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Introducing Project Cars' rebellious brother: World of Speed

By Alex Evans on Monday 10th Feb 2014 at 2:00 PM UTC

Forget simulation. Forget searching for that last inch of grip on a tight apex, every last wheelnut sparkling in an inch-by-inch and pound-for-pound recreation of automotive reality.

Why not, y'know, hit some nitro boosts instead? Why not slam into opponent racers and recklessly drift across entire cities like a man possessed?

That's what World of Speed is asking. Forget everything you know about Slightly Mad Studios' painstakingly assembled sim, Project Cars. World of Speed is the petrolhead studio's take on the ever-expanding free-to-play space, promising a mix of arcade racing thrills with an all-encompassing online philosophy.

Though lead developer Pete Morrish didn't rule out a console port when speaking to CVG about the project, for now the title is a PC exclusive.

Once you're out on track, it's clear that this is Project Cars' cooler, naughtier brother. It's unruly, daring and more interested in being with other people than perform the routine rituals of simulation.

Every race lines up to eight players to compete across a mix of real and imagined circuits, with competitors split into two groups.

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"It can be a bit of a negative experience when only one player is winning. World of Speed is about turning that on its head" - Lead developer Pete Morrish

It's a little like team-deathmatch with cars. Even though first-place is healthily rewarded, the core challenge is to out-score the opposing team through a mix of finishing position, drifts and wheel-to-wheel aggression.

Everything reckless is rewarded with points, from boosting down straights with nitrous to slipstreaming and powerslides. Scores can climb if players trade paint with their competitors, as well as by holding the lead. All of this is added to a total team pot, meaning that you could theoretically finish first and lose overall, or vice versa.

Morrish explained: "Historically racing games are just about driving fast in circles and coming first, and if you've got eight people playing, that means that 87.5 per cent of your players have come away losing and having a bit of a negative experience and only one of them is winning. So what World of Speed is about is turning that stat on its head."

Arcade fire

It's also the polar opposite of its racing colleagues when it comes to its handling model. It's a million miles from the likes of GT6, owing more to Midnight Club or Need For Speed, but with less nuance. The game positively encourages taking corners sideways, with a quick tap of the brake and the flick of the stick (or wheel) enough to set off a tyre-shafting drift.

It's also very easy to handle. Despite our best efforts to thrash the cars through the corners, we couldn't spin out for love nor money.

Where the likes of Criterion's racing staples marry arcade lightness with a meaty weight, vehicles here felt a little too well-behaved through the corners - easy to slip into a drift, but hard to misbehave, and never really punishing mistakes. It's best described as 'forgiving' and, at worst, a little unexciting.

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A mix of authentic and fictional race courses are featured across real-world cities

Similarly, the graphics are robust, with the lighting engine a particular highlight, but this is not world-leading in fidelity. Indeed, a mid-range PC can get a lot out of this game, and understandably so. This being a free title, the studio is gunning more for the mass market than the bleeding edge.

So World of Speed is an attempt at a racer fit for all comers, not just automotive freaks obsessing over lap times. Something for everyone.

"World of Speed is about taking all this stuff that we're really quite good at in terms of cars and graphical fidelity and handling, and trying to make it palatable for a much wider audience", says Morrish.

"That's in terms of game structure, that's in terms of handling model, price point, everything is geared towards making this an enjoyable experience for as many people as possible.

"Obviously Project Cars is a very simulation focused, real-world, amazing piece of work as a game and as a simulation, but it's an awful lot more niche than Angry Birds, so mum probably isn't playing Project Cars."

The game's physics and tyre models are all bespoke, meaning though the game shares a studio with Project Cars, the title's code shares little else.

"Everything is geared towards making this an enjoyable experience for as many people as possible"

That was evident in the crashes. Screaming down the home straight in an RUF (not Porsche...), we were rudely smashed into by a so-called team-mate who sent us careering into the barrier - but not before he'd flipped his McLaren straight over the side of our ride, hurtled through the air upside-down and slammed onto the trackside barrier at a wince-inducing angle.

While it sounds like a weighty collision, in reality this split-second of chaos was quickly followed by both of us reversing off the barrier and carrying on with a few scratches. Damage - for the moment - remains purely aesthetic, and trading blows or barrier-slamming lacks the punchy satisfaction (or nervy consequence) of some car combat efforts.

