For over ten years, Forza Horizon has set the benchmark for open-world racing. However, a lack of competition has caused the series to stagnate.
The Crew Motorfest is the boldest attempt yet at dethroning Forza Horizon and reinvigorating open-world racing. Ubisoft is so confident about its new open-world racer that it’s offering a free five-hour trial for everyone during launch week.
The third game in The Crew franchise centres around the titular Motorfest, a vibrant automotive festival celebrating car culture. If that sounds familiar, well, it is. With Forza Horizon repeating the formula over five games, festival-based racing games haven't felt fresh for a long time.
Comparisons to Forza Horizon are plentiful, so does The Crew Motorfest do enough to stand out or is it a derivative Forza Horizon pretender?
A curated campaign
The opening prologue is instantly familiar. After landing in an exotic location, a peppy PR rep introduces you to the festival. A series of rapid-fire events put you behind the wheel of different vehicles, from street racing in a Toyota Supra to off-roading in a Ford Bronco. So far, so familiar.
Despite drawing obvious comparisons with Forza Horizon, Motorfest stands on its own. Structurally, it’s very different.
Motorfest’s single-player campaign sees you complete themed challenges in 'playlists' themed playlists. Each playlist focuses on a different aspect of car culture, from American muscle cars to rugged off-roaders and Japanese tuners.
Some like the Lamborghini and Porsche playlists take you on a journey through a specific manufacturer’s history, while others feature appearances from automotive media influencers like Donut Media’s James Pumphrey (who incidentally recently appeared in Forza Horizon 5 just to draw more comparisons) and Supercar Blondie with themed challenges.
Thanks to themed environments, specific characters, and bespoke music, every playlist is unique. Some also modify the gameplay in unexpected ways. Because 1950s cars don't have modern luxuries, the Vintage Garage playlist, for example, removes the mini-map and nitrous boost.
Presented with slick cinematic live-action intros (these remind us of The Road and Track Presents: The Need for Speed but with higher production values), each event loans you a car. While this means you can’t enter your own cars until every event in a playlist is complete, the playlists keep the campaign focused and curated, with a clear and satisfying progression path.
With 15 playlists at launch (more are coming in seasonal content) and an eclectic range of events including head-to-head duels, drag races, time trials, and drift challenges, there’s always something new to do. Some are more enjoyable than others, but with so much variety, it’s a sumptuous buffet of car culture.
A beautiful world
One of the main selling points of the first two games in The Crew franchise was their massive maps encompassing the entire US across 15 states. The scale was staggering, yet the world felt empty.
Motorfest remedies this with a smaller but more detailed map set on the beautiful island of O’ahu in Hawaii. It’s a fitting, if familiar, setting given that many of Ubisoft Ivor Tower’s developers worked on the original Test Drive Unlimited.
Don’t expect Motorfest’s map to be a 1:1 recreation. Viewable from an impressive real-time 3D map (for some reason you can’t zoom out fully to view the entire map), Motorfest’s location is noticeably smaller than the last two games at roughly the same size as Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico.
For returning players, the smaller scale may seem like a downgrade – it’s no surprise that Motorfest started life as a DLC expansion before evolving into a full game.
Scale is sacrificed in favour of improving the visuals, and the leap in fidelity from The Crew 2 is stark. Whereas The Crew 2’s America looks sterile with copy-and-paste scenery, every inch of O’ahu is fleshed out.
Even on PS4 and Xbox One, The Crew Motorfest looks magnificent, with vibrant vistas, dynamic weather, and stunning sunsets that show off the remarkable lighting engine. As beautiful as the island is, it can sometimes feel lifeless. Unlike in Need for Speed Unbound, there are no pedestrians roaming the streets, traffic is sparse in some areas, and the roads are unrealistically wide.
With collectibles to hunt, photo opportunities, and side challenges to discover, there’s a lot to see and do while exploring. Although the tropical scenery can get repetitive, the city streets, sandy beaches and dense jungles are enjoyable to explore and fully destructible.
Unmatched vehicle variety
The Crew Motorfest boasts over 600 cars at launch, with the option to import your collection from The Crew 2 or start from scratch with a starting car, with more coming post-launch via the Year 1 Pass.
Several make their racing game debut in The Crew Motorfest, including the Lamborghini Revuelto (Lamborghini’s hybrid successor to the Aventador) cover car and the new seventh-generation 2024 Ford Mustang. Toyota also makes a triumphant return after being absent in racing games like Need for Speed Unbound.
