Lucid Games isn't making Project Gotham Racing 5. You've had a couple of months to let that sink in, and to do with the information what you will, whether that be mourning or just seeking solace in Forza 5's bright, urban spaces that suggest Turn 10's muscling in on the patch left absent since Bizarre Creation's demise. The game that is being created by a group of veterans from the Liverpool studio that brought us one of the best arcade racers should be of interest, though - according to Lucid, its new game 2K Drive could be some of the best work in the careers of its illustrious staff.
"Racing games are about the depth of the handling system," says Pete Wallace, one of Lucid's eight founder members and a man with no small experience of the genre. "They need to be accessible, but there needs to be depth - and if you haven't got that depth I kind of fall out of love with it. That's the hardest thing to solve in a racing game. We've definitely solved it in 2K Drive."
"The physics system and the dynamics are there," says creative director Craig Howard of the relationship between 2K Drive and the PGR series, "and that's the process we used to work on with the pad. It's just that we're using a tablet now, but there are certain similarities that people will pick up on from Project Gotham."
2K Drive, as you may already know, is a driving game destined for tablets and phones, which has been enough to send many fans of the PGR series who had been feverishly anticipating Lucid's next game packing. You can't blame them, really - driving games on iOS haven't shone so brightly, and even the most successful examples such as Real Racing 3 are held back by binary handling and mechanics muddied and dictated by business models. It's hard to say just yet if 2K Drive's going to be guilty of those very things, but Lucid is at least making the right noises.
2K Drive isn't a free-to-play game - instead it's a premium priced app. Exactly how much of a premium that'll be isn't clear just yet, and there will be the option to spend more once you've bought the entire game, but Lucid insists it's employing a more sympathetic model than its competitors. "There are microtransactions in there, but the point is they're not needed in the game," assures Howard. "If some people want to get to point X in the game quicker, you can pay to get there - but the game's not built around that, and the weighting's not around that. It plays like a premium game, you can grind and you can unlock and it's all fair - there's not a massive wall that will stop you progressing."
Beyond the handling model - which is hard to assess unless you're in one of the areas where 2K Drive enjoyed a soft launch a couple of months back - there's a grand concept to Lucid's game. It's a magazine style collection of all that's new and exciting in the world of cars, where articles and videos pulled in from real-life partners can link into new events in the game. Read a piece about the Ford Raptor, for example, and you'll potentially be seconds away from pounding a virtual model around one of 2K Drive's off-road tracks.
"We want it to be a hub for all car enthusiasts," says Howard. "The game brings in the latest news from the car world, and also there are lots of new events to play, and they're more varied than we'd do in a Gotham game. There are now off-road cars and off-road tracks, and there are lots of different objectives. It's a magazine format, and again that fits into this mobile idea of you coming in and playing quite a different experience on the bus or at home on your iPad."
2K Drive's a serious proposition, then, and it's been a focus of the studio since shortly after it first emerged from the ashes of Bizarre early in 2011. Work began on 2K Drive later that year, ensuring it's had a longer lead time than most mobile games. "It was the first game we signed, so it's been about for quite a while," says Wallace. "Basically 2K helped us build the studio, they funded the project and that allowed us to grow and staff up on 2K Drive. I've been with the guys for a while developing 2K Drive, and there's a lot of scope in there - when you work with the publisher that partnership makes it a lot easier to do than if you were self-funded."
The calamity of Activision's handling of Bizarre Creations hasn't dimmed the team's approach to publishers, then, though it's given it a taste for smaller, more experimental games. The past couple of years have seen Lucid step away from its comfort zone with the likes of Jacob Jones, an adventure game for Vita and iOS. "I think initially most of us had worked on big franchises it was nice to start with a blank canvas, to think about new concepts," says Wallace. "We came up with the first new concepts to start off which we developed to various degrees, but they were all quite different. Obviously we're about driving or racing, but these were completely different, different platforms and even different technology - we looked at cloud computing, iOS, PC. It was really interesting and liberating."
2K Drive's a return to an area more familiar to Lucid's staff, but it's still in territory that's new to developer and publisher alike. 2K's only just beginning to experiment with mobile gaming, and the processes unique to the platforms are new to Lucid too. "It's a very ambitious iOS game," says Wallace. "It's smaller than console games, but it's actually a very complex game - probably the most complex I've ever worked on, because it involves a lot of server side communication."
Whether that complexity is enough for fans who found out Lucid was working on a racing game then put two and two together to get PGR5 is another matter, but the developer's at least confident those that try its new project will find something worthwhile here. "I think they'll enjoy playing it," says Howard. "We've not made PGR5, but I think 2K Drive is still going to be exciting for a lot of players."