The Crew Motorfest is a superb vehicle in desperate search of a road. Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s The Crew franchise has broadly needed a purpose for a while now. The first game’s explicit focus on narrative was axed in the second for a more generalised racing culture event that compacted the United States into a single, odd, play space. This ambition is admirable, even when its execution faltered, but with Motorfest, Ivory Tower has found itself with the most refined, but unfocused, Crew title to date.
The Crew games have always had a fun dynamic with the bounds of reality, but Motorfest truly tilts all the way with its unintentionally funny/grim billionaire fantasy premise. The stunningly rendered island of O’ahu, Hawaii has been annexed by the Motorfest, a massive racing celebration event that pulls the best drivers and cars from around the world and gifts them an ornate sandpit to play in. For the residents of O’ahu this means having an “off-road” racetrack run right through your literal backyard and your culturally significant spots littered with red, white, and blue confetti. For the racers, it means, at least implicitly, raw freedom.
Motorfest’s O’hau is stunning and open to you from the jump
The Motorfest is helmed by a collection of the most Ubisoft characters to ever Ubisoft; an army of smooth faced, sharp talking car enthusiasts who can think of nothing more gratifying than hyping you up at every turn. It’s a strange collision of tone and form; Motorfest is a game that feels genuinely excited to share car history with the player, taking pains to explain the lineage of a vehicle, showing you live action footage of its construction and cultural relevance even, and the NPCs are literally overflowing with car facts. No matter your choice of ride you’ll be straddled with Cara, an exhausting AI that is both a well of good information about the cars around you and an endless supply of inane, sanitised wisecracking.
Cara is ostensibly here to guide the player to Playlists, Motorfest’s signature concept that puts you into one of a dozen or so themed events, each including up to eight races or challenges to complete. The variety of both vehicles and events on display in the Playlists is easily Motorfest’s strongest point of identity, a richly detailed and beautifully realised set of events that serve to highlight the game’s diverse roster of cars and detailed play spaces. Playlists typically take a portion of the game’s open world and convert it into an idealised racetrack, altering the time of day and weather to suit whatever style of race, time trial, or special event is to take place. Sometimes this is expressly gaudy; the Made in Japan Playlist never quite nails its approximation of Japanese streets, leaning heavily into neon lighting and iconography. But at other times, like careening down a sheer mountain face as the sun hangs low in Off-Road Addict, it all shifts into gear.
The beauty and fun of these Playlists is a dual achievement between track design and vehicle handling. O’hau is an impressive triumph both technically and artistically; Off-Road Addict was far and away my favourite Playlists for how close it let me get to the verdant greens and harsh earth of the island. Every churn of mud under the tyre or splash of water on the windscreen a constant and welcome reminder of the macro detailing of the island, its steep hills, and low valleys an organically perfect place to nestle tight turns and risky jumps. Likewise, the vaguely pastel-Americana streets and condensed industrial districts form a criss-cross of aesthetically pleasing tracks for Playlists that prioritise traditional racing and celebrate a range of cars from American muscle to Porsche.
Vehicle diversity extends far beyond cosmetic, each car (or at least type of car) in Motorfest feels unique to drive and specific to master. This is bolstered by the game’s fantastic use of physics in its surfaces and tracks, but with six hundred odd cars, bikes, planes, and boats to choose from, Motorfest has smartly finely tuned its handling. That impressive number wobbles a little under scrutiny; many of the vehicles in the game are double ups, relying on minor points of difference to build a roster out, but provided you’re not a total car sicko about it, it barely registers. Instead, the joy of Motorfest is exactly as promised in universe – pick a cool, wildly expensive ride and find out how it purrs.
Fully completing a Playlists will reward you with a premium vehicle based on the theme or branding of said Playlists but you’re just as free to browse the store and purchase one of your choosing. Early on I was rewarded with a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S, a sleek little number I immediately painted chromatic orange and got to work on bulking up with Motorfest’s other rewards. Almost everything you do will give you a quick cash infusion, some experience points toward your overall (and kinda useless) level, and often an assortment of car parts with a colour grading and numbered system for rarity and value. These range from internal engine parts to tyres, each making small adjustments to handling and what not, but none having a cosmetic impact on your overworld vehicles of choice. Systemically speaking this is about as mundane as you can get, even if the rewards did have a tangible effect on my moment-to-moment driving experience.
But only when Motorfest let me drive it. The Playlists are oddly prohibitive in design, requiring both a buy-in vehicle for entry and then the specific use of loan vehicles for each race. This is done to ensure the player is fully engaging with the car line-up of course but the cost of entry is the rub, especially given that you won’t be using that newly purchased vehicle in the race. Your own car, the one you’ve poured the game’s resources into, can be used in Playlists but only after you’ve finished the initial run too, a decision that would make a lot more sense to me if Motorfest also found consistent ways to engage your investment car in the open world. As is, O’hau is a gorgeous, inert place, with only small challenges dotting the map and the streets awash with ghost apparitions of other racers. Fast travel is also bizarrely locked behind an arbitrary completion level, forcing you to make lengthy treks across the island with nothing but Cara’s quips and the game’s completely facile soundtrack as company.
The fidelity and feel of races is unmatched
I’m grumbling and I don’t want to; Motorfest is a genuinely fantastic racing experience cobbled together with a contradictory thematic statement and invasive microeconomy. The Motorfest, as you’re near constantly reminded, is a monument to excess and freedom but your access to its gilded halls and treasures is stunted to better serve the game’s background systems. Where its tremendous car handling and zest for the culture should be the headline, instead it’s the bureaucracy of the titular Motorfest that takes centre stage. Literally, actually, as the Main Stage is your first point of contact upon booting up the game. This on-foot explorable space is a social hub and host to the game’s revolving door of content, the plan being that Motorfest’s Playlists will be constantly updated with new branding and challenges, so you never run out of things to do in the game.
This is a fine concept in theory. Motorfest’s earnest desire to spotlight different car cultures through these updates is admirable and will undoubtedly keep the experience of the game relatively fresh. The online components are also welcome, with massive twenty-eight player races offering a chaotic thrill and challenge. But the Main Stage also invites players to spend real money on the game’s premium currency, a tempting idea given how expensive some vehicles can be and how little Playlist payouts often are. It’s just all a bit too sterile, its purpose all too clear and at direct odds with the otherwise solid foundational elements of the Motorfest premise.
Motorfest doesn’t need an economy, it needs a purpose. When the game allows you to absolutely tear arse across its vividly realised world in a variety of finely tuned machines, it roars to life. An idealised and refined racing experience that offers you a place to shut out the world and instead live the dream of nabbing cars that would cost you the average Aussie home and send them flying across impossibly beautiful spaces. But Motorfest’s fantasy has a price, maybe an unintentional bit of commentary on the true cost of this kind of excess, as the game’s economy and underbaked open-world activities bring you back down to earth. Motorfest wants you to live your life a quarter mile at a cost.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Ubisoft Ivory Tower
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC / Amazon Luna
- September 11, 2023