I’m about 4kms straight up above the Hawaiian island of O’hua. The small, nimble plane I’ve used to get up here is starting to shake, the cockpit view offering a glimpse at the rattling instruments and impossibly clear sky as I cross 4000 meters and the engine starts to sputter. I even out, there’s nothing but me and the wind. The plane tilts forward, the island coming into full view once more and I think to myself, “Fuck it”. With a quick press of a button, I’m back in my Lambo, nose pointed to the horizon as I plummet back to the open world below. I ‘land,’ just barely missing a thicket of trees and wildflowers, the car careens out of the grove and I skid to a stop on a random stretch of scenic street. I cackle in the quiet Ubisoft office. This is The Crew Motorfest, and after a few hours let loose in its idyllic open world, I’m ready for a dozen more chasing that impossible car drop high.
Ubisoft’s Ivory Tower team has a fascinating relationship with space. The Crew series is a relatively unassuming set of games; create a driver, gain renown, collect cars, sprinkle in some ambitious traversal options, go about your business and try not to think about Forza Horizon. But the worlds crafted to host these games are where things start to get interesting for the French studio. Having spent the first two titles trying to compact and warp the United States into a relatively seamless open-world map, Motorfest sees the team trade scale for scope with its loving rendition of O’hau. Where The Crew 2 presented players with an ambitiously flawed country-wide road trip, Motorfest pivots and banks its confidence in a single island. Procedurally generated shopfronts and geographical headaches in the rearview, O’hau is a dense and textured playground for Motorfest’s achingly earnest car enthusiasm.
The Crew Motorfest’s Playlists offer a cool glimpse at car history
Motorfest kicks off events with a gorgeous tour of O’hau before dropping you right into the game’s signature Playlists. These event races are distinctly themed, breakout instances that you can jump into by driving up to their respective starting points on the map. In no particular order these include Made in Japan, an ode to Japanese street racing that turns portions of the island into lavish recreations of Japanese streets; Off Roading Addict, a free for all blaze across Hawaiian countryside that ditches strict track structure and instead lets you carve your own path through the mud and sands; Motorsports Playlist opts for the traditional and pure racing experience of tracks and even tire wear management and pitstops; Vintage Garage, a bloody adorable throwback playlist that puts you behind the wheel of classic cars and takes away power steering and boosting for an old school vibe and car history lesson; and finally Lamborghini is what it says on the box, an ode to some of the greatest cars ever made in breakneck races and gorgeous rendered models.
All of this is presented to you immediately, Motorfest not spinning its wheels for even a second. There are a bunch more bespoke Playlists scattered throughout the game, most settling into one of the above categories but some providing odd and specific racing options. The game’s relentless in-universe PR rep, Malu, will also let you customise your character using a simple set of options before you’re given the choice of your starting vehicle. I opted for a GT Mustang, favouring brute force speed and a weighted build, and then Motorfest begins in earnest.
While the preview build we had access to encouraged us to check out two Playlist options to get started, the full release will let go of the wheel pretty early, trusting you to chart your own course across the genuinely stunning open-world. I kicked off with the Hawaiian Scenic Tour Playlist, promising a cruisy race through some of the island’s best vistas and vibes. Here it didn’t matter if I won or not, the aim of the Playlist was simply to inhabit a space and take in the full breadth of Ivory Tower’s Hawaiian love letter. By all accounts the team has done the work here, travelling to Hawaii and working with native artists and cultural guides to capture the essence of the land and its rich history with some degree of authenticity.
O’hua is huge and beautiful
Still, there’s an inescapable strangeness to Motorfest’s promises of taking over a whole island for your pleasure. Even skirting the undercurrents of such a premise, the game itself sometimes feels like an unintentionally grim billionaire fantasy. This island is yours now, the locals will grin from ear to ear about your presence, the rarest cars in the world have been flown in just for you – there’s even an AI guide built into your cars who exists solely to tell you what a good boy you are. It doesn’t detract from the moment to moment at all but it’s just so deeply strange when considered for longer than the heartbeat Motorfest allows. The game is not remotely equipped or designed to tackle its absurd bones in any meaningful way.
