Ubisoft's premier racing franchise, The Crew, generally gets a bad rap. Developer Ivory Tower had very strong ambitions right from the starting grid, providing drivers with an open world approximating the entire United States of America. It's a great idea; roam the entire country from coast to coast with your pals, taking on challenges and building a varied collection of vehicles. The Crew 2 doubled down, even providing new ways to get around with boats and planes. For us, however, the execution was never really good enough, with a vapid open world and lacklustre driving. The Crew Motorfest is a different story.
The third entry in the series is easily our favourite, addressing our two biggest gripes with previous entries. For as commendable as it is to give players so much acreage to explore, all that space was never filled with anything memorable. Motorfest takes the reverse approach, shrinking the map down to Hawaii's main island, O'ahu, and packing it with personality. Though it's still a sizeable open world, it's so much more interesting to drive through — beautiful coastal roads lead into verdant forests, volcanic beaches, winding mountain trails, and Honolulu's city streets. It's a fantastic setting that serves as a picturesque backdrop to the action.
Speaking of action, the handling model is a huge improvement on The Crew 2. Definitely leaning towards the arcade half of the spectrum, Motorfest strikes a nice balance; it's a lot of fun, throwing cars around with relative ease, but still requires you to pay attention and anticipate turns properly. The most impressive thing is the handling feels good regardless of racing discipline. Variety is the order of the day here, and whether it's street racing, open-wheel indy cars, or off-roading, it's all solid and enjoyable. Solid use of DualSense's haptics and triggers is a nice bonus, too.
The one thing we'll say is on-road driving can feel a bit slide-happy, sometimes kicking the back out into a drift a little too eagerly. It's never too big an issue, but something to be aware of. Overall, driving is much more entertaining here, and you have a good amount of assists and car-specific tuning to tweak it to your liking. Boat and plane handling isn't quite on the same level, but they're still reasonably fun to mess with, and add even more variety.
The game contextualises your road trip in O'ahu with the titular Motorfest, an island-wide celebration of car culture in all its permutations. At least to begin with, your main source of racing comes from Playlists, which comprise themed events focusing on a particular niche or brand. The 15 Playlists at launch include Hawaii Scenic Tour, which emphasises the setting with some casual races; Off-Roading Addict, lining up events through muddy jungles and sandy beaches; and 911 Legacy, celebrating Porsche's beloved sports car range. They act like miniature campaigns, and make the hundreds of vehicles and many race types nicely digestible. Completing Playlists rewards you with new cars and further challenges to take on, eventually giving you hundreds of things to do around the island. That might sound overwhelming, but a great thing about the game is that everything is optional; you can ignore whatever parts don't interest you.
There's lots to do while playing solo, but there are also some interesting ways to engage in multiplayer. Obviously you can create or join a crew and go for a drive with your pals, and a handful of competitive modes are good fun too. Grand Race is a chaotic, 28-player race that has you hot-swapping between three vehicle classes on the fly; Demolition Royale is a destruction derby spin on battle royale; and Summit Contest is a weekly challenge comprising nine themed events, and you earn rewards depending on how many cumulative points you have at the end. Finally, there's the Custom Show, in which you can submit your decked-out rides for public vote. Strangely, there doesn't appear to be a way to just matchmake for a simple race — at launch, at least.
The Main Stage provides a seasonal wrapper for what you're doing, rewarding you with XP, in-game cash, and more as you complete Playlists, explore the map, and compete in multiplayer with certain vehicles. The presentation here can be quite confusing with four XP bars and a wealth of themed events to partake in. It isn't the only thing we found a bit of a puzzle at first, either. The wealth of vehicles is fantastic and there's a lot of customisation options, but you'll quickly be inundated with upgrade parts that all have seemingly random extra perks or buffs in addition to the regular stat increases. Our advice is to equip whatever makes your car's stats go up and be done with it, lest you spend half your time worrying what all the little icons mean.
The sheer volume of stuff to do means Motorfest never leaves you bored, but sometimes it goes a little far to recommend things to you. In free roam, you'll get notifications for challenges you've completed or challenges you can take on, while Feats — simple objectives like slaloms or speed traps — pepper the island and, if you're not paying attention, can lead you away from where you were heading. On top of everything else, ghosts of other players will zoom past, which can be distracting, and NPCs and your onboard AI assistant are constantly talking. Occasionally the dialogue is interesting, adding more context in the Hawaii Scenic Tour Playlist, for instance, but it's mostly superfluous. These presentation choices can be overbearing at times.
It isn't all bad, though. The in-game map is a highlight, allowing you to take a broad view of the island or zoom right in to see other players driving around. Also, there are some really nice stylistic changes made depending on the Playlist you're participating in. Made in Japan, for example, coats Honolulu in neon, while Vintage Garage applies a subtle colour filter to give a more old-timey feel. While the visuals aren't quite on par with PS5's best-looking racers, they're nothing to sniff at either, with a vibrant use of colour being a strength. The frame rate is a near-constant 60 frames-per-second on performance mode, which is our preferred way to play, but you can swap to resolution mode for 4K and 30 frames-per-second if you want.
The Crew Motorfest is the best in the series to date. While some may miss the enormous US map of old, O'ahu makes for a much more inviting setting with its tropical vibes and varied environments. The handling has never been better either, somehow feeling good no matter what you're driving. A wealth of things to see and do is made manageable thanks to the addictive Playlists, although some presentation decisions can make the game feel a little scattershot sometimes. Even with a couple of potholes, though, Motorfest is an entertaining drive and, knowing Ubisoft's track record with live service, will only get better over time.