The Crew Motorfest Review
We're finally getting there
While Ubisoft has been a major publisher for decades, producing games in a variety of genres, they haven't steered into the racing category too often. They've had success with the arcade-style Trackmania, and a number of story focused Driver games, but it wasn't until 2014's The Crew that they delved into the traditional full scale driving experience. Unfortunately that franchise debut from developers Ivory Tower was a mishap, but it didn't stop The Crew 2 from releasing a few years later – with disappointingly similar results. But say what you will about Ubisoft, they seem to not give up on their franchises too quickly, even if they underperform. The Crew 2 got years' worth of DLC and post-launch updates, and now a third chapter in the franchise has arrived. The Crew Motorfest makes significant changes to its formula and borrows many ideas, and though there's still room for much improvement, these alterations finally make it competitive within the genre.
The Crew was always known for its original setting – trying to use a recreation of the entire United States as the game map. The first game had a somewhat gritty narrative about competing to be the best, while the sequel made you into a wannabe social media influencer. Motorfest leaves all of this behind and brings players to the island of O'ahu, in the Hawaiian archipelago, to participate in a generic motorsports festival. The Motorfest organization is apparently putting all of these racing events together, but it's unclear to what end. There's really not much story here – you are just a random participant, competing on your own behalf. Nobody is expecting a deep narrative from an arcade open world racing title, but just a bit more context would have been welcome. It's also much less of an original setting – with Test Drive Unlimited previously exploring this location, and the Forza Horizon series covering a few tropical-types settings.
Players get to create their avatar from a selection of looks and clothes, and while the models are not exactly great quality, at least there are a few occasions where you get to see them outside a vehicle. You then get to choose your starter vehicle, and play through an opening sequence that goes through a variety of racing disciplines – the shades of Forza Horizon are everywhere in Motorfest, even with the song chosen during this opening sequence. After that, you are dropped off on the island and are free to explore and compete. The campaign is broken up into individual Playlists - small stories that focus on a specific car type, brand, or theme, with 5-8 races in each. There's ones focused on American muscle cars, vintage cars, Lamborghinis, Japan racing and car customization, electric cars, offroading, and more. Each series of races in a Playlist features a variety of special cars and racing conditions, as well as thematic decorations on the roadside, and voice over narration from various individuals – again, like Horizon Stories from Forza Horizon.
You will participate in primarily driving events, but here will also be drifting, boating, flying, drag racing, F1-like motorsports, as well as one-off mechanics that add small but engaging twists. These include trying not to damage the car, navigating the trip using photo clues and without the GPS, having no boost or traction control system (TCS) and gradually getting it, tire wear management, charging your boost by driving over specific sections of road, and so on. These are simple and hardly groundbreaking ideas, but they combine to give the Playlists a much more lively and interesting feel – especially when compared to Horizon Stories that simply put you in a special car and nothing else changes. Some of the Playlists are surprisingly good, when the cars, track decorations, and the music all come together. However, others become a bit bland after just a few events or feel disingenuous, like those based on YouTube brands.
One area where Motorfest stumbles however is the narration of these events – while you get a different host for each playlist, the voiceover monologues are incredibly dull and very generic. It didn't need to be a long dry reading of facts and figures like the Horizon Stories sometimes are, but it just comes across as a very barebones commentary on the subject of the Playlist and lacks any insight or entertainment value, which really lets some of the otherwise engaging Playlists down. A similar situation unfolds during open world driving; you get an AI that is meant to guide you to the next destination, but this woman's voice actually ends up being extremely talkative, telling you random facts, spoiling the content of events you're about to enter, and generally repeating lines very frequently. This should have been made a real character rather than an AI, and the dialogue needed scaling back, as she never stops chiming in even after you've beaten all Playlists.
What makes the design of these Playlists so different from the usual open world racing games is that they constitute the entire campaign experience. Whereas in Forza, stories act as side adventures where you get to experience new cars in addition to the ones you own and race with in regular generic events, in Motorfest your own car collection isn't used much at all – at least not until later – as the Playlists always give you a loaner car. It's a strange design choice that removes a ton of player agency and a sense of car ownership and personal connection to the events. Later Playlists require you to purchase a specific expensive car – a sort of strange way to pace content – but that new car isn't even used, as you continue to get loaners. A cynical person may suggest that this is meant to drain player cash savings, and force them into microtransactions or grinding.
After you've beaten the Playlist, you can replay it, this time switching to either custom mode or Main Stage mode. Custom mode lets you do the same race with your own car and without commentary or track décor, while Main Stage mode tweaks the event to use the current weekly/monthly car theme, with Summit Contest being the usual PvE event collection approach to new content that is again similar to Forza Horizon. Replaying races is also a chance to crank up the AI difficulty; while the CPU opponents have been a major pain in the past games, here they are at least consistent - but still not finetuned. At levels 1-2 they are very easy, but jumping to 3, 4, and higher they suddenly become very good, and any mistake will be punished. They hold the racing line and are very tough to push around; using the rewind feature will be needed more often at higher difficulties. There does seem to be a bug in non-AI races, such as those against the clock, where the rewind feature doesn't actually stop or roll back the timer, making it useless.
