Video games are building up quite a tradition of letting us race exotic cars in equally exotic locations, giving players the fantasy racing scenarios that go far beyond the daily commute through Romford in a Ford Mondeo. With that pretty cars in pretty places ethos in mind, The Crew Motorfest leaves the US mainland and North America behind, taking players to the Hawaiian island of O’ahu for a celebration of all kinds of car culture.
With the full game out in September, we got to go hands on with The Crew Motorfest ahead of this weekend’s closed beta, set to run from 21st-23rd July – sign up here if you’re keen to dive in.
In some ways, it feels like The Crew is still trying to settle on its identity as a game series. After the self-serious story of gangs and revenge in the original, The Crew 2 shifted to feature a very broad multi-class racing series, but now The Crew Motorfest is putting on Forza Horizon’s mask, featuring a big festival of racing in a part of the world that will be exotic and new to most players.
As a framing device, it’s one that just works, giving an easy (if utterly implausible) excuse to go hooning around in all manner of road cars. The Crew Motorfest doesn’t disappoint in that department, with the ability to import a car collection from The Crew 2, in addition to the new additions that Ubisoft Ivory Tower are making to the line up.
The main method to get you to engage with different cars comes through Playlists. These pick a theme and run with it, dropping you into a variety of loaned vehicles and racing along to explore particular corners of car culture. One of the first playlists you can select is the Made in Japan series, which hands you the keys to a clutch of Japanese greats and transforms the island with night races, neon lights and glowing dragons, while a gang of street racers banter back and forth about the car you’re driving and the competition. It is pretty odd to set a video game in Hawaii and then for it to immediately ape Japanese city streets… though it’s just one of three options open to players after the game’s introduction.
The more natural starting playlist is the Hawaii Scenic Tour, with cars like a souped up Volkswagen Camper, an open-topped Beemer, or a Ford Bronco with inflatable pool rings and boards bouncing around in the back. It’s a slight shame that each one of these is a straight up race, when they’ve got Hawaiian fashion designer Keola Naka’ahiki Rapozo to provide some lovely voice overs to talk about the island, its landmarks and some of its folklore as you drive. It’s tricky to take all of that in while also trying to go as fast as possible.
There’s a handful of these playlists to check out in this weekend’s beta, while the full game will launch with 15 playlists and more set to be added over time. The game will have a new season every four months to add more events, strings of races and activities to complete via the Main Stage.
Season 1 will dig into different car brands and where they originated from, curating the best of American, Japanese, and European cars in different ways, while Season 2 promises the wild creations under the Hoonigan brand. As an example, a week of ‘European Elegance’ features the Renault R.S.01 in hypercar racing, while the Citroën C3 Racing has some night time rally-style stages.
There’s some playfulness to how The Crew Motorfest features different eras and types of car. EV racing can feature F-Zero style charge pads to fill up your boost, instead of this building up through close racing over time, while stepping back to some classic cars strips back the HUD so that you don’t have a GPS map to follow, and maybe have polaroids of landmarks for directions instead.
One of the coolest tricks of The Crew 2 was the ability to swap between car, boat and plane, seamlessly switching between land, sea and air to fully explore the world. It’s something that I feared had been left by the wayside in this sequel, with so much of the focus being put on racing on four wheels through all the trailers and gameplay reveals so far. I’m glad to say that you can still switch to plane and boat with the press of two buttons. It’s great for getting between different race events by just flying in a straight line, even if you are kind of cutting out a bunch of the delightful scenery.
O’ahu island looks fantastic, giving a great mixture of scenery that absolutely lives up to the expectations of visiting Hawaii, from cities, to lush forests, from huge volcanic mountains down to the idyllic beaches. I’ve never had the pleasure, so I’ve no doubt that, as Ubisoft Ivory Tower have edited the island down in the name of gameplay, they’ve made certain unrealistic tweaks and changes along the way, but it’s going to be fun to explore and race around this location for the rest of us, at least.
Can The Crew Motorfest snatch the open world racing game crown from Forza Horizon’s head? We’ll have to wait until September to see if it does, but either way, this game still has its own tone and style. It’s able to transform the world with visual effects, there’s still the ability to switch to a plane or boat, and the playlists and seasonal content provide plenty of opportunities to really embed you within car culture and history.