What is it? An open world sim-cade racer also featuring bikes, boats, and planes.
Release date September 14, 2023
Expect to pay £60 / $70
Developer Ubisoft Ivory Tower
Reviewed on i7 9700K, RTX 2080 TI, 16GB RAM
Steam Deck N/A
Link Official site
I’ve become obsessed with the Grand Races in Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s Crew threequel. 28 players tearing across O’ahu, changing vehicle types several times along the way, banging bumpers and NOS-blocking each other. It’s carnage. You watch cars flipping into oblivion during the opening seconds and try to keep out of trouble. You finish it in less than 10 minutes but leave feeling like something epic just happened. And sometimes, you even win.
It’s a smart translation of Mass Race events from Riders Republic elsewhere in the Ubisoft stable, and what I like best about it is that it doesn’t feel like Forza Horizon. The Crew Motorfest makes up a huge amount of ground on Playground Games’ imperious open world racing series relative to its predecessor- the handling’s absolutely transformed, the fidelity’s taken a leap forward and the presentation’s much more polished.
So much so, in fact, that Motorfest can often feel like an eerie clone of Horizon, being as it is a festival of motorsport where slightly-too-enthusiastic disembodied voices hype you up ready for another collection of themed events taking place across its open world. Even the main menu is a dead ringer for Horizon’s. But Motorfest’s at its best when it dares to do something that Horizon doesn’t.
The first place you find that is in playlists, and just to confuse matters these aren’t like the festival playlists in Horizon that offer weekly rewards. Motorfest’s playlists use the Hawaiian island of O’ahu, strikingly smaller than The Crew 2’s USA but easier on the eye, as a blank canvas. Take on the Made in Japan playlist and you’ll see cherry blossoms and neon lights transform the sleepy beachside roads into touge races. Dive into the Motorsports playlist and you could forget you’re in Hawaii at all, the volcanoes giving way to race circuits. There are pit stops this time and everything.
A few playlists feature influencer collabs, and I understand why you’re doing a little dry heave at that but they’re quite fun. Donut Media, Supercar Blondie and the venerable tuner Wataru ‘Liberty Walk’ Kato all feature, and their live action segments break up the racing with genuine attempts to get across something about car culture. Custom shows, where players exhibit their finest customised vehicles for weekly prizes, are another nice addition to this end.
Playlists account for the meat of Motorfest’s solo content at launch, and structurally that’s a bit awkward. The first time you play each one through you’re given loaner cars for each event so your own car collection’s redundant until you’ve finished it, whereupon you can do all the races over again in whatever car you like. Personally I’m not champing at the bit to do the same 10 Liberty Walk events again that I just completed, but this slightly awkward early game structure gives way to a more engrossing meta as the hours roll by.
Namely the grand races, the accumulation of vehicles to enter in them, and the painstaking process of identifying the best in each category so that you can trounce 27 strangers. There’s also the Demolition Royale, a PvP destruction derby meets battle royale that feels like a madcap experiment and yields endearingly chaotic results. Playlists are cool, but PvP is where I’ve been putting my time.
It’s quite a time commitment, too. George Osborne was more liberal with his payouts than Motorfest, and since there are dozens of cars in excess of a million credits but your average race pays out 50k-80k, building a collection is going to take some grinding. A cynic might point out that all vehicles can be bought using Crew Credits in exchange for real cash, and that the menus remind you of this fact with demoralising regularity. Personally though, I’m happy to grind the old fashioned way.
A better drive
And I wouldn’t have felt inclined to do so if the cars didn’t feel so nuanced and varied this time. The Crew 2 had many qualities, but the feel of its handling wasn’t one of them. You’d understeer into corners until all of a sudden the rear would snap and you’d be drifting in quite an unnatural way. This time they’re totally different to control, with a better sense of weight and progressive traction loss. In other words, you feel where the balance is in the car as you hurl it through a corner, and you can counter-steer more intuitively to keep it pointed forwards because the game’s giving you much more information.
The motorbikes, boats and planes on Motorfest’s roster might not have got the memo about the handling overhaul. While the planes do feel different, they’re categorically worse until you enable ‘extreme’ handling and switch the view so that your perspective aligns with the wing angle. Boats are boats—alright for a chill sightseeing journey along the coast but not dramatically revamped from The Crew 2’s physics, and bikes still have an oversimplified handling style that detracts from the enjoyment of their exhilarating first-person cameras and the stunt potential they bring. Stick to four wheels, though, and you’ll get the best handling the series has ever had.
Is it the best world map it’s ever had, though? That’s a tricky one. O’ahu looks much more detailed than the USA map that featured in The Crews 1&2, but that absurdly ambitious undertaking, to boil down the entire United States into a drivable open world, was at the heart of the series’ identity before now. Yes, a lot of it was just highways and fields, and the signs on the shops when you got to a city said things like ‘Chicken grilled coffee’ and ‘SHOE - Buy one, get second one’ but driving from one coast to another felt epic. It was the venue for countless memorable co-op road trips. And this picturesque Hawaiian island feels a bit small and samey by comparison.
It’s a strange full circle moment to be here again for Ivory Tower, of course. Having set the blueprint for open world racing in Test Drive Unlimited’s Hawaii, the developers formerly of Eden Games watched Forza Horizon take that blueprint to new levels, claiming it as their own. Now they’re back on the same island and impressively they’ve delivered a game that can look Horizon 5 in the eye and even surpass it here and there. But if this festival’s going to continue for a while, it needs to take more risks post-launch. It needs to bring us more experiences like grand races that dare to look beyond what Playground Games is doing, and to use this latest incarnation of O’ahu as a platform for innovation.