It’s time for another festival of motorsports, but someone else is running the show this time around. The Crew Motorfest is the latest entry in Ubisoft’s driving series, and following the Crew 2’s shift into multisport after the original’s gang-based narrative, Motorfest turns yet another corner, arriving in a kind of festival spot that Forza Horizon has made its calling card in recent years. It’s an interesting design decision and one which may have you wondering, at what point does influence become imitation?
Update 29/09/23: This is now our final, scored review for The Crew Motorfest.
Everything starts at the Car Meet. This is Motorfest’s social hub where you can run around with your avatar and get a closer a look at some of the different cars and modes on offer, as well as take a few photos or meet up with other players to do silly emotes at each other. The Custom Show lets you vote for your favourite custom car skins as they’re uploaded, with the current clear winners seemingly Ford Mustangs and DMC Deloreans fitted with neon lights – I’d say that’s probably fair enough.
Playlists are Motorfest’s event schedule, mixing in a spot of Gran Turismo’s coffee shop menu and coming out the other side with a Spotify playlist of racing. They run from Lamborghini to Vintage Garage, Pro Motorsport to Made in Japan, and each brings with it a set theme to the vehicles you can use. 911 Legacy, for example, sees you driving a curated roster of Porsche 911s from across an array of eras and events, while Vintage Garage strips everything back, with no nitro boosts or even a GPS map to help you.
When you’ve created your avatar with what must be one of the most basic character creators of 2023, you can choose your first car. I opted for the modern Ford Mustang GT, seemingly setting me up immediately for the American Muscle playlist, which is questionably located at Pearl Harbor. However, I decided to buck the system and go for the Hawaiian Scenic Tour instead – I’m in Hawaii, after all… This playlist sees your guide Keola take you on a sightseeing race/tour of Motorfest’s rendition of the island, chatting away as he helps you experience beauty spots and iconic vistas, all under the shadow of the sleeping volcano.
Motorfest can certainly look beautiful, with stunning lighting effects as the sun goes down over the horizon. It’s a pleasure to drive around and take it all in, though from time to time I’d wish there were fewer of the festival banners and barriers to clutter up the natural spaces, and if you stop to look too closely you’ll find that the level furniture is actually rather basic underneath all that fancy lighting. Heading into the city for the neon-infused street racing sees Motorfest take on a different visual look again, and it’s an odd jump from the organic island beauty spots to something that feels like a pastiche of neon-lit video game cities.
Motorfest is a wholly online game, so if your internet connection is having a bad day, this is one racer you won’t be playing. You’ll find other players knocking around in the world, something we’ve seen plenty of times in other racers, and they appear as ghosts when you’re in the Freedrive open world sections so you can’t ram into them. Similarly, they can’t ruin your time by deliberately bashing into you. This is fine, except there are also AI cars, and you can’t necessarily tell the difference between the two, so you can be merrily driving through a set of ghost cars, only to drive head-on into a corporeal one.
It doesn’t really make much sense to me that there isn’t an offline mode, especially when each of the events is entirely seperate from the Freedrive map. It’s just the first in a series of slightly odd design decisions that litter Motorfest, though the most annoying has to be the way that each of the events forces you to use a hire car, no matter whether you own one that’s within the correct class. When you’ve spent ages getting your ride’s visuals just right – obviously my Nissan Skyline GT-R had to look like the one from The Fast and the Furious 2 – it’s downright rubbish being stuck in an identical R-34 without the paintjob.
Playing on PS5 you have access to two graphic modes, with Performance aiming for a steady 60 FPS, while Resolution aims to keep things as close to 4K as possible. The immediate problem with either mode at launch is that there are all sorts of skips and hitches, especially when you’re out in the open world, making it somewhere that you’d really rather not spend too much time. Resolution mode is arguably unplayable, with enough frame rate drops that there’s a chance you’ll feel seasick (even when you’re not in a boat). Hop into one of the events and things do generally improve, albeit with some obvious pop-in, but dumping you back into the juddering open world at the end of each is an unwanted wake-up call on what should be a beautiful island getaway.
There are some cool ideas at play in Motorfest, with one that’s exclusive to PS5 players in the shape of the DualSense’s unique capabilities. You can have the controller’s speaker output car noises, with screeching tyres and clangs and crunches when you bash into other cars or the occasional wall. It might not be all that nuanced, but I started to feel as though it was helping me to find how far I could push my chosen vehicle’s grip, which was an unexpected bonus.
The handling is unashamedly arcadey, and even when you drop into the Pro Motorsport F1 racing class you only have to tighten up your ideas a little bit. It’s enjoyable, if a bit light and a little greasy. It’s hard given the clear parallels with Forza Horizon to separate the two, and while Horizon’s driving model is clearly superior, Motorfest’s is much closer than I was expecting.
We’ve not spoken about Motorfest’s biggest differentiating factor, and that’s the other vehicles that are on offer, with the return of both boats and aeroplanes to the mix. The on-water races are great fun, trying to maximise your speed despite the sea’s best attempts to stop you, and the plane sections offer something different, albeit at a speed that doesn’t feel much like you’re really racing. Just as in The Crew 2, you can hot-swap between car, boat and plane, with the latter making for a great way to get around the island without resorting to fast travel. The variety is a real strength to Motorfest, and certainly helps it to stand somewhat apart from Playground Games’ headline series.
Motorfest’s rendition of Hawaii is certainly pretty, depending on the angle you’re looking at it, but it is much, much smaller than The Crew 2’s Northern American landmass. That means it’s more focused, and the area does pack in a surprising amount of variety, but it’s a shame to lose the wider open spaces of its predecessor. That smaller size stretches to the vehicles on offer as well. The Crew Motorfest claims to have over 600 means of transport, and it does, from a certain point of view. As we always see with these kinds of claim, there’s some stat padding with multiple versions of the same or very similar cars, but this game takes that a step too far. As much as I love the Nissan Skyline GT-R (R34), I really don’t need three of them. Sure, there’s going to be more cars available as DLC and updates, but it feels limited at launch.