GameCentral reviews the third entry in The Crew franchise and an open world racer that borrows an awful lot from Xbox smash Forza Horizon 5.
Film sequels usually, but not always, degrade in quality as the number next to their name goes up. In games it’s generally the opposite. Technology improves, developers learn new tricks, and the industry as a whole finds new ways of making something that used to be only okay into something wonderful.
The arc for The Crew has so far had more in common with film sequels. It’s made by French outfit Ivory Tower, many of whose staff came from Eden Games, the studio behind 2006’s Test Drive Unlimited. That game was, like The Crew Motorfest, an open world racer set on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, making this something of a spiritual sequel.
The Crew 2 was set in a microcosm of the entirety of the US, so this is a tighter and more realistically scaled experience, with races that once again mix cars and bikes with a sprinkling of powerboats and light aircraft. As in earlier games, you can switch vehicles at any time, turning your plane into a car that then plummets from the sky, or indeed changing your car into a boat, which just sits quietly on the tarmac.
Provided you transform in the right substrate, you can undertake specialist plane and boat races, but while they have their own distinct look and feel, their handling models and sense of competition are nowhere near as evolved as those of the game’s cars and bikes, instantly rendering them sideshow curios rather than anything resembling the main event.
That would be driving, with the game’s more than 600 cars making for a visually varied bunch. If you played The Crew 2 you can import your car list and drive them straight away, although there’s not really much need to, given that almost all events force you to use a predefined loan car anyway, making the collection in your garage only really useful for driving around the island and engaging in multiplayer races.
Those come in one flavour only. Taking place over three separate events, each of which uses a different car from your collection, you start with a field of 20 players. Races are cross-play, so PC gamers can race those on console, and while PvP cars can’t be modded, you’re at liberty to choose the fastest you own in each of the three racing categories.
Perhaps Motorfest’s biggest surprise is that it abandons the last two games’ theme of racing point-to-point across a large landmass in favour of copying every single thing that the Forza Horizon franchise does. On the one hand, if you’re going to rip anyone off, it may as well be the king of your genre, which Forza Horizon 5 fairly unambiguously is. On the other, when you’re trying to be like something that’s already so close to perfection, you tend to find that the only way is down.
Framing itself as a festival of car culture, its graffiti strewn, EDM-suffused presentation is so similar to Forza’s we’re surprised there hasn’t been a copyright issue. They’ve even somehow managed to make Oahu look a lot like Forza Horizon 5’s miniature Mexico, its beaches, mountains, and green fields all appearing eerily familiar.
Motorfest’s announcers also have a problem: they just never shut up. They keep interrupting races to tell you how mind-blowing the scenery is – the volcanoes! The beaches! – until you just wish they’d let you experience it for yourself. Like someone at the office telling you how hilarious they are, if you feel the need to say it out loud, it’s almost certainly not true, and the game’s continual, needy reminders that it’s exciting and beautiful just makes it sound desperate.
The vehicle handling model has been improved a little since The Crew 2, which had an unabashed arcade style. Motorfest stops shy of anything resembling a simulation, but its cars and bikes at least lean further towards realism, their drifts and cornering physics proving to be somewhat less fantastical than the game’s predecessors.
That still leaves them feeling undistinguished though. Yes, you can spot the difference between driving an American muscle car and a Lamborghini, but most cars feel about as differentiated as branches of Starbucks, their handling clean and predictable, but lacking any sort of character. The bikes are worse, turning in a performance that might charitably be described as vanilla.
Aping Forza’s semi-pornographic approach to automotive photography, panning longingly along cars’ curves in extreme close-up, it also nicks the endless stream of bonus XP. ‘+10 Near Miss’, says the game every time a car goes past in the opposite lane, despite you having been nowhere near it, both of you staying well inside your own sides of the median. The over-enthusiastic accolades are rendered meaningless and annoying.
While Forza Horizon gets away with being an open world game through its sheer panache and the range of micro-activities available on its motorways and side roads, in Motorfest it comes across as tedious padding. Having to drive 20km on dull, lightly curving roads to get to the next race does not feel like time well spent.
Motorfest does have a couple of good ideas though. For one, its GPS-based directional line, guiding you to the next event, hovers three metres above the road surface, making it much easier to anticipate upcoming bends. Its playlists are also quite cool, bringing together a set of races around a theme. That can be electric cars, Japanese street racing, vintage, or a variety of other ways of dividing the automotive kingdom.
Unfortunately, though, what emerges is a middling racing game that’s been stuffed to the brim with filler. Despite all the driving around between races, inane voiceovers, over-the-top decorations, and bonuses for doing literally everything/nothing, it doesn’t distract you from the fact that the handling model is nowhere near as nuanced as that of its leading competitors.
If you’re a PlayStation owner who, for some masochistic reason, feels starved of racing games where you have to spend half your time travelling between events, then this is apparently what you’ve been waiting for. It may look, sound, and play like a Tesco Value Range Forza Horizon 5, but since the real thing is never coming to a Sony console you may feel it’s better than nothing.
For everyone else, it’s a tough game to recommend. There are moments of fun to be had, albeit only driving cars rather than the distinctly lacklustre boats and planes, and even then only in races rather than the endless tarmac of Oahu. But those moments are buried under a mountain of feeble, superfluous content.
The Crew Motorfest review summary
In Short: A pub band cover version of Forza Horizon 5, that despite a few unique ideas doesn’t come close to the fun and variety of its inspiration.
Pros: 600+ cars and Oahu offers some nice backdrops to races. GPS direction finding works well and cross-play means multiplayer races are well populated.
Cons: Car handling model is bland, while powerboats and planes feel like half-hearted bolt-ons. Very few ideas of its own and the open world sections are shameless padding.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Developer: Ubisoft Ivory Tower
Release Date: 14th September 2023
Age Rating: 12
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