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The Crew Motorfest preview: Flying high

The Crew Motorfest takes a creative approach to the racing formula

After I dropped a car from 10,712 feet in the air, stuck the landing (mostly), drove off, and promptly crashed into a wall, The Crew Motorfest officially had my interest. I’m the kind of car game enthusiast who just likes driving fancy cars in as unhinged a manner as possible, so video games like Forza Horizon and The Crew Motorfest are practically made for me. “Like Forza” does a lot of carrying here, since Motorfest is, a lot like Forza – on the surface, at least. During a recent four-hour preview Ubisoft hosted that GLHF attended, I got a better look at what makes Motorfest unique, including its smartly designed playlists.

The Forza Horizon comparisons don’t just come from both games being lighthearted racers. Motorfest shares a significant amount of its structure and ideas with Playground’s racing game series. The Motorfest is a celebration of all things cars. You and dozens of other enthusiasts flock to Hawaii to take part in five sets of themed races that double as a dive into car cultures from around the world.

In the hefty four-hour chunk of time I spent with Motorfest, it seems like these playlists are where the latest The Crew distinguishes itself. These range from a series of Japanese-style street races and a Porsche lover’s dream to my absolute favorite, a road trip back through time driving vintage, mid-century cars and navigating using only the environment around you instead of mini-maps and sat-navs.

The Crew Motorfest preview: An orange sports car is drifting hard while turning left in front of a yellow arch with 'Motorfest' written on it

You’ve got your typical rally races and standard circuits, but generously interspersed into the mix are drag races, street racing, challenges that tinker with your nitro boost, and the odd airplane mission just for good measure. Some even penalize you for damaging your car, which is particularly difficult for someone like me, who doesn’t understand the meaning of “drive in a straight line without crashing into things.”

I typically don’t like replaying activities in games like this, but I was surprised to find the difficulty scaling actually makes a substantial –and enjoyable – difference in how you approach each race. Even just a slight bump in difficulty means you’re having to drive strategically, think about your nitro boosts, and play the objective more seriously.

When you want a break from the playlists, you can check out some of the seasonal activities, which will definitely seem familiar if you’ve played Forza Horizon 4 or 5. Motorfest divides its seasons into branches, each with a progress meter that fills when you complete objectives. One branch focuses on replaying races under certain conditions, for example, and another is a series of speed checkpoints and slalom challenges around the island’s different regions.

The Crew Motorfest preview: A line of retro, 1950s cars are racing along a wet road lined with palm trees.

The regions are a bit of a mixed bag, though. Driving around the island’s cities, peering inside convenience stores, and speeding through crowded residential areas gives it a more intimate feeling, but The Crew Motorfest doesn’t do much with its setting. Unlike Forza Horizon 5, you have few incentives to explore the big island outside taking in the natural beauty. There’s plenty of that, admittedly, but after driving across the island half a dozen times, I’d have appreciated more secrets, landmarks, or even exploration quests to entice me off the beaten path between races.

The actual exploring feels exciting thanks to its multiple vehicle options. You can swap between a plane and a boat at any point on the island and earn XP for completing various feats, including flying high and speeding in your boat. The boat feels a bit like an afterthought. The island has few waterways, so you’re mostly just sailing around the coast. 

The plane and its associated challenges are excellent, though. One obstacle course tests your finesse by funneling you through mid-air rings and only rewarding points if you match the plane’s angle correctly, which is trickier to do than it sounds.

The Crew Motorfest preview: A car lit by blue neon lights is drifting along a sharp curve, with the words "Made in Japan" displaying on the right

The best part about the plane is the freedom it gives, both in exploring and in just messing around. I asked my very patient rep how high you could fly, and since they said no one had actually tried it yet, I decided it was time to find out. There’s no practical benefit to hitting the top of the skybox (10,712 is the maximum height, in case you were wondering) and dropping your car to earth – but it sure was fun.

It was fun to fly toward every playlist location and suddenly switch to car form to see if I could land on target, like a round of Super Monkey Ball’s target mini-game, only at 180 miles-per-hour with a stupidly expensive car. And it was fun to fly to the highest mountain, get the Aston Martin out, and plunge down the side with reckless abandon.

That’s my biggest takeaway from my time with The Crew Motorfest. The exploration aspect might still be a bit barebones, but Ivory Tower knows how to take the comparatively simple idea of driving really fast and turn it into something fresh and consistently exciting.

The Crew Motorfest launches on PS5 and PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC via Steam and Ubisoft Connect on Sep. 11, 2023.