NEED TO KNOW
What is it? An open world sim-cade racer also featuring bikes, boats, and planes.
Release date September 14, 2023
Expect to pay £60 / $70
Developer Ubisoft Ivory Tower
Reviewed on i7 9700K, RTX 2080 TI, 16GB RAM
Steam Deck N/A
Link Official site
I’ve become obsessed with the Grand Races in Ubisoft Ivory Tower’s Crew threequel. 28 players tearing across O’ahu, changing vehicle types several times along the way, banging bumpers and NOS-blocking each other. It’s carnage. You watch cars flipping into oblivion during the opening seconds and try to keep out of trouble. You finish it in less than 10 minutes but leave feeling like something epic just happened. And sometimes, you even win.
It’s a smart translation of Mass Race events from Riders Republic elsewhere in the Ubisoft stable, and what I like best about it is that it doesn’t feel like Forza Horizon. The Crew Motorfest makes up a huge amount of ground on Playground Games’ imperious open world racing series relative to its predecessor- the handling’s absolutely transformed, the fidelity’s taken a leap forward and the presentation’s much more polished.
So much so, in fact, that Motorfest can often feel like an eerie clone of Horizon, being as it is a festival of motorsport where slightly-too-enthusiastic disembodied voices hype you up ready for another collection of themed events taking place across its open world. Even the main menu is a dead ringer for Horizon’s. But Motorfest’s at its best when it dares to do something that Horizon doesn’t.
The first place you find that is in playlists, and just to confuse matters these aren’t like the festival playlists in Horizon that offer weekly rewards. Motorfest’s playlists use the Hawaiian island of O’ahu, strikingly smaller than The Crew 2’s USA but easier on the eye, as a blank canvas. Take on the Made in Japan playlist and you’ll see cherry blossoms and neon lights transform the sleepy beachside roads into touge races. Dive into the Motorsports playlist and you could forget you’re in Hawaii at all, the volcanoes giving way to race circuits. There are pit stops this time and everything.
A few playlists feature influencer collabs, and I understand why you’re doing a little dry heave at that but they’re quite fun. Donut Media, Supercar Blondie and the venerable tuner Wataru ‘Liberty Walk’ Kato all feature, and their live action segments break up the racing with genuine attempts to get across something about car culture. Custom shows, where players exhibit their finest customised vehicles for weekly prizes, are another nice addition to this end.
(Image credit: Ubisoft Ivory Tower)
Is it the best world map it’s ever had, though? That’s a tricky one. O’ahu looks much more detailed than the USA map that featured in The Crews 1&2, but that absurdly ambitious undertaking, to boil down the entire United States into a drivable open world, was at the heart of the series’ identity before now. Yes, a lot of it was just highways and fields, and the signs on the shops when you got to a city said things like ‘Chicken grilled coffee’ and ‘SHOE – Buy one, get second one’ but driving from one coast to another felt epic. It was the venue for countless memorable co-op road trips. And this picturesque Hawaiian island feels a bit small and samey by comparison.
It’s a strange full circle moment to be here again for Ivory Tower, of course. Having set the blueprint for open world racing in Test Drive Unlimited’s Hawaii, the developers formerly of Eden Games watched Forza Horizon take that blueprint to new levels, claiming it as their own. Now they’re back on the same island and impressively they’ve delivered a game that can look Horizon 5 in the eye and even surpass it here and there. But if this festival’s going to continue for a while, it needs to take more risks post-launch. It needs to bring us more experiences like grand races that dare to look beyond what Playground Games is doing, and to use this latest incarnation of O’ahu as a platform for innovation.