When you finally get to start using your own cars more, Motorfest puts on a very respectable lineup, with the usual assortment of makes such as Ducati, Volkswagen, Porsche, Chevrolet, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Ford, Dodge and Cadillac. Over 50 makes and 600 vehicles in all are included from launch, which makes for an impressive collection, though of course many are slightly different or special editions of the same vehicles to pad the numbers. In addition, you can actually import your cars from The Crew 2, which is a neat feature. The handling for all vehicles feels much improved – the arcade driving style is still the core, but controls have been fine-tuned and feel better than in previous games. Handling a classic car without TCS or ABS feels significantly different from the hypercars; the steering of bikes, boats, and airplanes is also appropriately disparate. Drifting feels good, and the fact that all vehicles have a nitro boost adds another dimension to consider during races, compared to other games. There does seem to be a bit of oversteer and losing traction can definitely end your race at a moment's notice; going off-road in most vehicles or crashing into bits of debris also spells doom as you get dramatically slowed down. Still, the handling model is mostly good and helps elevate the enjoyment of the racing.
A familiar upgrade system returns from the previous Crew games, as cars have a few slots where you can equip increasingly higher performance rating parts, from brakes to tires, to reach the max rating of its vehicle class. All performance parts are randomized, and awarded from events and various bonus challenges, as well as treasures, or can be bought as a random bundle from the in-game store. After your cars are maxed out, which doesn't take long, you need to start messing around with the Affix bonuses on each car part – randomized passive effects that give you various boosts. These range from those that directly affect racing such as giving you more and longer nitro boosts, and those that are more results oriented, such as increasing chances of rare loot, and more XP and cash bonuses from winnings. There is a low arbitrary limit of how many parts per car category you can store, so excess can be dropped into random cars, or scrapped to get special currency used to re-roll the Affix bonuses - to get better or different ones. The Affix re-roll is a decent system, keeping you spending small amounts to find ideal bonuses.
You can also earn special Legend Points, that can be used to gain the same Affix bonuses as performance parts but on your driver avatar instead, making them apply no matter what you drive. However these points are earned extremely rarely, seemingly positioned to keep players engaged for months and years to come. These can thankfully be freely re-specced at any time.
There is some annoyance with inventory management, with both parts and cars. With vehicles you can only filter by a few categories, and the game auto-sorts by performance number; after you build a decent collection, it can be hard to remember how you've designed each car and its Affix bonuses. For example, you may want to have a car that's meant for racing, or a car meant for exploration with various treasure and loot Affix bonuses, and so on – but it's not easy to quickly swap rides without delving into the menus. You may try to remind yourself by putting some custom decals and visual customizations on the ride, with the usual assortment of options, from wheels to paint and interiors. Interestingly, the game does charge you for all visual upgrades.
Returning to the racing, there's nothing tying the Playlists together, and you can complete them in any order - you will be racing supercars from the start, so there is no sense of progression. But what really hurts the pacing is the fact that the game arbitrarily holds the fast travel feature until you have completed ten Playlists, which can easily take over 15 hours. Progress feels slow, at least until you can drive a boat and an airplane and can reach the next race faster. You can save up and buy these vehicle types, or play through the Hawaii-themed Playlist to get them as a gift - the game really should have structured Playlists in a specific order or at least in a grouping, to help with a better sense of progress and traversal options. While you can teleport to the initial base of the Playlist, and can also use multiplayer events to "cheat fast travel" by starting and then quitting the event, the campaign progress often feels slow due to lengthy travel times.
The reason you may want to fast travel is because there's just not much to do in this open world. The game feels fairly small in scope, and not anywhere the same size as its predecessors. Crossing the island by air just takes a few minutes, and driving across it you will find a lot of the events taking similar paths and roadways. Motorfest keeps the series' trademark instant mode switching, letting you transform between a car, plane, and boat at any time. There are meaningless collectibles strewn about, and the usual assortment of challenges called Feats – such as slaloms, speed traps, and so on. Even these are not particularly well designed – they often have a low challenge score to beat, and there's no reason to try again unless you wish to climb the leaderboards; they also do not ghost civilian traffic. You can also find treasures with gear and money, as in previous Crew games, by following pings on the radar; these treasures tend to spawn in the same places however, so they are not hard to track down.
That isn't to say the game doesn't try to overload players with endless laundry lists of objectives to chase. After beating a Playlist, you unlock its challenges, which include various things to do like reaching certain speeds, driving from one spot to another within a time limit, and returning to previous events with new goals. There is an absolute ton of these challenges, but in another strange design choice they all have to be completed with a specific car, which again slows down progress significantly as you're forced to grind them out, and also buy the cars needed to complete them.
These Playlist challenges and many others earn you experience in three categories - racing, exploration, and multiplayer. The three XP bars come together under the Main Stage XP tracker - it's not an overly complicated system, but the game does a poor job of explaining it, keeping the Stage closed until many hours into the game. All of these XP tracks dangle rewards down the line, from cash to cars and avatar customization items. There's no shortage of things to grind towards in Motorfest, but that's just it – everything feels like a grind for rewards, rather than something new and interesting you want to accomplish. Some of the XP tracks also progress much slower than others.
