Hands-on: how The Crew Motorfest is focusing on variety, not size

Thomas Harrison-Lord
Sure, big map sizes are cool and all, but are they necessary? The Crew Motorfest moves away from its predecessor’s US location and places you in Hawaii. It’s all the better for it…
Hands-on: how The Crew Motorfest is focusing on quality, not quantity

The third The Crew game by Ubisoft, Motorfest, marks quite the departure for the series. 

Sure, you are still driving cars, riding motorcycles and flying planes across an open-world environment. But, it’s sharper. Tighter. More focused. Instead of just majoring on scale as a unique selling point – The Crew 2 had a map between 5,000 – 7,000 km² thanks in part to technology by Asobo Studio – it’s more about the vibe, neon lights, British rock duo Royal Blood on the stereo and meaty vehicle handling. 

Ah yes, the way a car goes around a corner. A fundamental gameplay hook that the first Crew titles didn’t get right and something Motorfest makes great strides in. Instead of overlooking developer Ivory Tower’s efforts as yet another middling attempt, all of a sudden, we’re really rather interested. 

Here’s what The Crew Motorfest must do to stand out in the age of Forza Horizon and how it’s shaping up so far after a hands-on test… 

Tokyo Drift Precision 

Let’s dive into the car dynamics point immediately. The past two games in this series have suffered from floaty, inconsistent on-road behaviour. While the Live Summits, dynamic weather and gigantic worlds initially sucked us in, the driving experience lacked finesse, and for us, engagement. 

Now, to be clear, The Crew Motorfest isn’t a simulator – not even close – and nor should it be. 

But the cars we tested now had a weight to them, a solidity sadly missing in 2018’s game. Be that while slewing across a ploughed field or navigating city streets, we felt more in control. 

The Crew Motorfest Bronco gameplay

Apart from what look to be some set drift-based missions at a later point in the game, in our experience, each corner was quicker by being neater than a Beverly Hills open house. 

Braking ahead of a corner and clipping an apex was the quickest way and the most rewarding. The tight hairpins of a mountain pass in our Honda NSX, for example, were better taken with economic steering inputs – the parking brake only used in an emergency scenario should you misjudge corner entry speed. 

You can tap the parking brake to turn tighter, but it rightly unsettles the car to the point of losing momentum. 

If we were to compare it to another contemporary racer, Need for Speed Unbound is perhaps the closest, but this feels, if anything, more precise. 

The Crew Motorfest pitstop

This is further highlighted by the fictional single-seater races, taking place on a dedicated race track. Point-and-squirt is what we’d call the driving technique. There was even, shock, a mid-race pitstop for fresh tyres. 

It is worth mentioning at this juncture that the physics engine doesn’t just do cars, but motorcycles, planes, boats, monster trucks and quad bikes. However, it seems like four-wheeled vehicles are the priority this time around. 

Fresh meat 

Those open-wheelers just highlight the variety of vehicles within the roster. 

They all return from The Crew 2, quite literally. There will be a way of importing your existing car collection from the now five-year-old title into Motorfest. Exact details of this process, and if it really is every vehicle, are set to be confirmed at a later date. 

Still, having that functionality hints at a giant content list, and we’re impressed with what we’ve seen so far in terms of new additions. 

The Crew Motorfest Pontiac

This is spearheaded by the upcoming Lamborghini Revuelto, the mid-engine V12 hybrid supercar making its gaming debut – ahead of Forza Motorsport. But, variety is key, not just the one show-stopper. 

There’s been a concerted effort to integrate vehicles from the past too. Yes, there’s a current Ford Bronco and a Porsche Taycan, plus some form of futuristic side-by-side ATV thing. But, there’s a Shelby Cobra, and even Toyotas for the first time. 

The Crew Motorfest Made in Japan gameplay

After a pulsating prologue which mixed several car types, we decided to play through a ‘Made in Japan’ playlist which was focused on 1990s sports cars. Gran Turismo eat your heart out, kind of… 

While our aforementioned NSX was stock, we also tested a highly modified Supra that showcased one of the prior Crew games’ strengths – near-endless visual customisations. While we weren’t able to modify a car ourselves at this early stage, the extreme body kit, decals and sleek headlight design highlighted what’s possible. 