You can tell a lot of care and attention has been poured into crafting vehicles. It’s a small detail, but it’s refreshing to see full wheel-turning animations in an open-world racer. This makes the in-car camera much more immersive - if only the rearview and side mirrors worked.
While racing games having hundreds of cars is nothing new, Motorfest doesn’t restrict you to land vehicles. You can also explore O’ahu by sea and air in boats and planes, with the ability to switch between vehicle types on the fly.
This is one of The Crew Motorfest's most unique assets, yet boats and planes are underused. There’s a dedicated playlist for boats but no plane-focused playlists at the time of writing. Vehicle switching also isn't incorporated until later events.
This is only scratching the surface. Along with cars, boats and planes, the vehicle roster is made up of monster trucks, motorcycles, SUVs, and quad bikes, which are new to the roster. Admittedly, the vehicle list is padded out with multiple variants of the same model, but Motorfest’s vehicle variety is unmatched.
One of The Crew 2’s weakest aspects is the vehicle physics. Thankfully, vehicles in The Crew Motorfest have a tangible sense of weight, grip, and momentum, making driving more enjoyable than before. It’s a vast improvement over the last two games.
There’s more depth, too. With assists switched off, losing the back end is easy if you apply the throttle too liberally in an RWD car, resulting in an unrecoverable tank slapper. Driving isn’t quite as nuanced as Forza Horizon 5, but burning rubber in Motorfest feels more natural than Need for Speed Unbound. For the best experience, we recommend turning off the steering dead zone in the controller settings.
Motorfest’s outstanding sound design puts Forza Horizon 5’s engine audio to shame. Every car sounds distinct, from the growl of a V8 Mustang to the Toyota Supra's tuneful straight-six turbo. Ripping through a tunnel in a supercar is a treat for the ears.
A new Horizon
The Crew Motorfest just about does enough to distinguish itself from Forza Horizon. It also has a clear advantage over its main rival: it’s multiplatform. This means PlayStation players can finally enjoy an arcade racing experience on par with Forza Horizon after being deprived for so long.
The Crew Motorfest is a confident entry in the franchise, but there are a few issues. AI difficulty needs rebalancing in races. Taking pole position after a few corners is too easy on the default difficulty setting. The game will suggest dialling up the difficulty if you're easily winning races.
But increasing the difficulty by one point saw us struggle to keep up with the pack and get left in the dust. Still, at least the AI rubber banding isn’t as egregious as The Crew 2’s.
There's also an annoying AI assistant called Cara who incessantly interrupts the game with unhelpful tips and car history titbits. Turning her off isn’t as easy as it should be. Likewise, character voiceovers can grate after a while in races. It's a minor annoyance, but if you want to go to the settings, you have to press the pause button twice.
Then there's the multiplayer. Online play has always been a core part of The Crew franchise. Like in previous games, up to four 'crews' of players can cruise around the map, progress through the campaign, and enter custom multiplayer events together. Disappointingly, this is not possible in crossplay multiplayer, with no option to invite friends on other platforms.
Instead, crossplay is only supported in multiplayer PVP events. Two PVP events are available at launch: Grand Race and Demolition Royale. The latter is a battle royale where teams of crews smash into each other in demolition derby cars and the last crew standing wins. Since these cars are fictional, vehicle deformation is noticeably increased compared to the licensed vehicles that barely suffer a scratch in collisions.
Grand Race, on the other hand, sees up to 28 players compete in an epic race across the entire map, with vehicle switching and events lasting around ten minutes. Both PVP modes offer chaotic fun. Live Summits also return from previous games, offering weekly challenges and rewards to keep dedicated players coming back.
Ivory Tower's post-launch support for The Crew 2 was exemplary, with five years' worth of updates adding new cars, events, and improvements. Three content seasons are already planned for the first year in the Year 1 Pass, but we're hoping The Crew Motorfest's long-term support will be just as generous.
While it lacks originality and the mesmerising scale of the first two games, The Crew Motorfest is a monumental leap forward for the franchise, with vastly improved vehicle handling, visuals, and sound. Its curated playlists give the campaign purpose, O'ahu is a bountiful playground to explore, and the vehicle variety is unmatched. Forza Horizon finally has serious competition.
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