Hands-on with Need for Speed The Run - spectacular but frustrating
- Need for Speed: The Run
- Need For Speed
- EA Black Box
Not too long ago, Need for Speed was in a dangerous place under the helm of EA Black Box. A push to release a new Need for Speed game every year resulted in unreasonably tight development schedules and increasingly lacklustre quality, with the critically panned Undercover being the most recent low point. You could say that Need for Speed was on the verge of burning out.
So in come Criterion Games, famed for their development of the Burnout series, to tackle development duties for Hot Pursuit, itself a throwback to the classic Need for Speed that everyone loved, and the franchise suddenly made a triumphant comeback.
Conversely, Need for Speed The Run marks the return of Black Box, but its unveiling at E3 this year immediately sparked a negative lasting impression, with its shoehorned story and gratuitous quick time events that take you out of the car and on foot. Thankfully, not much of this garnish was evident in the latest demo bar a few passing cut scenes of gormless protagonist Jack, who takes part in a high stakes cross country race across America while being relentlessly pursued by 'the mob'.
Wisely, Black Box have taken cues from Hot Pursuit’s gargantuan success, and as a result the first point-to-point race I played looked and felt very similar. Situated in the Nevada desert across winding roads with dusty shortcuts, the objective here was to pass ten opponents within a time limit. There is an immediate sense of scale to the race, as this represents only a small part of the entire event – your overall race position is counted in the hundreds to add context, rather than just being one of ten racers.
Both the Lamborguni Murciélago (or was it an Aventador? Don’t know/don’t care/all look identical) and the new 2012 Porsche Carrera were playable, and predictably the Lambo outperformed the Porsche for speed whereas the Porsche had the advantage of being more forgiving around the corners.
Need for Speed: The Run retains the consistently high standard of graphics and raw sense of speed we’ve become accustomed to over the past few iterations, though the game probably has Criterion to thank for that as it seemed to be running on an enhanced version of the Hot Pursuit engine. How is it enhanced? Well, it has small benefit of a little known engine called Frostbite 2.0. You may have heard of it.
Indeed, you may be wondering just what the incredibly advanced engine that’s getting everyone salivating all over Battlefield 3 is doing in a racing game, but truth be told it was used rather sparingly. Successfully completing the initial race, which isn’t exactly a tough task, unlocks a bonus one-on-one duel (failure to finish meant you didn’t get to see the other level, which was rather cruel) down a mountain pass. And just to add to the intensity, an avalanche erupts. Never saw that coming, did you?
Huge rafts of falling snow obscure your vision and rocks soon plummet towards your path - the Frostbite-powered visual effects looking especially appetising. There’s no denying the sense of drama that Frostbite adds when you're dodging waves of hazardous boulders, and the twisty turns heighten the challenge and tension as you try to avoid plunging to your death off the cliff. An extremely memorable set-piece, then, which makes us anticipate what else Frostbite will add to the experience.
Like every other developer who has played Codemasters’ DiRT or GRiD, Black Box has implemented a rewind feature in Need For Speed: The Run that allows you to avoid insurance claims and instantly spawn back into the race if you wreck your car. However, it wasn’t finished in the build on show, and the rewind kicked in automatically whenever you trashed your motor. Again, the crash physics and damage seemed to be lifted from Hot Pursuit, but that’s certainly no bad thing.
It’s a shame, then, that beneath this spectacle there currently lies very little substance in the handling department - Hot Pursuit this is not. Whereas Criterion got the balance just right, in this Need For Speed: The Run demo the cars felt loose and disconnected from the road compared to the super sharp handling from before. As a result, I found myself crashing into things and veering off the cliff too often, not through my inept driving, but the unresponsive handling. Frustrating, to say the least.
You therefore have to wonder if Black Box are focusing too hard on delivering cinematic aplomb built around a wafer thin storyline that not even Jason Statham would put his name to rather than a satisfying driving experience. I hope I’m wrong, as Need for Speed The Run’s premise does show promise and the action set-piece was as enthralling as it was enjoyable, but they are in danger of repeating the same misguided mistakes from the farce that was Need for Speed: Undercover.
The same Need For Speed The Run demo containing both levels will be released on October 18th for PSN and XBLA.
Words by Martin Bigg (Twitter: @drivinggamespro)
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