Forza Horizon has ruled the open world racing roost for years now, subsequently becoming one of the jewels in Xbox's first-party crown as Playground Games has taken the genre to new heights. However, we did feel like 2021's Forza Horizon 5 was a little bit of a drop off for the series, as it — perhaps naturally — started to run out of new ideas. Fast-forward two years and while The Crew Motorfest doesn't have many brand-new concepts of its own, it finally provides some worthy competition for Xbox's exclusive racing series, and we've been having an absolute blast with it for the past week or so.
Forgoing the condensed USA maps featured in The Crew and The Crew 2, Motorfest heads to Hawaii and really benefits from the change in location. Those old, sprawling expanses were novel at first but frankly quite boring to drive around - something Motorfest's Hawaiian island of Oahu manages to avoid. It's still larger than anything we've seen in Forza Horizon, but Motorfest's map stays manageable, meaning it doesn't feel like a chore to reach some obscure objective on the other side of the island.
What really helps alleviate the tedium of past The Crew entries though are the hugely improved driving physics. The Crew Motorfest feels fantastic to play, thanks to an all-new handling model that feels grippy, connected, yet playful - as any arcade racer should. It lands somewhere in the middle of Forza Horizon and something like Need for Speed, with drifts and nitrous boosts playing a big part in making Motorfest feel fast and kinetic as you cruise around the island, competing in events. Developer Ivory Tower has worked wonders in this department - huge props to their dedication here.
Progression has shades of Horizon about it as well, with plenty of objectives popping up all over the place as you complete races, missions and just blast around Hawaii. However, the game's 'Playlist' system is something we're really fond of and gives the game a bit more focus, which helps with this sort of affair. A Playlist is basically a collection of events tied to a certain theme - with some containing different event types like traditional races, timed runs, drag races, drift events and so on. We particularly dug the 'Vintage Garage' playlist which takes you on a historical tour - even including a race type that strips away typical UI elements and has you following postcard-like directions as if you're on an old school treasure hunt.
These Playlists do highlight one negative we have with the game though, and that's its economy. Most Playlists gift you cars to use so you don't have to pull from your own garage, but because of this you don't own many vehicles to just cruise around in. The Crew Motorfest is nowhere near as generous as its competition in handing out vehicles for keeps, and the money we earned in our first 15-or-so hours of playtime wasn't enough to make any sort of meaningful car-collecting progress. Add into the mix the fact that the game has a secondary currency that you can top up with real money and, the whole system feels like it could do with some tweaking to encourage more freedom without having to shell out extra cash.
Visually, The Crew Motorfest is a real looker. It doesn't really push the boundaries in any major way (apart from the fact than you can zoom all the way in on the game's real-time map and see actual cars speeding along) but the new location is a colourful, gorgeous open world playground. On Xbox Series X the 60 frames per-second mode is very welcome, and switching between it and a 30FPS option didn't really highlight many visual deficiencies at all. Xbox Series S players only have the one 30FPS option at launch, but Series X users should absolutely utilise the higher frame rate option for a smoother overall racing experience.
The world does have its problems when it comes to traffic density and just general NPC activity though. At times, Motorfest can seem quite empty, often making Oahu feel more sparsely populated than we'd have liked it to feel. It never became a major problem for us — mainly because the new physics are such good fun that blasting around on our own is a hella good time anyway — but we would like to see more real and AI drivers cruising around to make the whole thing feel more alive.
Speaking of blasting around - we have to give a shoutout to the animation work here. The game's exterior 'chase cam' views feel smoother and more connected than in past entries, and you folks who love a good interior viewpoint are in for a real treat. Motorfest features full 360-degree wheel rotation that makes cockpit driving a joy, and this is coming from a gamepad player, for the most part. If you're using a racing wheel with The Crew Motorfest we'd imagine the cockpit view will be even more immersive, and this whole area is a massive step up not only from the last game, but also from anything in the Forza Horizon series so far.
Just like its predecessor, Motorfest includes boats and planes as well as cars and bikes, and the story is very much the same here as it was in The Crew 2. They're a cool novelty but they still feel a bit out of place and undercooked, and the game's much-improved physics don't really carry over to racing on water and in the sky. Thankfully, most of the game sticks to road and dirt racing, and Motorfest's extensive vehicle list means that there's still plenty of dream cars for all of you petrolheads to focus on.
The Crew Motorfest has really surprised us. Not since the Test Drive Unlimited days have we had this much fun with an open world racer outside of the industry-leading Forza Horizon series, and that can only be good for competition going forward. The jury is still out on whether Motorfest, and any potential sequels, will have the stopping power that FH does, but Ubisoft's history with updating and adding to The Crew 2 bodes well for this title's future. Motorfest isn't fully refined just yet but the game feels like a hugely successful reset button for The Crew series, and we're now totally invested in where things go next.