Not many things are better the smaller they get. Mortgages? Certainly. Golf scores? Sure. Kidney stones? Okay, yes. But video games? That’s more of a grey area. For The Crew Motorfest, developer Ivory Tower has chosen to give its chunky interpretation of the entire continental USA the chop in favour of something far more concise: a scaled-down riff of the single island of O’ahu, Hawaii. The result is better in some ways and worse in others, but overall it’s actually an experience that sometimes feels like it’s trying harder to emulate Forza Horizon than its own predecessors. I can’t say I blame them considering how much I loved Horizon 5, and they’ve done a good enough job at it that I’ve had many great moments in Motorfest over the past several days. It has the best handling in the series so far, and it does boast some incredibly strong lighting. However, while Motorfest is a mostly earnest romp for car lovers in a vibrant, tropical paradise, it definitely loses some momentum due to its confusingly dead world and slightly uneven campaign, and its omnipresent, baked-in microtransactions are a constant bugbear.
A Smaller Scale, a More Focused Experience
After its handbrake turn from an illegal, underground street racer in the 2014 original to the sanctioned motorsport TV show format of The Crew 2 in 2018, The Crew Motorfest has peeled away in yet another new direction: that is, it’s now based around a bustling summer car culture festival. Let’s admit it’s not exactly original, though: the Forza Horizon series has had this patch accounted for since 2012.
A Motorfestivus for the Rest of Us
However, it really does get off to a very positive start, with a confident and well-curated prologue segment that gives us an effective taste of Motorfest’s varied racing action and – immediately after that – the freedom to head out into O’ahu to tackle the large pile of events in essentially whatever order we choose. Admittedly, Motorfest has far, far less real estate to race on than The Crew or The Crew 2.
Admittedly, Motorfest has far, far less real estate to race on than The Crew or The Crew 2. You can drive all the way around the island in a little over 15 minutes; in The Crew 2 it takes around 40 to 60 minutes to drive from one side of the map to the other. However, the narrower focus has resulted in a map that’s more handsome and densely detailed (and, while it lacks the same ambitious scope, it doesn’t seem to be plagued by nonsensical, procedurally generated storefronts selling chicken-grilled coffee). I do miss the sheer variety of vistas and landmarks of The Crew 2 but there are moments – particularly during sunsets – where it looks quite exceptional, although there are also times where low flying reveals some pretty egregious vegetation and shadow pop-in. It’s at its worst hedge hopping over the centre of the island.
Overall, the map is a little dead, though. There are no people on the streets, and traffic is extremely light. Motorfest tries to add zest by tossing in AI racers that spawn in suddenly and dart through the streets around us, but it actually just makes the free-roam driving occasionally frustrating. Traffic cars can be collided with, but AI cars and other racers can be ghosted through. Unfortunately, it’s not always instantly clear which is which at 400 kilometres per hour. Motorfest does have a better approach to trackside smashables than The Crew 2, though, and far fewer of them will completely stop us dead.
Themed Playlists and Mixed Results
Motorfest splits its campaign into a series of themed Playlists, each drilling down on either a particular car type, driving style, or other aspect of auto culture. For instance, one Playlist focuses on Japanese custom shop Liberty Walk. The voiceover work here is a little stern but it’s a cool and occasionally educational showcase of some heavily customised cars. Another highlights the history of the 911, which is a clever way to make use of several generations of the iconic Porsche that Motorfest has at its disposal. My favourite so far is definitely the Donut Media Playlist, which is mostly a series of fun showdowns between famous rival vehicles. Known for their automotive apparel and YouTube content, Donut has already had a couple of collaborations with Forza Horizon 5 prior to its appearance in Motorfest – but the addition of hosted vignettes before each race here injects a little more of Donut’s madcap approach to motoring, and I actually found their Motorfest appearance the more entertaining of the two.
Not every Playlist has landed for me, though. For instance, I’m quite disappointed in the drifting Playlist. The first few events are passable, although I don’t love that they’re hosted on huge and unrealistic raised structures – including one that coils into the sky like a giant spring. The next few actually resemble real-world drifting on twisting mountain roads, but then it just loses the plot completely and throws us into several traditional races. The pretext is that you’re supposed to discover whether a drift car can beat street cars in a conventional street race, but the upshot is… we’re driving to be as quick as possible and not to look as cool as possible. It’s essentially the opposite of drifting. Why these events constitute the whole crescendo of the drifting Playlist is anyone’s guess.
I’m also doubly disappointed that Motorfest’s boat and plane events have been lumped together into a single Playlist that largely feels like an afterthought. Like The Crew 2 before it, the water effects in Motorfest are genuinely great and racing through huge swells is chaotic fun – but there are far fewer boat events in Motorfest than there are in The Crew 2. Aircraft events are again mundane races against the clock, and the planes are still woefully slow. Motorfest adds a Grumman F8F Bearcat to its hangar – literally one of the fastest piston-engine aircraft of its era – but it’s barely capable of a third of its real top speed in Motorfest. Thanks to this, flying feels mostly dull – and it’s not helped by the fact the default flight model is absolutely awful. For reference, there’s an aircraft handling assist that automatically locks some of the flight axes, but the flying feels infinitely better with it toggled off (I’d recommend using the chase camera that rolls with the wings – not the one locked to the horizon).
Motorfest’s Strict Playlist Approach and Some Flaws
I can anticipate some resistance to Motorfest’s strict focus on its Playlist approach, and I will concede it does seem odd to have us agonise over choosing a free starter car that basically functions as a taxi to take us to events we’ll complete in preordained “loaner” cars. In fact, our personal cars are mostly irrelevant until a Playlist is complete, at which point we can redo races in the cars of our choice. I don’t really mind this format; I just can’t really bear the constant babble of Motorfest’s so-called AI assistant anymore. She certainly mispronounces a lot of words. The Groo-man Bearcat? Cred-ough? Diss-plin? Are we just saying typos out loud now?
I’m a little exhausted with the fact that effective fast travel is locked behind the completion of 10 Playlists. I’m also…