A new structure 

This time around, the races are grouped together in themed playlists. So, in theory, you may have a garage of overly powerful raging bulls, but the format will place you within older cars, off-roaders or motorcycles. 

The four options we were presented with (and we could only test one at this stage sadly) were a group of races in Lamborghinis, some in classic Americana, what appeared to be a 2022-spec Red Bull Racing Formula 1 car or the retro Japanese sports cars.

The Crew Motorfest Made in Japan

Each playlist has a mini story arc too. Well, ‘story arc’ might be a stretch, but there are rivals, lines of dialogue and an attempt to add a sense of character at least. 

This is opposed to The Crew 2, which gave you a giant map with little direction as to what you must complete next, or the first Crew game where we managed to complete the entire game in one Nissan 350Z. Motorfest seems to really want you to try all sorts of different rides throughout its main campaign. 

There seems to be less of a grind, more of a structure and thus, a greater sense of variety. As ever, this is all paired with endless unlocks, such as car parts or whole rides, plus Crew Bucks make a return. 

Location and visuals 

Adding to the sense of occasion is the Hawaii location, more specifically, the main O’ahu island. On the surface, much smaller than the entirety of the United States that the previous title attempted to replicate. That’s not a bad thing. 

In many ways, it’s reminiscent of Test Drive Unlimited in also using this location, a competing series due for a reboot sometime this year, providing Ubisoft with some serious competition. 

The Crew Motorfest off-roader

There’s far greater detail to the surrounding environments this time, from deformable barriers and track furniture to small bushes that can be flattened. Each playlist not only curates a narrative and vehicle choice but aesthetics too. A far cry from some of the humdrum, sparse, areas in the prior Crew title which could be duller than a concrete convention at times. 

It made us realise that size isn’t everything. The arms race to create the largest open-world environment, we hope, is over. There must be a balance between scope and biome individuality – think Forza Horizon 4

The Crew Motorfest Toyota Supra gameplay

There will be dense jungles, ashy volcanoes and endless beaches alongside the main town of Honolulu. 

Our hands-on preview here was only a small slice, but the omens are good so far, especially when the visuals look next-gen impressive. Full disclosure, however, the footage you see in our video embedded above is on a PC, Ubisoft’s PC specifically, so worth bearing in mind that the base Xbox One version is unlikely to look this good…

Is it unique enough? 

But – and it’s a bit BUT – can The Crew Motorfest differentiate itself from existing releases? 

The Forza Horizon trope is been played out many times before, we’ve even mentioned it in this article’s title. It can be so easy to look at the Microsoft series and compare and contrast and we get it – not everyone enjoys those games, despite the popularity that comes with being part of Game Pass. 

It’s just that, we think Horizon leads this open-world driving niche within racing games right now, excluding games from the past. It’s when Motorfest uses certain mechanics in the same way, it’s hard not to measure the two franchises. 

The Crew Motorfest ATV

Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and the destructible flags for checkouts are straight out of Playground Games’ structure, as is the festival vibe, represented here with a ‘Main Stage’ analogous to a Horizon Festival Outpost. When it’s so obvious, not mentioning the inspiration is churlish. 

Of course, The Crew has one significant advantage – it’s releasing on PlayStation. Apart from Need for Speed Unbound, PS players are starved of a deep open-world driving experience. To that point, The Crew 2 was Europe’s sixth-best-selling game for PS4 in 2021 and Ubisoft states that it still has ‘millions’ of active monthly players. 

So, if you have a PS4 or PS5, if it borrows some of the best bits of Forza Horizon, tweaks them and adds in more vehicles, more missions and a playlist structure, that could be a win. But, as a whole, we’re awaiting the finished product to see if it can do enough to stand out. Its main trump card right now is vehicle-type variety.

The Crew Motorfest action

Important details 

The Crew Motorfest will be launching on 14th September for PC, the aforementioned new and old PlayStation consoles, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. There are three days of early access if the Gold or Ultimate editions are pre-ordered. 

What do you think so far? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll be updating you closer to release.

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