Stace Harman goes hands-on with World of Speed, the new arcade-racing MMO from Need For Speed: Shift and Project CARS developer, Slightly Mad Studios.
Distilled to its core essence, the racing genre is as simple as they come: get from A to B faster than everyone else. However, I’ve spoken before of how the allure of its pure racing element has diminished for me and that, these days, I find myself drawn much more readily to the varied activities found in the likes of Forza Horizon and Need For Speed: Rivals.
“If you’re regularly in eighth place and you know you’re not going to win then it’s easy to become despondent and lose interest because you feel there’s nothing there for you”
As such, the announcement of Slightly Mad Studios’ new team-based arcade-racer PC MMO, World of Speed, piques my curiosity but I’m also wary of the obstacles that this free-to-play title must dodge to deliver on its potential. In fact, that’s one right there: it’s free to play and I’m afraid I have no details to share on how the microtransaction system will work. Sorry.
What I can tell you is that with World of Speed, Slightly Mad Studios is attempting to remove the barrier to entry to competitive racing games that is thrown-up in front of those who don’t typically come in first past the post.
“Online racing is a scary place; in fact, online play in general is a scary place,” says Slightly Mad Studios’ creative director, Andy Tudor. “I think I’m pretty good at Call of Duty but then I go online and get killed within seconds from the other side of the map and that can be pretty annoying.
“It’s the same for a lot of genres and it’s no different for racing; if you’re regularly in eighth place and you know you’re not going to win then it’s easy to become despondent and lose interest because you feel there’s nothing there for you.”
Slightly Mad’s answer to this is to borrow elements from other MMO genres in order to create a number of varied roles that players can take on, both pre-defined and revealed through experimentation, that instil within them with a purpose in the four vs four match-ups. Typical examples include blockers and damage dealers that hinder the opposing team’s drivers as you attempt to gain team-points by finishing as far up the ranking as possible.
“Through our own racing game experience and just playing racing games for fun, we found that some people were naturally gravitating towards these roles anyway and that sparked the initial idea,” explains Tudor.
“We also thought there was definitely room to experiment with team-racing and we implemented a version of that back in the [Need For Speed:] Shift DLC. We probably didn’t provide quite everything that was required at that point which is why we’ve made [team-racing] the focus this time.”
“Techincally, we could put this game on the new consoles. There are questions around how we would do the MMO elements on those consoles, but in terms of technical challenge we could definitely do it.”
This team focus is most clearly defined by being able to contribute to the communal point pot via means other than pure racing and it’s through these additional activities that Slightly Mad Studios hopes to broaden its player base.
At the start of each race, four objectives are picked at random from a dozen or so. Both teams can complete these objectives to earn extra points to bolster those they earn for achieving ranking-places and they take in tasks such as leading the race for a total of 120 seconds, drafting another player for 60 seconds, taking every available shortcut on a course and shunting every opposing team member throughout the race.
As these are team goals, everyone’s progress contributes to overall completion and by coordinating with your teammates you can look to take ownership of certain tasks to leave the speed-demons of your crew free to concentrate on achieving the perfect racing line. In theory, this sounds like an inclusive model that adds a strategic edge to races, but there’s still work to be done on the UI to clearly communicate your team’s progress in each of these collaborative goals.
The overall aim of each race depends on the mode you’re taking part in and while I’ve only had experience of the straight-up 4 vs 4 team race there are several other modes that Slightly Mad will be rolling out at launch and implementing afterwards. A brief glimpse of one of the presentation screens reveals modes titled Freeway Pursuit, Capture the Flag, and Drift and it’s the intention of Andy Tudor and team that World of Speed should be around for quite some time in order to introduce many more.
Elsewhere, Slightly Mad Studios’ partnership with MY.com is intended to bolster the social elements of the MMO, although it’s not yet clear to what extent stats and profile information will be surfaced through the online platform. There’s potential for a lively social scene, as established clans can use the Airfield Playground to try out eager new recruits and vie for the membership of the current best players of any given discipline and role. This camaraderie continues throughout races as teams battle for control of the tracks, locations and territories, which are based on real-world locations and unlock additional clan-based perks.
Playing two of the UK-based tracks at racing circuit Brands Hatch and the inner-city St James’ street-course gave a glimpse of the variety in approach, with the smooth racing lines of the former playing all together differently from the street tussle necessitated by the latter’s tight-corners and myriad shortcuts.
It’s difficult to ascertain yet whether this variety is replicated in the handling of the car models and how the various load-outs and modifications will change the feel of each vehicle. Similarly, there’s currently no discussion of the transaction model, which is still in the planning stage, nor even whether damage will affect handling or be simply a cosmetic consideration.
There was some minor discussion about the possibility of bringing World of Speed to console, with technical director Ged Keaveney suggesting it wouldn’t be beyond either the team or the game engine to do so, “Techincally, we could put this game on the new consoles,” says Keaveney. “There are questions around how we would do the MMO elements on those consoles, but in terms of technical challenge we could definitely do it.”
However, there’s some way to go before World of Speed fulfils its potential and even farther before the question of a next gen port will be addressed in earnest. For now, World of Speed is a fun and varied team-racer with enough to do for those of us that want a little bit more than simply getting from A to B as fast as possible. We’ll find out if Slightly Mad Studios can deliver on its promise to remove the racing genre’s traditional barriers to entry when World of Speed launches on PC later this year.