Well, the rumours were right. Yesterday saw the unveiling of The Crew Motorfest, the latest entry in Ubisoft’s popular open-world racing franchise.
With the teaser trailer showcasing a variety of vehicles tearing up the tropical island of O’ahu, our first fleeting look at The Crew Motorfest was dazzling.
Trouble is, it feels far too familiar.
A familiar feeling
The Crew Motorfest is set around a vibrant racing festival celebrating car culture, with players taking on themed events, challenges, and races in an exotic location. Sound familiar?
Watching the teaser trailer, it’s abundantly clear that Ubisoft wants Motorfest to be its answer to Forza Horizon. Squint, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a trailer for a new Forza Horizon 5 expansion.
Forza Horizon’s enduring success has had a major impact on open-world racing games that’s still felt today.
In the first instalment of The Crew, you played an undercover driver infiltrating a criminal organisation racing rival gangs.
As Forza Horizon’s popularity exploded, The Crew 2 adopted a more light-hearted tone with you playing as a social media influencer working your way up in Forza Horizon-style sanctioned races.
The Crew Motorfest looks like it will take this concept to new heights with a sprawling festival. But basing a racing game on a festival feels uninspired at this point.
Forza Horizon has repeated this tired formula for over a decade. Its fatigued players are ready for something new. From what we’ve seen so far, Motorfest doesn’t bring anything new or innovative to the open-world racing genre.
Even the location is familiar. While the first two games featured a scaled-down recreation of the United States of America, The Crew Motorfest takes you on a trip to the beautiful island of O’ahu in Hawaii.
With dense rainforests, city streets, and beautiful beaches to explore, the location promises plenty of variety. But we’ve been here before.
O’ahu was also the setting of the original Test Drive Unlimited, a game that pioneered MMO open-world racing years before Forza Horizon. This is no coincidence - Motorfest’s developer Ivory Tower was founded by former TDU developers from Eden Games. Revisiting Hawaii with updated graphics will be nostalgic for TDU fans.
But by combining Forza Horizon’s festival feel with TDU’s exotic location, The Crew Motorfest may struggle to stand out and carve its own identity.
That said, The Crew Motorfest’s map isn’t a 1:1 recreation of Hawaii unlike TDU. The Crew’s map was enormous but empty, giving no incentive to explore. Burnout Paradise turning 15 this year is a reminder that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to open-world game design.
Encouragingly, Motorfest’s map will seemingly be more focused, with Beley promising that “every 30 seconds you will have something to do and play.” This focus on fun over scale could help Motorfest stand out.
Forza Horizon’s biggest threat yet
The Crew Motorfest may not be very original from what we’ve seen so far, but it has a significant advantage over its chief competitor: it’s coming to every platform. And that makes it Forza Horizon's biggest threat yet.
Gran Turismo is Sony’s flagship racing simulation, but PlayStation players have been pining for a new arcade-style racer like Forza Horizon ever since DriveClub was scrapped. The Crew Motorfest will fill this void.
What's surprising is that The Crew Motorfest will also launch on last-gen platforms at a time when other racing game developers are abandoning them, with Need for Speed Unbound and Forza Motorsport skipping PS4 and Xbox One.
This will help The Crew Motorfest reach a larger audience – as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of limiting its potential on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.
Another aspect that could set The Crew Motorfest apart from Forza Horizon is the variety of vehicles. Although they weren’t shown in the trailer, creative director Stephane Beley confirmed to IGN that boats and planes will return from The Crew 2. “I call it the Motorfest; I don’t call it Carfest,” he said.
“Because for me it’s important that every motor could be represented inside this experience. I refer to car culture but you will have plenty of stories with boats and planes also, and you will be able to experience this beautiful world from many points of view, from boats on the water or from the air with your plane.”
Again though, we’ve already seen this before in The Crew 2. The last game let you switch between cars, boats, and planes on the fly – something that had never been seen in a racing game. Motorfest, on the other hand, doesn't have a unique selling point yet.
Stealing Test Drive’s thunder
It isn't just Forza Horizon under threat either. The Crew Motorfest has also stolen the thunder from Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown.
TDUSC was announced three years ago. But with only a handful of screenshots, no gameplay footage, and a continually delayed release, fans are losing patience.
We’ve only seen around 30 seconds of footage of Motorfest. But unlike TDUSC, every second is based on the game engine. If the long-delayed TDUSC does come out this year, it's going to be an interesting duel.
Ivory Tower has already proven its commitment to The Crew franchise. The Crew 2 set the standard for racing game post-release support, with 14 free updates, hundreds of new cars, and even graphical updates over the last five years.
By contrast, Forza Horizon 5 players are still waiting for the second expansion over a year after the game's release. Need for Speed Unbound could also learn from this - post-launch support for Criterion's open-world racer has been non-existent so far. If Motorfest can match The Crew 2’s exemplary post-release support, players will keep coming back.
The Crew has proven popular, but the series has never come close to dethroning Forza Horizon, which has dominated open-world racing for over a decade. With Motorfest, that could finally change – but Ubisoft needs to show us what makes it unique.