enormous recreations of the United States, The Crew Motorfest takes place on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. This will be a familiar setting if you played the original Test Drive Unlimited. It's also no coincidence several of Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s staff worked on the original TDU.
The Crew Motorfest lets you explore this paradise island solo or with your crew. Unfortunately, free-roaming was disabled in our demo, making it difficult to get a sense of the island’s scale and structure.
But what the island lacks in size, it makes up for in fidelity. Visually, The Crew Motorfest is a massive step up from The Crew 2. From neon-lit city streets to sunny beaches and dense rainforests, Hawaii looks stunning with richly detailed landscapes.
You initially arrive on the island with a group of athletes, festival goers and car enthusiasts to compete in the Motorfest, a celebration of car culture hosted by an overenthusiastic PR person – sound familiar?
Comparisons to Forza Horizon are unavoidable – the announcement trailer could have been mistaken for a Forza Horizon expansion. That said, the progression path feels more curated.
A celebration of car culture
As you progress through the campaign, you’ll complete Playlists providing themed races, challenges, and events similar to Live Summit events in the first two games. Each curated Playlist gives you a taste of different car cultures from American muscle cars to Japanese drifters.
The opening Made in Japan Playlist event put us behind the wheel of a Toyota Supra A80, a new addition to The Crew’s vehicle roster, racing on neon-lit streets decorated with smoking dragon statues and twisty mountain peaks.
This is the first time Toyota has appeared in a racing game other than Gran Turismo or Forza Horizon in years, having been conspicuously absent in Need for Speed Unbound. Hopefully, this means the Japanese manufacturer will appear in other racing game franchises again unless Ivory Tower has secured an exclusive deal.
Next, the Off-Road Addict Playlist switched to racing a rugged Ford Bronco off-roader against bikes, buggies and pickups, including the electric GMC Hummer EV recently added to Forza Horizon 5. In contrast to the street race, this event sees you perform massive jumps, splash through water and drive through mud.
If you prefer circuit racing, Motorsports Playlist events focus on single-seater racing, with licensed Red Bull Formula 1 cars returning from The Crew 2. Here, strategic choices can determine the outcome of the race, from choosing when to pit in and choosing the right tyres.
Aimed at classic car aficionados, Vintage Garage races, on the other hand, remove GPS and nitro boosting to reflect the analogue sports car theme, with you racing vintage Porsche 911s, Cadillac Eldorados and Shelby Cobras.
Other Playlists focus on specific manufacturers, taking you through the history of the world's most iconic car brands. After completing the intro, we were able to freely browse Playlist events.
In the Lamborghini-themed Playlist, these events ranged from a street race in the hybrid Lamborghini Sian to beating the clock in a classic Lamborghini Countach. Notably, the Lamborghini Revuelto (the V12 hybrid successor to the flagship Aventador) also makes its console racing game debut in The Crew Motorfest and is the cover car after first appearing in Asphalt 9: Legends. With an eclectic range of vehicles and driving experiences, The Crew Motorfest feels like a passionate celebration of cars.
Even though this is an arcade racer, the car handling has depth, falling roughly between Forza Horizon and Need for Speed Unbound. Every car class feels distinct and less floaty than The Crew 2. Classic cars like the Shelby Cobra understeer on entry before oversteering mid-corner, while off-roaders feel heavy and cumbersome.
By contrast, modern Lamborghinis feel suitably powerful, while motorsport cars are precise and nimble to handle. Each surface also feels noticeably different to race on, adding to the variety.
One of The Crew 2’s unique selling points was the ability to switch between cars, boats, and planes on the fly, allowing you to explore by land, sea and air. While these vehicle types were not in the demo, Ivory Tower has confirmed that boats and planes will return in The Crew Motorfest. It's this vehicle variety that will hopefully set The Crew Motorfest apart from Forza Horizon.
A potential progression problem
Conveniently, cars you’ve unlocked in The Crew 2 can also be transferred to Motorfest. Our only worry is that having access to The Crew 2’s fastest cars from the start will remove the sense of progression and reward like in Forza Horizon 5, but it’s not clear how this will work yet.
The Crew Motorfest is looking like a promising Forza Horizon alternative. While it may struggle to stand out from its main rival, Ubisoft’s open-world racer has the advantage of coming to a wider range of platforms. For PS5 and PS4 players, The Crew Motorfest will be the equivalent of Forza Horizon on PlayStation – a platform sorely lacking in arcade open-world racers.
What remains to be seen is whether Ivory Tower can craft a more compelling open world to explore than The Crew 2's large but lifeless US map.
A release date for The Crew Motorfest was announced during a flashy trailer showcasing the array of vehicles and exotic environments at Ubisoft Forward. We can now confirm The Crew Motorfest will release on 14 September 2023.
Players who preorder the Gold or Ultimate Edition can start their Motorfest career three days earlier on 11 September 2023. With Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown also targeting a 2023 release window, open-world racing fans will be spoiled for choice this year.
For more articles like this, take a look at our The Crew page.