The Crew Motorfest's closed beta is now live, and it grants players access to quite a good chunk of the upcoming open world racer, so we decided to crack on and give it a blast to see what we think so far.

The good news right off the rip is that this is easily The Crew's best attempt at a handling model yet. Sitting right in the middle of Forza Horizon and Need for Speed — but straying more toward the former — The Crew Motorfest is a blast to play. We've tested out a handful of cars so far, from sports coupes to off-road trucks and even F1-style racers, and they all represent a marked improvement from their The Crew 2 counterparts.

If you're typically a cockpit-view racer like this writer is, you're in for an additional treat when it comes to car feel. The team's new interior animations for handling the wheel itself, making gear changes and the subtle rattles of camera shake all look and feel fantastic, and we definitely recommend playing from this viewpoint if you often do in other racers. The sense of speed from within the cockpit is really, really nice as well - Ivory Tower has done a good job all round with how The Crew Motorfest feels to play, and this is coming from someone who wasn't a huge fan of the gameplay experience in the first two games of the series.

Hands On: The Crew Motorfest The Crew Motorfest Puts Ubisoft's Open World Racer On The Map 1

As for how the game's campaign and general progression plays out in this beta, well, if you've played some of the recent Forza Horizon titles you should be very familiar with proceedings here. In fact, the whole concept of The Crew Motorfest is based around a festival (clue's in the name we suppose, but still); the team has clearly been taking notes while playing Playground Games' Xbox racer - and it shows.

That's not a bad thing though really, is it? We found The Crew's existing open world map — and how the last two games progressed campaign-wise — a bit tedious to be honest. Motorfest ditches the sprawling USA backdrop for open world Hawaii, and the game feels tighter and more focused as a result. Yes, there's still lots going on and Motorfest definitely retains Horizon's ability to add new markers to your map at a blistering pace, but the whole thing just flows better as you make your way around the festival from event to event.

Hands On: The Crew Motorfest The Crew Motorfest Puts Ubisoft's Open World Racer On The Map 2

Speaking of events, if you do manage to play some of this beta, the game gives you a few 'playlists' to try out straight away. These are basically mini campaigns comprised of different race types — much like Forza's 'Horizon Stories' — and we opted for the Hawaii scenic route here. This allowed The Crew Motorfest to flex its graphical muscles for us on Xbox Series X, and flex it did. Hawaii is home to some incredible scenery, and Motorfest doesn't mess around in showing that off.

This beta version of the game contains two visual modes; one that opts for 30FPS with higher visual fidelity, and a performance mode that speeds towards 60FPS. There are some minor performance mode drops in the game's current state, but given that we're still a few months out from launch that's entirely understandable. The frame rate dips are minor anyway - it's safe to say we absolutely recommend performance mode on Xbox Series X.

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So, what do we think of The Crew Motorfest so far, then? Well, the game has surprised us quite a bit after playing a few hours of the beta. We had pretty low expectations going in to be quite honest — Ubisoft's series just hasn't done it for us so far — but the improvements in car handling alone are starting to reel us in. We still think the addition of boats and planes is a bit pointless — especially the latter — and it remains to be seen if the game has legs like Forza does, but we're certainly impressed so far. If Ubisoft can iron out those performance dips before launch, and provide a compelling campaign throughout the whole Crew Motorfest experience, this could be our next open world racer to cherish.

Are you going to give The Crew Motorfest a go? If you've tried it, let us know what you think!