For many speed demons, racing games are best played with other people, not the predictable algorithms of your computer or console. It is for them that England’s Slightly Mad Studios are making World of Speed, an upcoming racing game published by My.com that will let you compete online against drivers from across the globe.

But as we learned when we got some hands-on time with the game at the Circuit Park Zandvoort race track outside Amsterdam, as well as a moment to chat with the game’s Creative Director, Andy Tudor, there’s more to this upcoming driving game than what you normally find in a racing game’s multiplayer modes.


YOU GOT AN MMO IN MY RACING GAME

Taking cues from such massively multiplayer games as World of Warcraft and League of Legends — and not just by having the word “of” in it’s name — World of Speed will feature many gameplay elements normally reserved for games in which you and your online pals fight dragons in dungeons. “I’m a big MMO player,” Tudor admits, “so I’ve played World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Star Trek Online. World of Speed has aspects of all of those games, as well as such things as World of Tanks.”

 Not only will you be able to fully customize your cars — of which there will be fifty when the game launches later this year — but you’ll also be able to converse, and thus possibly befriend, other racers in the game (though Tudor did assure us that no, there will not be talking cars like in a bad Pixar movie). There will also be a leveling up system that will allow to unlock new cars and other items. Though it’s here that World of Speed cribs from a different kind of online game: first-person shooters such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo, which not only give you upgrade points for killing enemies or completing objectives, but for doing such skillful things as saving a teammate or getting revenge on someone who killed you as well. Except that in Speed, you get points for, say, overtaking five opponents or to take every short cut.


YOU GOT A RACING GAME IN MY MMO

While it may borrow liberally from MMOs, World of Speed is still, at its core, a racing game. Specifically, one that’s not as arcade-like as Ridge Racer, but is also not as realistic and thus as sensitive as Gran Turismo or other racing sims. As a result, the game will feel familiar to those who play a lot of Need for Speed or, more accurately, Forza Motorsport 4 or 5 if you’ve turned on the steering and braking assists. Or at least it did when we played it. “We’re still fine tuning the handling,” Tudor admits, “because we want this to be more of an arcade-y action experience. We’re looking at such games as Burnout Paradise and Project Gotham Racing.”

Which is good because, if it remains Forza-esque, World of Speed will end up being a bit schizophrenic because it also includes elements traditionally reserved for arcade racing games. Not only are there numerous shortcuts to be found, but you can also use nitro for a brief burst of speed. You can even, if you get into a bad accident or fail to take a turn correctly, hit the reset button, which will drop you back on the track. “Though in our game,” Tudor points out, “the reset button won’t just dump you back onto the track at a full stop like they do in most racing games, it’ll actually gives you a rolling start so you can get right back into the race.”


TEAM BUILDING EXERCISES

As you’d expect, you can play World of Speed on your own, jumping into numerous races with your favorite cars. But in a nod to MMOs, where you often have to team up to beat certain dungeons, Speed will have numerous events that can only be played when you’re part of a car club. “It’s just one aspect of the game,” Tudor says, “but it’s the one that hasn’t really been done in a game before, and is the one that has the most possibilities to provide a cool, new experience.”

These events aren’t just made for teamwork, though, they basically require it by giving your team mid-race objectives beyond being faster than everyone else. “One might be, ‘Drift For Five Thousand Meters,’” Tudor notes, “but everyone on your team can drift for a little bit until it adds up.” There are even times when these added objectives will conflict with other ones. “In the same race where one objective may be to ‘Trade Paint With All Of Your Opponents,’” Tudor notes, “another in the same race will be, ‘Don’t Take Any Damage.’”

In fact, winning a race doesn’t guarantee you’ll win the event. “If your team doesn’t finish first, or even first and second,” he explains, “but they complete all the other objectives, that could completely flip the results.”

There will also be scheduled team events in a mode called “Territory Wars,” in which car clubs will compete against each other for control of certain areas. And if your club wins, you’ll not only be able to decorate these areas with your team logo, you’ll get exclusive bonuses, such as double XP for week or such aesthetic items as gold rims that are not otherwise available. “You may even have to recruit other players” Tudor says, “so that you have a well-balanced team. Like if your team doesn’t have someone who’s good at drifting.”

GREAT BIG WIDE WORLD

In keeping with its name, World of Speed will feature tracks from all over this big blue marble we call home (though at the event they only mentioned England, Monaco, and Moscow). The game will also features real race tracks as well as closed roads, something they illustrated by letting us drive both the blocked off streets of London (specifically, a track they referred to as “St. James Loop”) and on Brands Hutch, a professional course in Kent that’s about forty miles outside London.

But the team didn’t just make these tracks by downloading pictures off the Internet and consulting Wikipedia. They actually lived in these places for weeks, taking pictures of the buildings as well as measurements of the roads. Which isn’t to say that, when you drive past Buckingham Palace in London, you’ll see the Queen walking her beloved corgis, but you will notice that the nearby buildings do resemble the real ones, while the streets are laid out correctly as well.


FREE TO BE YOU AND ME

Clearly, there are a lot of aspects of World of Speed that weren’t revealed at the event (and, from what we saw there, a lot that haven’t been finalized or even figured out just yet, either). But while it is already shaping up to be a deep game, there’s one aspect of it that will be shallow: how far into your pockets it’ll be digging for your money.

When it launches later this year, World of Speed will be free. “You can download and play through the entire game without spending a dime,” Tudor decrees. “While we do need to make some money, we will never put the player in a situation where they’re at a disadvantage because someone else has paid for something better. So it won’t be cars or tracks, but you will be able to buy things that let you progress faster, as well as things you can use to customize the look of your cars.”

The only bummer about this is that the game is currently only being made for PCs. Which even Tudor admits is a little odd, given that he refers to it as, “a console experience.” But that, he says, is totally intentionally. “We’re making World of Speed like a console experience,” he explains, “because we don’t feel like there’s a racing game like this on PCs.”