A fair number of racing games are on the market to keep fans happy. With a great mix of arcade and simulation racers, the spread is impressive to suit your preference. In decades gone by, there were only a handful of top choices dominated by big-name developer houses. This has all changed again over the past 5-10 years, in which new challengers could carve out a fanbase. One such franchise has been The Crew, which impressed with its first game in 2014 and all but staked its claim as a top contender in 2017 with The Crew 2. With a much more extended waiting period between the first two games for its third instalment, The Crew Motorfest has finally landed, so here is the full review.
Although it came as a bit of a shock to some fans, if you pay attention to the change in naming convention, it foreshadows the significant changes to come in the franchise – at least specific to this title. Whereas the maps of its predecessors were a scaled-down version of the USA, the latest game features a much-reduced map of one of the islands of Hawaii, although with some added benefits. The game remains an open world at its core, with the major overhaul being the festival approach, which seems to be the modern trend. There’s a lot of change over its standard model, taking direct aim at its rivals, namely Forza Horizon 5 with the most overlapping detail. As a result, one cannot escape the comparisons between the two games, with The Crew Motorfest cramming its version, with all its previous goodies, into a more packaged approach. But does it work for its fanbase it previously lured away from Forza and other big names from the past?
What, Why, Where and How?
As mentioned in a previous post covering the changes, the new gaming engine used in The Crew Motorfest led to the game switching from a DLC to a fully standalone title. Looking at this fact, it’s easy to see how extending the game from mainland USA to Hawaii would fit perfectly into the previous landscape. However, developers of Ubisoft Ivory Towers significantly enhanced the gameplay dynamics, resulting in a clash with the current engine.
What was planned as a simple DLC expanded significantly into a title with in-depth locations, mapped like-for-like to the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu. The map may be dramatically reduced over The Crew 2. Still, its detail has also been escalated to heights resembling other leading titles in the gaming industry, right down to each house, warehouse and boundary (such as fences and walls). I may never have been to the island, but being able to experience it in great detail while driving around in some of the best cars on the planet makes for a great travel experience without cost.
As a result of the changes from the original series cross-country drive to the island of Oʻahu, Ivory Towers also changed how you experience the world and enter races. A famous story mode in recent years across titles has been the festival approach, which we see in Motorfest. This has been around for some time and was first popularised with Need for Speed: ProStreet (without the open-world freedom). I’m not going to say that this element adds better value to The Crew fanbase over the previous titles, but it does feel like a bit of a copy-paste approach seen in Forza 5. Immediately, when jumping into the game for the first time, it feels very familiar.
This familiarity extends beyond the festival story mode. We see many elements from FH5 in the braking lines, map detailing and more. The maps seem so similar, albeit one a like-for-like recreation of Oʻahu and the other a fictionalised variant of Mexico. There are jungles and rivers to traverse, cities and freeways, beaches and even a volcano to drive around on the left-hand side of the map. It can be pretty eerie at times.
It’s not just the brilliant light reflections from the new gaming engine from the roads and cars, but there are plenty of new experiences to enjoy in The Crew Motorfest, some having brought through from the franchise and some new features.
The first and most notable of these is the significant car lineup. At launch, there’s already an impressive 600+ vehicles to choose from. Players get a well-rounded list of off-road, racers and touring cars to traverse across Hawaii. They also feel and sound unique, offering each a great and customised experience. Additionally, there are plenty of upgrades and customisations to be had. While the upgrades themselves are very linear for novice users with not much engagement offered, there is a lot more detail to unlock in professional mode.
Furthermore, with each car’s unique handling, it also feels a lot more polished than its predecessors. Each car’s braking range, handling and gear changes feel unique. This is also felt in the force feedback on the controllers as you rev the engines before every new race starts. The level of detail added here makes it feel great in hand, something you can physically feel in the real world.
However, where the vehicles shine is being able to traverse the seas and skies as well. Not many racing titles offer this feature, even after all these years. It may seem trivial, but getting the game dynamics right to add these two “terrains” makes for considerable changes in gaming engines. Each control is just as intuitive and offers excellent value for more advanced users, from the buoyancy of the boats across waves to the nimble manoeuvring of planes in the sky. Typically, it’s not always a seamless transition to flying planes compared to driving on roads, but The Crew Motorfest continues this great tradition in the franchise.
Another of the aspects for racers is the variety of events. You’ll often find that while many racing titles offer four or five different racing modes, they’re fundamentally the same in racing the next car to the finish line. With The Crew Motorfest, there’s a vast array of different racers and even more impressive tracks to get through. I loosely use the word ‘tracks’, as it’s cordoned off roads and landscapes to zoom around. That being said, there is further uniqueness in this as plenty of ramps, obstacles, and more can be found within any race to make them different from the next. While FH5 has found success with this in their recent Hot Wheels DLC, this is natively built into the heart of Motorfest racing.
As mentioned at the start of this segment, there are some pretty reflections to be enjoyed as you race across the island. The improved visuals make for excellent viewing here. This can be observed from the blades of grass to the clouds in the sky and how you can interact with the map as you zoom in and out. The engine works well enough to pick up the different racers and even traffic across the island, so even when you’re zooming down to a location on the opposite end, you get to see what’s happening on ground level. It’s these small details that stand out for me.
Be that as it may, it isn’t without a few hindrances. For starters, while I do love lens flair as much as the next person when you’re competing with JJ Abrams’s film direction, it may be a step too far. This is felt most when racing at dusk or dawn with the lower sun, only to be blinded by these rays directly on the screen. This may be realistic to real-world issues we often experience, but it’s not something you’d appreciate when speeding close to 400kmph.
Having changed so much compared to the rest of The Crew franchise, as well as leaning into the festival racing approach, making comparisons to Playground Games’ Forza Horizon 5 is inevitable. At the same time, it may be a head-on comparison that Ivory Towers is leaning into to showcase its talents. As a result, in drawing these lines, fans get to choose which of the two comes out of the top. As a personal preference, having spent over 200 hours racing around the FH5 Mexico map and knowing where almost everything is, it was a welcome change of scenery and feeling in hand to turn on the engines in The Crew Motorfest. There are still some disadvantages to the latter in comparison, but for me, Motorfest comes out on top in this head-to-head.
However, for true fans of the series, it may be a change too far. Yes, it’s impressive in what it gets right, but it also changes a lot away from its charm in the previous two iterations. For those still on the fence about jumping into the purchase, Ubisoft offers an impressive five hours of racing over the next few days to whet your appetite.
The Crew Motorfest significantly improved over its predecessors, offering a great lineup of vehicles across the land, sea and sky. With an impressively detailed map and uniqueness of vehicle controls, it makes for a great experience. It does, however, feel reminiscent of other titles, specifically Forza Horizon 5, while also moving away from what made the first two The Crew titles stand out over the competition.
Intuitive gameplay across all vehicles
Take to the land, sea and sky
An impressive lineup of vehicles
Doesn't follow the open-world dynamic of predecessors