But man, those cars. For all my words and lofty prose there’s no way around just how good Motorfest feels to play. Striking something of a balance between sim and arcade, cars propel themselves with just the right amount of weight and give, rewarding a feathered touch of the brakes or daring boost at just the right time during a turn. Every vehicle I got behind the wheel of had a distinct push and pull too, so much so that it became evident within just the first hour which cars I gravitated toward and which I would avoid. The raw speed and fury of the Lambo was impossible to ignore, the slower turns of my Volkswagen Kombi rattling along scenic routes a fitting contrast, or the sheer variety of the game’s best intro Playlist, Porsche 911 Legacy.
Playlists typically kick off with a small selection of live action clips showcasing highlights and history of any given vehicle or setting, this one aptly giving me a glimpse into the world of Porsche. With the showboating out of the way, I was able to play through a handful of races that celebrated the lineage of the make, running me from vintage builds like the VLVL 290 all the way to the modern Carrera 4S (992). I’m not much of a car guy but even I can tell these models have been crafted with care, each one offering a different feel and understanding of Porsche’s history while also just being outright fun to play. Playlists offer up to six races from what I can see, with each one having requirements to hit before you can unlock the next one. Before each race you’ll also be invited to tweak the difficulty, the game deploying an adaptive system that will offer you a change of pace based on your previous few runs. This in turn impacts your rewards, in the form of an assortment of car parts and currency.
How you traverse the open-world is up to you
This is the only part of Motorfest that gives me pause, the wind taken slightly out of my adventurous spirit the first time I saw the words ‘Rare’ and ‘Uncommon’ flash up under the car parts I’d received for winning a race. There is a clear microeconomy churning away in the background of Motorfest, races also dolling out XP for your overall level, a baseline currency used for buying cars, clothing, and parts, as well as a second premium currency that I assume will be for the game’s optional additional transactions. It’s hard to know how all of this will play out in the final release, but for a game so wonderfully good at providing a sense of unbridled freedom, these systems may be a choke point.
Much of this is tied up in the game’s expansive social hub, the Main Stage. This showroom setting, which you can explore on foot, will be bustling with players and their customised rides. It also serves as something of a platform for seasonal content and weekly/daily challenges, a rotating roster of different unique car brands. In our time with the game, we got a quick look at the first planned event, a celebration of European car history that allowed us to replay completed Playlist events using a variety of classic cars.
Any mild concerns I had about the game’s background systems faded from memory as I tore around O’hau though. A stunning bit of technical work and fidelity, the density of this environment is staggering. Motorfest’s core racing systems and car variety already make for a compelling game, but the island itself is what gives the title its magic. Shaded thickets, wave carved coves, bustling urban sprawls and towering mountain peaks litter the map, each drive to the next location a visual treat. Or, if you wanna get a little wild with it, Motorfest allows completely seamless transitions from your car into either a speedboat or small plane, giving you complete freedom in your approach to the island. I never, ever got tired of flying to an objective marker, bringing the plane low and switching out to my car, clumsily slamming onto the road with the physics of a Fast and Furious film.
From coasts to mountains, these races take full advantage of the island
Which is ultimately what I took away from this slice of Motorfest – an unrelenting, and largely uncompromised expression of freeform play, car history, and fun. The comparisons to Horizon have never been closer but in many ways never mattered less; Motorfest is a bit of a dork about its presentation, but through that earnestness, it breaks free from the need to be slick and instead finds itself in a kind of goofy but mechanically sound place. The sheer variety of cars and Playlists is impressive, even more so as you dive into each one and uncover a rich history or unique playstyle. And while my foot is still hovering over the brake as I spy those microsystems in the rearview, I can’t deny the pull to put pedal to the metal and chase Motorfest’s horizon.
Previewed on PC // Preview code supplied by publisher
The Crew Motorfest launches on September 11 on PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.