As I played three hours of a preview build for The Crew MotorfestI felt that I’d experienced most of what it had to offer before.
Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s latest offering is a fully competent racing game experience set across the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. It allows players to transform into a plane or boat and then explore an open world with those, which is something other open-world racers don’t offer. But outside of that, The Crew series seems to have forsaken other parts of its identity to instead chase a setting, premise, and even game mechanics that feel derivative of the genre’s current crown jewel: Forza Horizon 5.
During my three hours with The Crew MotorfestI enjoyed some surprisingly challenging races that were full of style and showed off all of the colorful corners of O’ahu. Outside of a few fleeting moments, though, I recognized that I was playing a racing game that owed almost everything to another, better racing game. As such, it’s not so clear what The Crew Motorfest‘s own voice actually is ahead its October launch.
In The Crew Motorfestplayers partake in the titular festival, which turns the island of O’ahu into a virtual racing playground where players can drive cars, fly planes, and sail boats anywhere the game lets them. Feats that test players’ speed as they pass through checkpoints are scattered throughout the open world, as are more linear races attached to themed Playlists. Weekly Main Stage also aims to create further thematic experiences each week, like the European Velocita Main Stage theme in my demo that puts the focus on European cars.
The Playlists I encountered during my demo centered around cars, but had some variety. The intense street races and neon-lit aesthetics of the Made in Japan Playlist stood out from the much more relaxed, exploratory races of the Hawaii Scenic Tour Playlist. Many of the races provided a healthy challenge, although the racing line and new rewind feature were there to help when I messed up. Car handling feels as breezy and arcade-like as one would want it to in an open-world racer, although learning to drift properly will take some time to master.
Motorfest seems to be a fairly by-the-numbers racing game, although Ivory Tower’s years of genre experience make that work. It looks and sounds as great as a game like this should, and some memorable races — like one standout that takes place along the beaches of O’ahu — do provide some exciting virtual tourism for those who aren’t able to go out and actually visit Hawaii. Ivory Tower knows how to make a solid racing game, even if Motorfest isn’t pushing the genre forward in any notable ways.
Most of my Motorfest playtime was behind the wheel of a car, which is unfortunate because what really sets it apart from the pack is its other vehicle types. I love soaring through the air in a plane or sailing across the rivers and oceans in a boat. The most fun I had during my playtime was when I would fly above an objective in a plane and then change into a car and attempt to land as close to it as possible. That’s why I was disappointed that none of the Playlists in this demo focused on planes or boats, as that kind of gameplay is wholly unique to The Crew.
In the shadow of Forza Horizon
Some may feel like all racing games are the same, but as a fan of the genre, I disagree. Most series, and even individual games within them, typically craft a unique identity for themselves; even 2022’s mediocre Grid Legends had a fake documentary framing to help it stand out. Previously, The Crew’s main hooks were that it let players race throughout America and, with the sequel, do so in a variety of vehicles. While Motorfest keeps the vehicle variety, it abandons the rest of The Crew’s identity for a festival gimmick that feels derivative of Forza Horizon and even Ubisoft’s own Riders Republic.
I could even ignore that Forza Horizon 5 and Motorfest have similar premises; that happens sometimes in the racing genre. What’s harder to swallow is when Motorfest starts copying aesthetics and mechanics. Motorfest’s racing lines and checkpoint markers look very similar to Forza Horizon 5’sas does its new rewind feature that’s pulled straight out of the Xbox franchise. On top of that, the maps of O’ahu and Mexico feel a bit similar, to the point where they are both tropical locales with a giant volcano on the west side of the map.
Admittedly, that is how O’ahu is structured in real life, so it would be silly to knock Ivory Tower for faithfully recreating a Hawaiian island. Still, the developers picked a tropical setting that closely mirrors the map Playground Games created for Forza Horizon 5. Due to those aesthetic and mechanical similarities, as well as this demo’s lack of plane and boat-focused Playlists, I couldn’t help but compare it to Forza Horizon 5 the whole time I played — and it’s hard to compete with the best.
That’s not to say that The Crew Motorfest won’t have value for those who want more well-built racing games. Those looking for a challenging, yet satisfying open-world racer spread across land, air, and sea will likely have a good time with it. It’s just undeniably derivative in a way that’s hard to shake off on first demo. Sure, I can’t fly a plane or drive a boat in Forza Horizon 5but The Crew 2 also has both of those things in a vaster setting and several years of live service content to play through. But with both titles available as part of game subscription services, Ubisoft is going to need a stronger pitch if it wants to convince racing game fans to buy this at launch.
The Crew Motorfest launches for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Amazon Luna on September 14.