Slideshow: First look at World of Speed

The studio says it will look at damage and make a "final call" on whether it may affect performance before launch.

One result of getting into scrapes is the debris that quickly litters the circuit. Whether it's bits of trackside flotsam, or spoiler parts, or skirting littered across the corners, there is often plenty of detritus to be swerved. Hitting it is unexpectedly jarring - costing us more speed than we expected, and often requiring a quick stab of corrective nitrous to rebound from.

Though the title promises a mix of world and city tracks (we've seen London, Moscow, Monaco and Brands Hatch so far), the game felt most enjoyable on the invented circuit in the English capital.

Where Brands Hatch exposed some of the vanilla stylings of the handling system, London was packed with old-school arcade tricks - shortcuts hidden by little cones, forking routes split by a grassy park covered in destructible benches and tight, quasi-single file corners begging for a four-car pile-up.

It was here the vision made more sense: this is about putting as much gaminess in a racer as possible, with shortcuts and silliness and a big straights to burn nitrous. Who cares if it's a hyper-realistic portrayal of a Pagani's torque? Drift into this shortcut and earn a win for your team.

My space

Off the track, the focus is on social connectivity - with overtones of DriveClub, Sony's upcoming club-based PS4 racer or the little-known Autoclub Revolution, but with a strong arcade bent.

Players can form or join groups, with the aim being to beat out others and 'gain control' of circuits, in a mode known as 'Territory Wars'. Its San Andreas gangs meets touring cars.

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Players can take control of in-game locations by beating local rivals

When a team is in control of a track, its name, logo and colours will be splashed across billboards around the circuit, lending an almost RTS-style element of capturing areas to its online world.

Clubs are set to be a cornerstone of the game's setup, extending to all of its modes. As well as races, the Airfield offers players the chance to show off, pull tricks and generally mess around in front of others. It's the "car park at night" concept, but supersized.

As for other modes, the team remains tight-lipped, but in our quick presentation we spied logos for 'King Of The Ice', 'Movie Cars', 'Drift' and 'Destruction Derby', suggesting plenty of themed events will be added to the game's ever-evolving roster as players progress from starter cars to the high-roller rides.

An "extensive" vehicle slate is promised, and already present are the supercar mainstays such as the unpronounceable PaganiHuayra, the unremittingly sexy McLaren MP4-12c and the Mercedes SLS AMG as well as American muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro. Given Slightly Mad's history with racers like Need For Speed: Shift, we'd hope for a reasonable garage.

Close Close

But, as par the course for free-to-play online titles, the game launch is only the start.

"I think people will be surprised with the amount of stuff we're giving away. And the quality of what we're giving away. For free. There's a lot there," Morrish adds, hinting that the game could bend to the will of its fanbase as time goes on.

"We are going to be supporting this for years rather than months. We have a two-year roadmap at the moment but that's not the whole story.

"We have an idea of how we'd like to roll things out. But part of being an effective F2P is to be reactive and to not be set in stone.

"We're in permanent beta. We're always tweaking and fixing, rolling out new stuff and reacting to what the community says, so although we have a plan, it's not necessarily what it's going to look like in two years time."

"Some companies' vision of F2P is designed to crank every last penny out of its players. We're not that"

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Points are scored in a number of ways, from hitting opponents to drifting or maintaining the lead - finishing first won't necessarily mean winning the race

What it won't be, the studio stresses, is "pay-to-win". Being free to download, you might imagine it will nickel-and-dime its players into making purchases. While Morrish wouldn't divulge what would be sold, he assured the studio is "doing it the right way".

"F2P is a thing that almost deservedly gets a bit of a bad rep. You've got companies out there whose vision of F2P is optimise the box that's just purpose designed to crank every last penny out of its players. We're not that.

"We're not charging for competitive advantage. Anything that isn't competitive advantage is potentially fair game. So it has to be optimistic, it can't be cynical, we can only charge for what players are going to see value in. And that's it.

"It makes it harder to monetise effectively, sure, but that's because we're doing it the right way."

Whether World Of Speed sets out the roadmap for free-to-play racers for years to come remains to be seen. If the studio sticks to its pricing promise and focuses work on stimulating the gameplay a little, this could be a welcome reinvention of the racing wheel for PC petrolheads with arcade leanings. Or anyone, for that matter.