The Crew Motorfest review: a highly accomplished tribute act
Ubisoft's open world racer feels like a Forza Horizon in all but name
Fire up The Crew Motorfest and after the first five minutes, when you've pulled up to an automotive themed festival, been introduced to an exotic location, and met an entire Instagram feed's worth of photogenic partygoers, you might be forgiven for popping the disc out of your console and inspecting it for the words 'Forza' and 'Horizon'. Perhaps the bored teen in the game store handed over the wrong game?
It is legitimately startling how similar the opening of The Crew Motorfest is to the openings of Playground Games' superlative Horizon series, like stumbling across a genuinely impressive pub tribute band. There's an irony there, though, because not only did the developer that put this game together arguably kickstart the always-connected open-world racing game back in 2006 with Test Drive Unlimited on the Xbox 360, but, like that game, Motorfest is also set on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It's a homecoming, of sorts, except home is a glamourous tropical island stuffed with supercars rather than the suburban cul de sac where we grew up.
If being Forza Horizon is the objective, then Motorfest honestly does a great job. The new 'playlist' structure, which sees you completing a series of themed challenges either solo or in co-op, gives you an excellent tasting menu of the various vehicles in the game in a series of events that feel hand-crafted rather than thrown together. In fact, it's such a good opportunity to drive interesting metal – including motorbikes, stunt planes and powerboats – there's actually relatively few opportunities to drive the cars you actually own beyond commuting between events. We never expected to have to look for excuses to drive a Bugatti Centodieci.
It's worth mentioning that you're likely to have an overflowing garage from the outset too, if you played The Crew 2 at all. Motorfest immediately pulls in most of your vehicles from that game. Don't get us wrong, it's a welcome acknowledgement of the excessive number of hours we sunk into the last instalment, but it does lead to the bizarre situation where you've barely started the game and you're already ripping around in a Red Bull F1 car. We still remember having to spend four hours driving a Mazda Demio in the original Gran Turismo.
Oahu as a location remains an ideal setting for an open-world racing game, as it was in 2006, but with the previous two Crew games featuring a compressed version of the USA, the game has lost the vast, continental scale that made the series feel unique. In fact, in almost every area of The Crew Motorfest, it feels like the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the series have been rounded off to a smooth, polished finish, but in the process some of the charm and character has been lost as well. It's like that mate who got an expensive haircut and whitened teeth, but now exclusively talks about golf.
We say almost every area, because there are two multiplayer modes in particular that are reassuringly, comfortingly hatstand. The Grand Race events are long distance, point-to-point chases that feature mid-race vehicle switches. They also accommodate up to 28 players, treating you to the unique, hilarious spectacle of 28 F1 cars arguing over the same three square metres of public road.
Demolition Royale, by comparison, is like the result of a drunken fling between PS1 game Destruction Derby and battle royale mega-hit Fortnite. Luridly painted bangers drop from the sky, power-ups litter the battlefield and the last crew still driving wins. Ultimately, The Crew Motorfest is a good game that's well worth your attention and PlayStation gamers in particular who have been starved of the Horizon series will likely welcome it with open arms.
But while it seems a little cruel to criticise it for what it's not trying to be, ultimately in the transition to an ultra-slick, highly polished Horizon-alike, it feels like some of the charisma, ambition and certainly the scale of previous games in the series has been lost. If the next game in the Crew series could effectively balance both, then it might even have Forza Horizon glancing in its rear view mirror...
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