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The Crew Motorfest is a millionaire sim for Lambo lovers and car pervs

Joel Golby heads to the Lamborghini factory to play a game about cars and mud ramps
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Even if you’re not a car person, looking at a Lamborghini in real life is strange and thrilling and weird. Get too close and it activates your fight or flight response. There’s something animal about each of them – founder Ferruccio Lamborghini grew up on farms, started in tractor manufacture (he switched to automobiles when he got rich enough to buy a sports car but, after test-driving every Ferrari and Maserati going, decided he could do a better job if he made one himself: an untouchable vibe), was obsessed with bulls and bullfighting, and it shows – the Murciélago looks like it can puff air hard out of its muzzle, the Countach looks like it can breathe underwater.

Lamborghinis don’t rev more than roar. They squeal and squirm over the track like they’re chasing something. If a Lamborghini purrs down a street next to you – pulsing with 300km/hr power, idling in traffic, growling – you cannot help but look at one. They are strange, exotic beasts. When I went to the Lamborghini factory, just outside Bologna, I was most taken by the interiors: entirely leather-clad, sometimes tamped in soft luxurious suede. Lamborghinis have skin.

You, of course, will never drive a Lamborghini. They are not for people like you, or me. They are for Italian shipping heirs, legacy bankers, American YouTubers, and study-abroad streetwear teens. They are a fantasy car for people living fantasy lives – whenever anyone goes to the Lamborghini factory to start the process of pre-ordering and customizing their Lamborghini, they will cite “having a poster” of a Diablo on their wall as a kid, or, more recently, having a photo of a Lamborghini – the background blurred, it's going so fast, the photo taken from a helicopter because that’s the only other vehicle that can keep up with it, either backed by desert or a winding clifftop road or a closed track – as their phone background.

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They are the dream car for people who dream about cars. They are the basis for every unbadged video game sportscar you’ve ever loved (every iteration of Grand Theft Auto’s Cheetah is, essentially, a Lamborghini). You do not save up to buy a Lamborghini – you buy a Lamborghini to show people that you’re capable of buying a Lamborghini. That all being said: owning a lime-green Lamborghini Countach and driving it around 1980s Miami must have made the driver feel untouchable. They must have felt like a god.

To The Crew: Motorfest then, Ubisoft’s third installment of the enormously successful (the previous two installments have had 40 million+ players) online driving playground franchise, where you can – through unlocks and race wins and successful in-game challenges – experience as closely as possible the squealing thrill of driving a Lamborghini really, really fast.

What The Crew does so well is translate the physics of driving into a game engine – swooping low aerodynamic cars feel fast, classic vintage vehicles feel heavy but filled with power, dune buggies bounce and shake over mud and sand dunes, and the Honda S2000 you start the game with starts to nip and improve with every slight upgrade and tweak you make to it – in a way that offers you entirely separate game experiences: either you can sit forward in your chair and try and do everything to win, or you can click the settings down a bit and have a fun, goofy, smile-on-your-face brain-off hour or two of driving really fast around a technicolored Hawaii-shaped playground. Either way, the game goes fast and it looks good doing it. Either way, the sound design means every time you vwumm off a jump you get a massive grin on your face. Either way, you want to get your dead-eyed digital avatar into a Revuelto as quickly as possible.

This is deliberate. As Ubisoft’s Ivory Tower creative team told me over a sweltering playtest in front of a Bolognan aircraft hangar full of vintage Lamborghinis, the feel of the car – and the Lamborghininess of each Lamborghini – was painstakingly crafted. The Crew team have been working with Lamborghini (among other manufacturers) for two years in the lead-up to release, and were privy to designs of the new hybrid 2023 Revuelto long before they were made public enough for car perverts to pore over on Reddit.

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“We basically locked our guy in a room for a year,” Motorfest’s senior creative director jokes. Content director Julien Hummer corrects him: “Well, almost a year: about nine months.” Every line, every hinge, every LED light, every wing, every scrap of rubber, every milligram of weight, all diligently transposed into the game engine so you can leap it over a really big ramp then scramble down the side of a volcano in it. And the same care was taken to make Hawaii feel Hawaii-y, too: the team spent three weeks on the islands, taking various biome expeditions, and consulted with local experts to make sure the cultural texture of the place felt right before they put a Destruction Derby-style battle royale feature over the top of it.

That’s what keeps 40 million players coming back to the world of The Crew: fast toys that are fun to play with. Drop into Motorfest and at first you see all the things that are apparently contractually obliged to be in every Ubisoft game – a character in a collarless leather jacket saying smartmouth things to no one, a menu system that is activated by the last button you would ever think to press to get there, a slightly soul-free opening mission that you basically just have to press the right trigger down for 15 minutes to get through, a voice actor with the most irritating British accent you’ve ever heard repeatedly saying “awesome” – but then it hooks you.

The game launched with a series of super-octane ‘playlists’ – Off-Road Addict, Motorsports, Hawaii Scenic, Vintage Garage, Made In Japan – that suit every type of driving gamer (I, personally, like to pelt a 4x4 down the cliff face of something), and each comes with exploratory missions and races that reward you with vehicles and upgrades (Motorfest is constantly rewarding you with something: you get 10XP for driving a little bit close to another car; you get 100XP just for using your nitro). But the game comes alive with its insanely chaotic Grand Race feature, a live 28-person three-stage race that switches route and vehicles every half-hour.

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Vehicles can thump into each other and knock over semi-destructible terrain; if you don’t take the first corner of the race with any grace then you have no chance of winning at all; being in a middle-of-the-pack group of four or five cars, swerving around each jungle corner, is unstoppably thrilling. Quite soon after the first couple of checkpoints, the eventual leaders blister into the horizon, so you focus on your own race – every curve, jump, and shortcut on the racing line you could potentially take – then hunt down other nearby racers. A 13th-place finish that saw me blast nitro for the last two checkpoints to overtake another player I’d been chasing for minutes was one of the highlights of my gaming career. You let a big breath out at the end of every race, unaware you’ve been holding it.

While you emotionally recover from that, Motorfest drops you into what can only be described as a ‘really video game-y’ version of Hawaii, with constant bleeps and bloops and map legends and minigame routes to drive your car through. Other players’ vehicles zoom past you (with a satisfyingly dopplered whoosh), and an in-game AI character called CARA constantly pesters you with dialogue, and you feel your brain smooth over as you veer around – it’s oddly meditative, doing little fetch-quests and being rewarded with a gearbox for doing it.

What’s very very fun about Motorfest is that they’ve taken all of this care to so faithfully reproduce the physics and aesthetics of hundreds of classic fantasy vehicles (you have to ‘learn’ to drive each one; you have to counter-steer, take your finger off the accelerator now and again, have fine corner control) then placed them in a bizarre playground full of jumps, mud-slides, and the kind of insane graffiti that can only be found in a Ubisoft game. Motorfest goes: “Here, look, it’s the most realistic model of a Lamborghini ever built in-game.” Then it asks you: “Do you want to drive it out of an aeroplane?” In a way, that’s spiritually very very Lamborghini: owning one is the silliest, funnest thing you can possibly do with $300,000 and a big tank of petrol, and you can’t really help but grin when you interact with one. Until you get that payrise, though, The Crew: Motorfest is going to have to do.