It’s not surprising that The Crew takes a lot of cues from Forza Horizon – it’s one of the strongest (if not the strongest) benchmark for open-world racing games, after all. Ubisoft always wants to put its own spin on things though, which is respectable, and with The Crew Motorfest, that spin is a much larger diversity of different, bespoke racing campaigns, each focused on a fresh aspect of the broad umbrella that is car culture. Some of it involves styles of vehicles, and some of it involves specific manufactures. Some of it doesn’t even really involve racing.
In a 30-minute hands-on gameplay demo of The Crew Motorfest, we got a small taste of that diversity in its prologue, a familiar introduction that throws you into a small handful of different experiences, serving as an overview of the possibilities afforded by its various campaigns, as well as the game’s idyllic new open-world location, Hawaii.
There’s a street race set on the neon-bathed streets of Honolulu, using Japanese cars equipped with nitro and the ability to drift. There’s the wide-open spaces of off-road racing, with all of the slippery excitement of carve-your-own-path driving. There’s a Lamborghini-exclusive race using the manufacturer’s various supercars – the company has partnered with The Crew Motorfest to have the privilege of this dedicated spotlight. All that stuff will be more or less expected to those who have kept up with racing games.
But then, you’re thrown behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car, and you’re careening down a straight in a blistering open-wheel race, complete with a simplified tire wear system and optional pit stops. And finally, best of all, you’re thrown into a ‘vintage’ car (The Crew Motorfest seemingly classifies anything before the 2000’s as vintage) and you’re driving along with other boxy historic vehicles in something that feels completely different, while some old-fashioned video effects alter your perspective, and Nancy Sinatra plays on the radio.
Other possible experiences hinted at during trailers and cutscenes include races dedicated to electric cars, seemingly with elements like charge strips that turbocharge them.
Motorfest is about multiple, unique mini-campaigns
The Crew Motorfest is defined by several of these short campaigns that take on different themes, referred to as ‘Playlists’ in the game’s fictional car festival. While there were only four made available to us in the demo, and we could only try one, it sounds like there will be several to choose from, with the opportunity for more to be added as Motorfest continues as a live-service game.
While they’re not a particularly unique idea, it’s the breadth of different experiences that Ubisoft hopes will make The Crew Motorfest stand out.
I picked the Vintage Garage playlist, due to my love of old car aesthetics, and what surprised me immediately was not that the first mission was themed around the 1950s, complete with a stock footage intro, retro video filter, and excellent music choices, but that the objective wasn’t racing, it was just about getting around the island without a map, and taking in the sights.
As someone who enjoys playing racing games for the inherent joy of simply driving around beautiful locations, I was instantly in heaven. Placed in a 1950s Cadillac, your minimap is replaced with photos of landmarks, and the challenge lies in observing the environment (while staying on the road), and making sure you take the correct turns when you see the landmarks on the photo – kinda like asking for directions from a local. Being asked to focus on the environment rather than the road? What a dream! I instantly wanted to do more missions like it, and just soak up the sights.
Motorfest’s Content Director, the serendipitously named Julien Hummer, suggested that each playlist would have something quite singular to really separate them from the rest. ‘When we’re crafting playlists and different campaigns, we wanted to make sure that we are bringing diversity.’
‘So in the 1950s you don’t have GPS, you don’t have traction control, you don’t have ABS, you don’t have a map to go from point A to point B. So for [Vintage Garage] it was very important to have these kinds of modifiers.’
‘But when you’re looking at the Automobil Lamborghini playlist, you’re going to play with the amazing cars, and you don’t want to destroy these beautiful cars, so the modifiers are all about clean diving.’
‘For each playlist, we tried to select the best gameplay modifiers, the best views, the best music, the best weather, and the best cars to shape the theme.’
It’s a very intriguing prospect at first sight, because there’s the idea that I could enjoy The Crew in an entirely different way to another player, depending on what playlists I choose, if the game’s final playlists are as diverse as they seem.
Whether they are all as rewarding as each other is something that will be subjective, of course – and I suspect Formula 1 and supercar enthusiasts will be very particular here. But as someone who’s not quite at the level of enjoying an F1 simulation, I appreciated the approachable taster. And if I can be sightseeing in a cool old car, or throwing myself down mountains in offroad races minutes later (which I thought was very well done in The Crew 2, then that sounds great.
Boats and planes are still in the game
One of my favourite things about The Crew 2 was its willingness to break more than a few rules of reality, namely in its inclusion of both watercraft and aircraft in the game, and the ability to instantly and magically swap vehicles at any time – a mechanic that seems to have lived on in carefree racing games like Lego 2K Drive.
While much of what Ubisoft has shown of The Crew Motorfest has revolved around the automobile experience, including the playlists demoed to the press, Hummer confirmed that Motorfest won’t be limited to just cars.
‘Boats and planes are still in the game. We’re going to Hawaii, where you have a beautiful sea and a beautiful sky. I went to Hawaii before the development of the game, so I can tell you that piloting a plane or boat in Hawaii is a good experience, and it’s part of the game.’
The final version of Motorfest will feature playlists dedicated to boating and flying experiences, though ‘It’s not going to be the focus,’ Hummer says. ‘It’s not the same percentage we had in The Crew 2.‘
The presence of The Crew 2’s instant vehicle swap also hasn’t been confirmed – open-world driving was not part of the Ubisoft Forward demo. Hummer did confirm that the vehicle selection would be expanded on however, with more SUVs and quads being added, because they think ‘it’s tied to the island.’
Ubisoft also announced that players would have the option to import their vehicle collections from The Crew 2 directly into Motorfest – a surprising and fantastic option – which theoretically means that there will be plenty of bikes, hovercrafts, and helicopters to fool around with too.
Motorfest is in it for the long haul
Ubisoft is, quite respectably, known for supporting its titles with years of post-launch content for loyal players, with The Crew 2 being no exception – 2023 marks its 5th year of continued support, and it seems like it will continue to co-exist with Motorfest in some way, even after launch.
Hummer says, ‘It’s part of the DNA of the franchise to have a live service game,’ and that from the outset, they’ve involved regular user testing and player feedback to inform the direction of development – around 60 internal user tests over the last four years. Motorfest is also currently running an ‘Insider’ Closed Beta program, with ‘thousands’ of players participating and sharing observations with the team, attempting to simulate and anticipate the post-launch feedback loop in some small way.
Vehicle handling was, and continues to be, one of the biggest points of discussion, and features like The Crew 2 car collection import function, and the presence of game modes like The Summit – a limited-time competitive leaderboard mode that awards prizes – were some examples of things that have come out of it so far.
Hummer makes it sound like a very eye-opening experience: ‘We are always surprised to see things that we think are not going to work, working. And the opposite is also true.’
With Motorfest’s goal of providing a dramatic diversity of experiences, which they hope will cater to the biggest audience in a something-for-everyone kind of way, it will be interesting to see how the popularity of certain modes or ways of playing shape the game’s additional and ongoing content.
While it’s hard to predict how any live-service game will evolve once it’s in the wild, at least I know that at launch, I’ll be happy simply cruising around Hawaii without a GPS – I just hope I’m not the only one.