The Crew Motorfest review – a beach getaway troubled by familiar vistas

An open-world Hawaii and a generously spirited racer, chafed by always-online irritations and a lack of originality.

The Crew Motorfest takes place in Hawaii. After two games set across a crunched-down United States, the developer, Ubisoft Ivory Tower, has given up trying to drive a whole country and settled on a small island. It’s like trading in a stretch Hummer and going for a cool little convertible hatchback. The result is a breeze – a tour of tapered-down Oʻahu, a decent facsimile of Forza Horizon, and a dose of thought-free driving. Every turn is a chance to squeeze the hand-brake; so grippy and slippy are the corners, kicking up clouds of rubbery smoke, it’s as if someone had crept out and sprayed every bend with glue. The only thing that may cause you to come unstuck is if you have any niggling desires to play something new, challenging, deep, substantial, surprising, or innovative. But those desires are, on occasion, better off banished. Aloha!

The shape of the campaign is shuffled into playlists, groups of races clustered around an abiding theme. The Made in Japan challenges have you drifting through downtown Honolulu, newly encrusted with neon, in Toyota Supras and Nissan Skylines. It’s a nice homage to Need For Speed: Underground and Midnight Club, with their cornea-frying colours. And then it’s gone. Once you’ve finished the playlist, it plinks off, like one of those neon signs, and the glow fades fast from your memory. There’s a disposable feel to each list, to the game as a whole. The Hawaii Scenic Tour has you hurtling between fields of sugar cane and zipping along foamy coasts. You are accompanied by a local guide, named Keola, who explains the region’s history and culture. Intriguing though Keola’s asides are (at one point, he describes wind turbines as “inspiring”), Hawaii’s ridiculous beauty is so abundant it starts to lose its flavour – all that sweetness, rolling out on the surf.

Here’s a big overview trailer for The Crew Motorfest.

The Crew Motorfest could almost be an ode to absent-minded driving: drifting, in the truest sense. The problem is that the best games to do that are the ones that demand discipline, that only let you slip into a reverie once you’ve mastered their tricks, and which provide exquisite, unbroken atmosphere. Think of WipEout, which threw gravity out the window and made you desperate to stay on the ground; only after you had learned the curves of each track could you really rise above them, and float into a daydream. The grail of this rarefied genre is R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, with its hazard-yellow menus and yawing powerslides. Ten minutes with that game always turns into an hour, as time folds like a hairpin, and you’ve no idea where you went.

Here your absence is down to a disconnect. The driving just isn’t that satisfying, the mechanics are undemanding, and the game slowly gusts along, saving its energy. (Maybe the wind turbines really were a source of inspiration.) It’s as if Ubisoft wants The Crew to be the kind of thing that you turn on, after a long day, and mentally log out with: an honourable goal. “Ahhh, I don’t like to bother you with too much,” Keola says, “you are racing, after all.” If only the organisers of Motorfest – the fumy celebration at the heart of the adventure – felt the same way. You are constantly barraged with pop-ups: race events and photo ops, car unlocks, other players jumping in and wafting by like automotive ghosts. The HUD nags like a headache, cluttering the screen; I recommend pruning back as much of it as you can, before you embark.

The Crew Motorfest screenshot, showing a top-down view of the map, alighting on the outcropping of Mokapu.

The Crew Motorfest screenshot, showing the same red BMW Z4 from earlier, only now it’s flying through the air, having just transformed from a plane.

The Crew Motorfest screenshot, showing a plane exploring along the coast and flying near a giant inflatable Chinese-style parade dragon.

Image credit: Ubisoft/Eurogamer.

The good news is, The Crew Motorfest is not without its merits. There are, apparently, around 600 cars for your perusal, many of which have been imported from the previous game. And you would have to be determined not to enjoy yourself to come away from the American Muscle playlist – which has you taming a Ford Mustang, then a thoroughbred monster truck, then a Ford Mustang that has been crossbred with a monster truck – without a smile. Plus, with a click of the right stick, you can still switch from car to boat to plane on the fly, as it were, instantly manifesting your preferred ride. The cars are the most fun, to be sure, but there is something of the arcade about these jumps, about the casual preference for dream logic, that echoes Driver: San Francisco, whose comatose hero could hop into the bodies, and behind the wheels, of others.

As a rule, anything that reminds me of Driver: San Francisco and its domestic flights of the soul is worthy of attention. And there is something to be said, too, for a blockbuster game whose goal is to be pleasant – to ply you with steamy vistas, and let you tone its challenge to ensure that you stay as chilled as possible. If only it hadn’t already been said, several times over, by Playground Games. That is the other reason that The Crew Motorfest loses some of its tropical punch. It might well allow you to rumble a Volkswagen Camper along a white beach, as if you were skimming through a tide of cream, but Forza Horizon 3, set in Australia, gave us similar pleasures years ago.

The Crew Motorfest screenshot, showing a closeup of a Ford Mustang monster-truck hybrid beast, splattered with mud.

The Crew Motorfest screenshot, showing a Shelby Cobra with an enormous spoiler, cruising at night.

The Crew Motorfest screenshot, showing a plane flying through hoops at sunset, in one of the game’s challenges.

The Crew Motorfest screenshot, showing a yellow Porsche on a highway in the twilight.

Image credit: Ubisoft/Eurogamer.

There is plenty of room for wannabes, and plenty of fun to be had with The Crew Motorfest. We get a decent patch of island real estate, a generous crop of cars, and a slew of events that celebrate them both. Indeed, given the recent wildfires that have ravaged Hawaii, and the pall of tragedy hanging over the state, there is a certain joy and juice to a game that devotes itself to the business of honouring the region’s allure, and observing its intense life.

Strange to say, the worst thing to be said of the game is that it needs to be hooked up to the internet at all times. According to, despite the remoteness of the place, 98% of Hawaiians have access to 100Mbps or faster broadband, so they will have no trouble plashing around on home turf. (More than I can say for my own Wi-Fi-potholed stretch of London.) But if you leave the game paused, to go and make a cup of coffee and a snack, say, you’ll find that you have to reconnect to the servers – and, in my experience, often reboot the game – to get back in. This is pretty woeful from a preservation perspective; unless Ubisoft adds offline play, The Crew Motorfest will crumble and wash away in time. It may fall to that fate anyway.

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