Need For Speed The Run review
- Need for Speed: The Run
- Need For Speed
- EA Black Box
Made2Game's Need For Speed The Run review score: 7/10
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Black Box
A lot of eyebrows shot up at E3 this year when EA unveiled the 18th title in the Need For Speed series, and many were the murmurings concerning subtitle The Run and all the screenshots of a handsome young criminal type, well, running. Was the series about to move in a completely new direction? Was it about take a leaf out of Driver’s book and allow you to switch cars at will by actually getting out of them? Was it going to have you trying to win point-to-point foot races with slow-motion knee-slides? Although that last one would have been cool, it was sadly not to be.
Moments like this look great, but they're all down to a few a button presses on your part.
What it all boils down to, in practice, is a few interactive cutscenes throughout Need For Speed The Run's narrative that help tie all the mad-dash racing together with a cohesive story. Beginning with poster-boy protagonist Jackson “Jack” Rourke gaffer-taped to the steering wheel of a sports car as evil men in suits lower him into a car-crusher, the story never attempts to become complex – to its benefit. Instead, after a quick Quick Time Event (QTE) to tear Rourke loose, our plucky antihero meets up with childhood friend Sam, who – through some pretty good luck on Jack’s part – just happens to know of a tidy way out. That way out is a 3000 mile race called The Run, staged between San Francisco and New York City, the purse for which is 25 million dollars. Promised a 10% cut and a clean slate with the nasties, Jack grabs his car keys.
The pseudo Fast and Furious plot is the perfect set up for what is, essentially, a game about a really long road-trip. The central premise of Need For Speed The Run sounds perfect for a racing game, but the biggest problem with The Run is that sometimes it really does feel like you’re driving 3000 miles. Though EA Black Box mix it up with solo drives to “make up for lost time” and sudden, mid-race appearances by high speed police cars, the fact remains that not a great deal happens in the campaign to keep you hooked. Sure, there’s an option now and then to switch your car at a gas station, but although in theory different cars work better for different locations (muscle cars for freeways, sports cars for the inner city, etc…), there’s very little reason to swap in the middle of a run.
Catching up to the competition can be frustrating at times, but satisfying when you succeed.
There’s a persistent nagging feeling while playing Need For Speed The Run that it’s a step down from last year’s Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. Indeed, Criterion’s sociopathic, Burnout-flavoured offering is superior to this edition in almost every respect aside from aesthetics. Very little feels 'new' in Need For Speed The Run, and the much-vaunted 'on-foot' sections are a poor-substitute for last year’s caltrops and EMP attacks. BUT, that’s not to say Need For Speed The Run is a bad game. In fact, as a standalone racer it’s actually pretty good – especially when played against real people.
The Challenge Series is a mode where you don’t have to concern yourself with endless country roads, evil mobsters or pointless QTEs. Instead you jump straight into pedal-for-medal races with various time-based objectives. Hot Pursuit’s Autolog returns, elevating Need For Speed The Run from a good racer to a great competition game as your time for every event is automatically stored online and then dangled in the face of anyone on your Friends List who plays the game. It’s like a great big greasy carrot on a shiny chrome stick that no self-respecting gamer can resist chasing, and it creates a truly addictive racing experience.
Of course, any of the events can be played against others either on the web or on the couch, and in many ways that’s the whole point of a racing game, which makes Need For Speed The Run’s narrative all the more redundant. Credit should be extended to Black Box for attempting something new, but ultimately what most people want from a racing game is more racing. By stretching the campaign across 3000 miles of road, Black Box have essentially removed a great deal of the breakneck paint-trading that makes arcade racers so.
The biggest problem with The Run is that, ironically, there's too much road.
At times the tracks are too expansive, with too much space between landmarks or too much road between you and the competition. As a result, the three or four minutes you spend in a lot of the campaign events can seem fairly empty. Narrower roads and more obstacles would have been a great benefit – though the stakes do raise considerably when the police make an appearance and start throwing up roadblocks and trying to ram you off the asphalt.
Be kind, rewind
Of course, being rammed off anything is less of a problem in Need For Speed The Run thanks to the new Rewind mechanic. Wreck your car, get spun around or go screaming over a hundred foot drop and a big rewind motif will appear as you’re dropped back onto the track. Secretly we prefer little fellas sitting in clouds with fishing rods a la Mario Kart, but Need For Speed The Run’s method works just as well, even if it is a little bit hyperactive at times. Rewinds are of limited use, which means at higher difficulties you’ve got to be very careful not to get pancaked too often. It’s a good addition, but one that feels horribly gimmicky when a huge rewind button appears on the screen. A five-second loading screen would have achieved exactly the same, without the unnecessary illusion of control – after all, it’s actually an automatic feature and you’re not really rewinding anything.
Cast somewhere between Need For Speed: Shift’s semi-simulation and Hot Pursuit’s eye-twitching rage-driving, Need For Speed The Run sometimes struggles with its own identity. Not arcadey enough to really make use of its premise nor technically proficient enough to stand out from the crowd, it occasionally feels like a wasted effort on Black Box’s part. The Challenge mode features enough events and unlockables to keep you busy, but there’s a good chance you’ll end up going back to Criterion’s game instead.
The Frostbyte 2 engine looks incredible; you can almost taste the scorched rubber.
The only major overhaul with this iteration of Need For Speed is with the graphics. Utilising Dice’s awesome Frostbyte 2 engine (recently seen at work in Battlefield 3), the environments are sometimes stunning. Ambient light casts dappled shadows on the road ahead or else breaks through the clouds like the blessing of some ancient God of Petrol-heads; twilight feels close and claustrophobic and night-driving by the light of your (remaining) headlights is always edge-of-your-seat. Likewise, Need For Speed The Run's licensed cars look gorgeous; beautiful and shiny and straight from the showroom at the start of each race and battered to within an inch of Hell by the time you hit the finishing line.
Crash, Bang, Wallop
One boon of the new narrative style is the inclusion of mini set-pieces. The eyes-shut, foot-down race away from the mob in the opening segment, narrowly missing a speeding train to disappear into the night is a great start, and Black Box up the cinematic ante even more later in the game – powering along the freeway at stupid-miles-an-hour while an avalanche smashes cars out of your path and rains boulders on you is exhilarating and inspired. Moments like these are something for the series to build on if it is to continue down the cinematic route, and with a little refinement could transform a bog-standard racer into a genuine blockbuster in the future.
Ultimately, how much you get out of Need For Speed The Run depends entirely upon your preferences for this kind of low-maintenance arcade racer. Genre stalwarts like nitrous boosters and drift keep things fast and fun (if lacking a little of the Devil-may-care attitude of earlier entries), while the controls are so easy to master it takes five minutes to feel right at home with any of the cars. A great variety of locations and terrain both in the campaign and competition modes means Need For Speed The Run never goes stale – even if occasionally there’s a little too much road to race on – and in all fairness there are a few new ideas that work quite well.
Whether playing alone or with others there are always medals and experience levels to chase, and the fantastic Autolog will keep you coming back again and again, chewing your nails down and pulling your hair out as your smug friends tease you over point-three of a second. Unless, of course, you are the smug friend – in which case, sod them if they can’t take a joke, right? Either way, even if it does occasionally feel like Black Box took a few wrong turns in the design department, Need For Speed The Run is still worth taking out for a spin.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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