The Crew, Ubisoft’s racing franchise akin to Microsoft’s Forza series and EA’s Need For Speed, has been around for nearly a decade. And since its inception, it has struggled to make a cultural dent in the racing genre, despite sales greenlighting a sequel and, now, a threequel in The Crew Motorfest. I went into a four-hour, hands-on remote preview of Motorfest, hoping to feel something different about this series. But, like The Crew 2 and The Crew before it, Motorfest feels uninspired, even if still a competent racer.
If you’ve played a recent Forza Horizon from Xbox’s Playground Games, Motorfest will feel similar – perhaps too similar. It takes place on the tropical Oahu island of Hawaii, and the entire locale has been transformed into a festival celebrating car culture. There are flashy racing cinematics, fireworks, giant sculptures, and a barrage of signs telling you the Motorfest is happening. It’s bright and pretty, but doesn’t feel unique. Perhaps Oahu is the shining example of what I see in my head when I picture a tropical island, but if it isn’t, then Motorfest paints it as a generalized tropical island. This speaks to my largest issue with Motorfest – it lacks identity beyond a surface level.
Throughout the Motorfest, I engage with various playlists to organize the otherwise open-world activities around Oahu. There’s a Porsche 911 Legacy, Made in Japan, Offroad Addict, Motorsports, Vintage Garage, Electric Odyssey, and Lamborghini playlist, and each offers a different handful of themed races. Some of these are better than others – I especially like the Porsche 911 Legacy playlist races, with archival footage speaking to the history of this famed vehicle, and the Vintage Garage one, which rethemes the races and game’s visuals to feel like the 1960s, with turbo-less cars that lack GPS for use during races. Electric Odyssey is interesting too, with its focus on electric vehicles and street lanes designed to specifically charge your battery’s turbo. But after an initial dose of each race, they mesh together, even with variance between cars, boats, and planes.
This is especially present in the Made in Japan playlist, which tasks you with becoming a new member of a racing crew from Japan. While this playlist features the appropriate cars, with modded Mazdas and Hondas taking the spotlight, Motorfest’s overall idea of Japanese street racing celebration boils down to characters calling your car a “kaiju” or Godzilla often, and a rethemed Honolulu made to look like vaguely Japanese, Tokyo-esque even. Except it doesn’t – it’s just Honolulu at night, with rain, a frankly absurd amount of neon purple and pink signs and, of course, plenty of the same dragon floats scattered throughout each track.
I initially like this retheme, like the mountainside races with more toned back theming, making me curious how the Made in Japan playlist might change throughout its various races. But after three races, I sense this theming is shallow, going no further than a few Japanese phrases and neon lights somewhat reminiscent of Tokyo’s Shibuya district.
I complete about three races in every playlist and feel the same about each – the theming and attention to history and culture is exciting at first, teasing more to come, only for it to fall short of going any deeper than this first impression. But this entire preview is a first impression, so I don’t want to give a final judgment on these playlists and how they celebrate individual car cultures just yet.
The racing in each playlist feels fine, competent. The Crew has subtly differentiated itself from other racing franchises by including car-to-boat-to-plane, on-the-fly transitions, and it’s still good fun in Motorfest. Beyond that, though, it feels like any other racer. I already prefer the likes of Forza and Need for Speed, so Motorfest’s gameplay isn’t selling itself to me much here. But if you’re after another racing game because you’ve completed whatever else is out there, you’ll have decent fun with Motorfest’s vehicles.
I complete my preview by tiptoeing into the Main Stage, a confusing menu of races to finish on a seasonal basis. In the seasonal Compete playlist, I play a few legitimately challenging competition-style races where the aim is to take a trophy home. In the Explore track, I engage in freestyle stunts around Oahu, find loot crates with special parts around the island, and more. And finally, in the Revisit track, I aptly revisit races from the Playlists elsewhere in the game. Main Stage feels like a solid attempt at keeping players engaged with Motorfest beyond credits, but how it works as a live-service seasonal mechanic remains to be seen.
My four hours with Motorfest aren’t bad, but they aren’t all that thrilling either. At its best, Motorfest seems to be a totally fine racing game. But my first (long) impression is that it’s boring and falls flat in a genre constantly expanding with unique ideas on the racing formula from AAA and independent developers. Motorfest aims to compete with the former, but after this hands-on preview, I’m not sure it has the traction needed to compete on that track.
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