Every event and challenge in the game has online leaderboards, but multiplayer is actually one of the title's weakest aspects. You can invite players to your group and form a Crew, but it's limited to 4 participants, and we've had serious issues with other members warping in and out of existence. The minimap often has a bug where it doesn't display your Crew members as icons or even their names. Whether with friends or against AI, Playlist and campaign races are limited to just 8 on the track, which is fairly small. The game touts cross-play, but the implementation is weak – you will encounter players from other platforms in matchmade multiplayer events, as well as on leaderboards, and when browsing custom content such as car liveries. But you cannot actually play with friends by inviting them from other platforms.
As you roam around in solo play, other racers can appear in your session – but only up to 7 of them, a number far too small to make it worthwhile, as you can be miles apart and never cross paths. Even if you did, there is no real interactivity. Instead, the game populates the world with ghosted AI drivers, similar to what Ubisoft did in Riders Republic. It's an attempt to make the game world feel more alive, but is instead a jarring and distracting effect, as these cars blast around and pretend like they are racing and joining events, but are actually just repeating animations. They are thankfully transparent, though will still give you mini-heart attacks as they blast past you head-on, only for you to crash into the civilian traffic behind them that is very much not transparent. Elsewhere, the game has a great idea with Car Meets, which is a space where you can walk around with your avatar and see other players, as you vote on the best cars in a showroom, based on the weekly or monthly theme of the Main Stage. You can get into the cars and view profiles of others, although again this idea feels a little unfinished and you lack meaningful ways to interact with other players in this space.
The only "true" multiplayer options are limited to two standalone modes - you cannot race in any of the Playlists sprint or circuit tracks against others, which seems baffling - but perhaps not shocking, since The Crew 2 also lacked direct competitive options at launch. The first mode is Grand Race, where 28 hopefuls compete in a lengthy 7-10 minute race that goes across three randomly generated phases, swapping you between different classes of cars. It's a rather chaotic experience, and the vehicle-swap aspect is interesting, but ultimately it's just another sprint. Here again the game makes an interesting choice by making all cars equal in performance, so you don't even see stats when making your pre-race selections. This means a fair racing field, but also discards the performance upgrade and Affix system, making those mechanics feel even more purposeless. The second multiplayer mode is Demolition Royale, which pits 32 players in teams of 4 as you drop into a shrinking area of the map using special demolition cars, collect some powerups, and smash into others to deplete their health. The playable area keeps shrinking, until there is one crew left. It's an interesting mode that is a nice unique diversion and can be fun for a few rounds. Still, neither of the two modes make up for the lack of traditional competitive racing options.
Despite the limited multiplayer interactivity, the game chooses to be an always-online experience. You cannot get past the main menu if the servers are down or in maintenance; The Crew 2 did this, and it wasn't necessary back then either. Given all the multiplayer shortcomings mentioned above, this feels completely superfluous – if only perhaps to protect the integrity of the microtransactions, which are abundant. You can buy everything in the shop with currency that converts from real cash, and while your income is decent enough to have enough cash to complete all Playlists and their required car purchases, it's still fairly prevalent on every transaction – even, as mentioned, car visual customizations - and it will certainly take some grinding if you want to build a large collection in the post-game, as cars seem expensive.
After two games, the USA country-wide setting has become a sort of staple of The Crew series. Some would say a change was needed, while others would argue they wanted the map of USA to keep getting more and more detailed and dense. By moving to Hawaii, Motorfest puts itself in direct comparisons with Forza Horizon that has done the "deserts, beaches, jungles" themes a few times now and has it on lock. The recreation of the island is a decent one, but nothing in particular stands out, and if you squint you can certainly pretend you're playing Horizon. The cars are nicely detailed inside and out, and the game has some vibrant lighting effects, with atmospheric storms and dark nights, making for some beautiful scenery that reaches and in some cases surpasses Forza Horizon. On the other hand, there are typical open world issues with reflections and draw distances, though the framerate keeps steady in Performance setting on Xbox Series X. There's also a visual quality mode that improves the look a bit at the expense of the framerate stability. Fast travel is impressively instant, but the map sometimes takes a while to load. The soundtrack is a collection of mostly techno tracks, and nothing in particular stands out about the song selections. In-game audio is decent, with decent crash and engine sounds, but again nothing out of the ordinary. There is a minor bug where the audio of the cars and the whole game cuts out sometimes; another minor visual bug has cars leaving perfect tire tread marks on asphalt when it rains, as if you are driving on dirt.
The Crew Motorfest loses a significant part of what The Crew franchise was known for – perhaps why it's not called The Crew 3 – but the end result is a better game, thanks to improved mechanics and neat Playlists. It's less original and less confident in what it wants to be, choosing instead to cherry pick some concepts from its competitors, but it remains an often engaging multi-discipline racing outfit. There are some original ideas and unique design choices, along with plenty of issues and unwillingness to change, but there is finally a glimpse of potential for the series. The game isn't catching the leaders of the genre any time soon, but at least it's starting to become visible in their rear view mirror.