World of Speed (PC)
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Release date: 2014
Creative director Andy Tudor was a driving force behind Need for Speed: Shift and Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed at London-based Slightly Mad Studios, and more recently has been working on the upcoming next-gen Project CARS there, but he and his team have also been quietly working on a massively multiplayer online racing game for PC. Their hope was to create something that would be on par with home console racers, but with truly competitive online play, as well as continual content updates like you'd find in any good MMO.
The inspiration from other games has been applied to the competitive racing aspect of World of Speed to solve a couple of problems that all online racers seem to have. Tudor explained that crashing out on the first corner will usually put a racer out for the rest of the race, with no real chance to catch up. In these cases your only reward is usually car damage and bad lap times, and only those with podium finishes get rewarded.
So they applied what they learned from the Shift games to create Driver Score 2.0. The idea is to have "micro actions" in the game that will, once completed, let any racer earn points toward their progress, regardless of race position. Tudor explained that you may have wiped out and are now at the back of the pack, but you can still do things like drift or find shortcuts to earn points, and these actions can be chained to perform combos.
A badge system builds on this, giving the player smaller opportunities to win at something constantly. Badges are like achievements as they unlock as you continue to play. They range from basic tasks, like hitting mileage landmarks, to what Tudor calls "fiendish things." The idea here is to get to a place where it feels like the game isn't instantly over from an early crash. "No more rage quits," Tudor joked.
Some inspiration from shooters helped solve another big racing problem. Tudor said that they found in the Need for Speed: Shift games that players rarely worked together, and that each player was really only out to win for themselves, with almost no communication taking place. In World of Speed, teammates and friends have to cooperate to achieve goals in mandatory events. Imagine a situation where tougher cars would protect a faster car that was out to get the best times, like a tank would protect another in a RPG. Other cars out to find shortcuts are kind of like rangers, and drafters are kind of like... well, I'm not sure. But you can kind of see what they're getting at. With no given examples in the presentation or hands-on session, this seems more like a good idea at this point.
World of Speed centers around team-based play to encourage cooperation. Race clubs fight for control of an in-game location against other clubs. The idea is to own a given track. If this is accomplished, every racer that races on that track will see your club name and logo. Owning that location unlocks a clubhouse, a fully 3D social area for members to hang out. They'll also be able to earn club-only game modes. One, called Territory Wars, has clubs going beyond their first owned location, working to recruit and organize other players to take more locations to achieve world domination.
These locations are based on real-world tracks and cities. I took a car around a few of these, including a London city race and the famous Brands Hatch course. Beyond these, we know that Monaco, Moscow (in the snow!), and Laguna Seca are in the works, as well as many others. Both of the tracks I raced looked very nice, running on what I'm sure were some pretty high spec'd gaming PCs. For the London course in particular, the level of detail was extremely high. Tudor explained that their design team lived in each location for weeks, gathering visual references to make each as authentic as possible.
To my eyes, with its high level of detail in both the tracks and the cars, World of Speed looks more like a racing sim than an arcade-style racer. The team members at Slightly Mad seemed surprised to hear me say this. I saw a touch of something that reminds me of Project Gotham Racing, but the overall look is cleaner and more realistic. Think Gran Turismo turned up a few notches. It looks nice, but I think it also looks a little stiff and maybe too tidy for something that is geared to be so approachable. But then again, the next-gen quality visuals will please any eye, so this could be less of an issue for others.
The look had me going in for my first hands-on expecting for World of Speed to feel like a racing sim. I think the game's feel is at odds with its looks. Slightly Mad stresses that they're still in a pre-alpha state, so it's hard to make a call this early, but World of Speed's feel is much more stiff and unforgiving than I first expected it would be. At this point, cornering feels stripped thin, a fry cry from the new console racers that hit the market a few months back. Braking feels downright off at this point, with stops feeling more like a constant slope, and lacking any sense of weight or physics.
Between the rough steering and odd braking, getting around the track collision-free was quite a challenge, even for this seasoned racing game fan. I ate a lot of walls for the tighter turns, and found myself unintentionally smashing into both teammates and opponents in all races, trying the game with both gamepad and steering wheel controls. I fared even worse with the keyboard racing controls.
Figuring that most of my peers seemed to be having similar issues in multiplayer sessions, our hands-on session looked more like a bumper cars match. An inordinate amount of on-track debris flying around made things even more frustrating. I only had a few uninterrupted opportunities to break away from the pack and get a feel for things. There's promise to be sure, but it was hard to get over how difficult of a time I was having with steering and braking. But, again, World of Speed is still really early.
One mode we tested had every team member working to earn the most experience points during the race. I liked that there were many ways to do this, from the standard podium placement to overtaking, or finding shortcuts. There were plenty of opportunities for players to kind of divide up and fall into a position where they were most comfortable. Those that had a better feel for the engine could try to place, while others that wanted to be antagonistic could ram enemies into walls. Even drifting could be used to earn experience. It's too bad that the hand brake didn't seem to do anything in this play test.
We don't have a car list yet, but we were told to expect "all manner of cars," from your standard street cars to the top super cars, like Ferrari, Aston Marton, Lamborghini, high-end Mercedes Benz, and others. Players will house their cars in their own custom garage, and will be able to visit it at any time to enjoy their collection of eye candy.
Like an MMO from any other genre, Slightly Mad plans to update World of Speed often. New tracks and cars will regularly come down the line, as will new gameplay modes. A quick tease during a presentation listed what looked to be dozens of these upcoming modes. My eye caught several: Cat and Mouse, Freeway Pursuit, Destruction Derby, Movie Cars, Dirt and Dune, Emergency Response, and more. From the names alone these all sound like a lot of fun.
Again, World of Speed will be a free-to-play PC download title, set to launch this year. Slightly Mad isn't saying much about how they'll handle the fine details when it comes to monetization, but it does sound like they're fully against a pay-to-win situation, and that car customization could be a focus for their plan.
World of Speed certainly looks great already, and I'm all for Slightly Mad's strong ideas that work toward encouraging cooperative play, but it's still way to early to make a call on the actual gameplay itself. I don't think that pulling it out will be a problem for the team behind so many quality racing games. If they can get this together, World of Speed sounds like it could be a really good time for people who love cars and competition.
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