The grand reveal of World of Speed, hosted at a racetrack on the outskirts of Amsterdam, was a typically outlandish press event. Members of the press from around the world (around 50 of us) were not only invited to play the first build of the game, but also to drive some of the cars in it. Most importantly of all though was the product and whether or not it had wheels.
World of Speed is a free to play massively multiplayer online action racing game. Developed by Slightly Mad Studios, World of Speed allows players (and most importantly teams of drivers) to race around circuits and tracks from real world cities. Similarly to other massively multiplayer games, players will be able to join clubs (clans or guilds to you and I), take part in multiple game modes (I see these as scenarios) while showing off their skills and vehicles on the Airfield. Lastly, you and your club will be able to control the world in Territory Wars.
Fluff aside, World of Speed is a social racing game. You pick a car, jump on a track and race. The fundamental difference in World of Speed however, in comparison to the Forza’s and Gran Turismo’s of this world is the fact that securing a first place podium finish doesn’t guarantee you or your club actually win the race. It’s better to picture each individual race as a game of tug of war, with a Kudos system (ala Metropolis Street Racer) thrown in. Drive well and you’ll be awarded an appropriate amount of points for your “micro actions”; overtake flawlessly and that too grants points. Block an opposing player, successfully shunting them off the track and your point counter will continue to rise.
Although it wasn’t clear from our multiplayer hands on with the game, the intention behind World of Speed is for groups of players and clubs to work together tactically during a race to ensure that they score maximum points. The premise being that you choose a role, similarly to any other MMOG, and fulfil it throughout the course of a race. Whether you determine yourself as the club bully and spend your entire time shunting other drivers or if you’re the speed king specialising in coming first, there’s (allegedly) a real need to define what you want to do.
As far as concepts are concerned (XP and racing roles) both are absolutely fine on paper but in practice I feel they’re at odds with inherent player behaviour. During my time with the game I came first in all the races and yet my team lost because my team mates obtained fewer XP than the opposition (dragging our entire result down) and while that’s fine, the main concern I had was whether or not people would ever want to do anything other than win.
In a racing game, players choose to play because they want to win. They want the rush and challenge of starting at the back of the grid and ending first on the podium. Frustratingly, it isn’t yet apparent if you and your club were to fulfil all the top places on the podiums if you would outright win - I got the impression you wouldn’t and I think that’s a little strange. At the heart of any racing game, surely the driving has to be the deciding factor and coming first, second and third should provide the most amount of experience. Everything else undertaken before that should be contributory but not a deciding factor. I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to spend an entire race ramming others off the track. I’ve no doubt some players will (there’s plenty of idiots on the internet) but it feels strange to want to encourage that behaviour.
If Slightly Mad Studios could make any further improvements to the XP system, it would have to be a greater visualisation of what you’ve accomplished. At no point throughout a race did I realise I’d earned XP and I think it’s important to have that feedback and stimulus. Heck, I’d like to see “+3”, “+4”, “+10 AWESOME!” rolling off my car when I achieve something cool. Without it, it feels all for nothing.
Alongside roles while racing are tasks to undertake. Some of them are simple such as staying in someones slipstream or overtaking an individual, while others are more tricky. At present it’s a nucleus of an idea and one which definitely could work. None of us paid much attention to these tasks, primarily because the user interface didn’t make them clear and also because we had not opportunity to pick our own before the race. Something I suggested to the developers was to treat such tasks like a massively multiplayer game and allow players to pick which they wanted to complete, based on their role. If you were a bruiser for example and wanted to just beat other cars about, you’d select tasks appropriate to that (i.e battering cars off the road).
When it comes to the racing and the presentation of the game, World of Speed sits somewhere between the arcade approach of Blur or Metropolis Street Racer (it really does remind of the game) but has visuals attempting to be hyper realistic, that fall just short of Forza or Gran Turismo. That might sound like a criticism, but I don’t see either as a huge problem. The game still looks fantastic and thankfully runs great even during this stage of development, most importantly of all however is the fact it has a brilliant sense of speed. Admittedly at times a little too fast considering the tiny confines of the London track we raced on and there’s still a long way to go when it comes to the braking (which seemed to do nothing).
For the most part it seemed my colleagues did nothing but hug the barriers and crash straight into everything - luckily for me I learned quickly to brake, handbrake and let go of the accelerator. No one should have to do this in a racing game, but it is early days and Slightly Mad Studios seem keen to iron this out (though a little worrisome development has got this far without one of the team noticing the distinct lack of break functionality).
There’s still lots that we obviously didn’t get to see or experience during this very brief hands on. Seeing Territory Wars in action (this is where your club and you control the race tracks), the airfield (which looked like a giant skate park) or the clubhouse where I’m presuming you’ll be able to exit your car and actually socialise (ala Sims).
Although Slightly Mad Studios were tight lipped on many topics, I think it’s fair to say that as a free to play game their revenue stream is going to come from cosmetic items and play time reductions. They stated throughout the day that you couldn’t buy your way to victory but that you could make life a little more comfortable or progression that little bit quicker if you were to open your wallet. Combined with the social elements of the clubhouse and the intention to bring a multitude of additional game modes post-launch (which will cost money, I’m sure) there’s a lot we’ll find out as we head towards the spring beta.
Overall then, I’m pretty impressed with World of Speed. This hands-on might be a little harsh in places, but that’s because Slightly Mad Studios are seeking feedback. World of Speed shows huge signs of promise and has all the framework in place to be the front runner when it comes to online racing games. Considering the competition on PC is...well, nothing, they’ve really not got a too difficult task on their hands. All that said, they have to ensure that the racing is tighter than it currently is and if they get that right, everything else should fall into place.
I’ll be watching World of Speed very closely over the next few months as it has every chance of being something special.