The Crew is a weird franchise. The first game was focused on a story involving car gangs and criminals. The second game kept the map from the first—a scaled-down recreation of the United States—but ditched the narrative and focused on exploration and adding more types of vehicles to operate. Now the third game, The Crew Motorfest, has excised all that to become a Forza Horizon-like open-world racer with its own large festival located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. And while Motorfest is a gorgeous car game that presents a wackier and wilder take on Horizon’s open world, its odd progression hampers a lot of the freedom and possible fun.
It’s impossible to talk about The Crew Motorfest, out now on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC, without talking about Forza Horizon. The new open-world driving game from Ubisoft Ivory Tower shares so much DNA with Xbox’s popular franchise that it’s hard to imagine The Crew Motorfest existing without Horizon.
Motorfest opens with flashy and impressive introduction sequence, very Horizon-like, that has you rapidly hopping into various cars in the middle of different events, providing quick tastes of what to expect. Once that’s over, you meet some insufferable people who talk about how the Motorfest festival will be so much fun and how they’re so pumped that you’re here to experience it all. They also promise that, if you drive well enough, you might end up winning the whole thing, even though it doesn’t really seem like a competition. Then you set off across the open world of Oahu competing in various events that feature colorful decorations, loud music, and over-the-top moments. If it didn’t say “Motorfest” on the front of the box, I might assume Microsoft had stealth-released a new Forza Horizon and slipped it onto my Xbox Series X while I slept.
Once past the intro, I quickly discovered how The Crew Motorfest is different from Horizon, for better and for worse.
Let’s start with the good stuff! Motorfest’s wide array of vehicles spans more than just cars and trucks, letting you drive boats, planes, dirtbikes, street bikes, and even ATVs. These vehicle types all handle completely differently, each with their own quirks, such as having to manage how out of the water your boat is or isn’t.
Even better, and in a sign of how Ubisoft’s game is willing to be more wacky than Forza, you can switch between your current car, plane, and boat at any point. And I mean at any point. I was flying in my plane and decided to switch to my car, just to see if the game would let me. It did, and I was able to crash-land my car and drive away with no issue. This quickly became my travel method of choice when I wanted to save some time. I’d fly toward my destination and then swap out the plane for a car and crash into the area like a Ford torpedo. It never got old.
Unfortunately, at least in the game’s first dozen hours, the planes and boats feel like silly distractions and not fully developed parts of the game. Most events early on don’t use them, and I found my speedboat got little use as the map doesn’t feel designed for it. Still, it’s rad that I can just fly up into the skies above Hawai’i, turn into a boat, and slam down on top of a football field or race track and the game doesn’t punish me at all.
While Motorfest lets you go wild in its open world, dropping car bombs and surfing mountains with boats, the game’s actual events and progression are the exact opposite.
The Crew Motorfest is filled with various playlists containing themed events that feature about seven or so races or other driving segments. These playlists often feature different types of gameplay and have hosts that talk to you during the races. You might do a standard lap-based race, then a drag race with its own controls and mechanics. After that, you might be challenged with some drifting or even driving a truck that has no brakes through an obstacle course. A lot of the playlists are a blast, offering up creative and interesting events.
I was shocked by just how much variety is packed in Motorfest. Every playlist feels unique, and the game is constantly throwing new ideas at you. At one point I was driving F1 cars and managing my tires and when to pit, then later I was cruising around the coast of Hawai’i in a 1950s convertible using photos, not a modern GPS, to help guide me to my location. And yet later I was participating in a Japanese-themed underground racing circuit complete with a crew of racers who heckled and praised me as I drifted around neon-drenched streets and alleys.
However, every single one of these playlists—I’ve played through the first seven so far—forces you to drive a specific car that you can’t customize or upgrade. This makes the cars you unlock and upgrade in the open world feel less useful, and makes it hard to develop any kind of connection with them. And while it’s true that Forza Horizon sometimes has fixed-car events, it also features plenty of races and other activities that let players choose their own cars and develop favorites that they upgrade over time.
That’s not really how The Crew Motorfest operates, which is extremely confusing and frustrating. I kept wondering why I even had all these cars in my garage if the game rarely let me use them in events.
Once you complete a playlist, you unlock the ability to replay its events with any car you want, which is nice. But I’m not sure why seemingly every single race in this game needs to be so locked down. Furthermore, once you finish a playlist, you unlock challenges connected to it and its theme. Weirdly, many of the challenges ask you to perform specific feats in the events you just completed using cars from the same playlist.
Sure, you can ignore the challenges, but then you won’t progress through each one’s battle pass-like reward system, missing out on credits, cars, and new vehicle parts. It all just feels very strange, like the game wants you to do everything twice in a small selection of vehicles. This progression system feels completely at odds with the sillier open-world action that happens between the playlists.
Other little annoyances also start to grind after a while, like being unable to fast-travel to large sections of the island until completing a specific number of playlists, or how many challenges ask you to do certain things in specific locations, but don’t tell you where these places are or guide you to them via a GPS marker.
You also start every session of Motorfest on foot in a weird hub area that is mostly empty aside from other players and their parked cars. You can walk around and vote on cars you think look cool, and uh…not much else. This odd purgatory doesn’t add anything to the experience beyond an extra layer between me and the fantastic feel of driving cars at very high speeds or dropping Ford Mustangs on mountains.
The Crew Motorfest reminds me of an old, badass muscle car that needs some work. It can be fun to drive, it looks cool as hell, and with some patience, it will get you where you need to go. But it also has a bad gearbox, stalls at stop lights, and isn’t reliable enough to plan your week around. You have to fight it to enjoy it.
And to be clear: There is a lot to enjoy in Motorfest, like its gorgeous open world or the way it lets you mix cars, planes, and bikes in silly ways. And some folks might prefer the game’s tightly controlled and focused approach to progression. I also assume PlayStation players might enjoy having a Forza Horizon-like game on their PS5 or PS4.
However, I think Xbox players and those who prefer more freedom in their open-world racing games might just go back to Forza itself instead of putting up with Motorfest’s odd annoyances and shortcomings.