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Need for Speed: The Run Review

Published December 19, 2011 by |

The Need for Speed (NFS) franchise has managed to claw its way back in favour with gamers over recent years with additions to the series from both Slightly Mad Studios and Criterion, of Burnout fame. Slightly Mad Studios efforts on the Need for Speed: Shift titles along with last years Hot Pursuit from Criterion both marked the work of developers new to the long-running racing series.

However, this years entry, Need for Speed: The Run, sees the development torch handed back to long time NFS developers Black Box, giving them another chance at the racing franchise.

Black Box has worked on EA’s Need for Speed series on and off since 2002; so will they continue the recent trend of solid releases, or will they fall back into old ways for another mediocre time behind the wheel?

Need for Speed: The Run follows the racing trials and tribulations of Jackson ‘Jack’ Rourke. You take the role of Jack, a young racer who after escaping an early demise from an unknown criminal organisation meets a mysterious woman who has the remedy to his situation as a marked man on the run.

She informs him that if he participates in a huge race against 249 opponents covering the huge distance from San Francisco to New York then he will win enough money to clear his name. To no surprise, Jack reluctantly agrees and this sets the scene for this story driven adventure.

The game is split into various linear stages supposedly covering around 3000 miles in total, although in practice this is compressed into a disappointingly short, and unrealistic, two hours of gameplay.

Over the course of these two hours players will face compressed bursts of racing, tasking the player to either try and overtake a certain number of cars, beat a time limit, or eliminate other drivers by staying in front for a specified time. There’s also the occasional ‘boss’ race, but ultimately these boil down to driving as fast as possible without crashing.

The car handling is satisfying and manages to give players enough control to weave in and out of traffic, although it isn’t quite as tight as Criterions efforts on Hot Pursuit. Each vehicle has a subtly different handling style, acceleration and top speed but all of this feels somewhat pointless when the rubber banding is so ridiculous. A relatively slow hatchback will miraculously overtake the likes of a Porsche on an annoyingly regular basis. This is clearly in place to increase the drama but when you’ve seemingly earnt your rightful first place, it’s incredibly frustrating to be pipped at the post by a car that you surely passed a few miles back.

There are plenty of licensed cars waiting to be driven, however these are only accessed during the main campaign by driving through gas stations scattered sparsely throughout each level. These are often tricky to spot while battling with opponents at break neck speeds during your race across the States. The cars available are suitably varied and come complete with a variety of colours, all of which look fantastic in motion and crumple satisfyingly from any scrapes and crashes suffered.

Long time Need for Speed fans may be disappointed to find that there are no upgrade options available so if you love to kit out your car with neon lights, huge spoilers and custom logos then you’ll have to look elsewhere. Fortunately, the series staple of nitro boost is still in attendance and in good form.

As with any racing game players are bound to make the odd mistake and Black Box have employed a rewind system that offers a limited number of chances to go back a few seconds and try at something again. These rewinds can be manually activated but at times they do also trigger without your permission, usually when you stray too far off the beaten path. This assuming mechanic can be frustrating when what the game considers to be worthy of a rewind could simply be the player taking a wider overtaking opportunity.

Beyond the typical racing fare, a welcome element of variety comes from the sporadic police chases – a Need For Speed staple, not near present enough in The Run. However, the police only seem interested in trying to arrest you while ignoring all the other equally illegal racers.

Police can be eliminated through typical shunting and nudging as opposed to the varied tools used in last years NFS: Hot Pursuit. After all there was nothing quite as satisfying as flipping over a cop car with a well-placed spike strip or electromagnetic pulse blast, so it seems like a backward step to remove these fun gameplay elements introduced by Criterion.

Need for Speed: The Run’s real world locations used throughout the main story deserve a special mention due to the great mix of environments and unique challenges put forward. From bustling cities to mountain ranges and all the deserts, highways and country roads in between, The Run constantly challenges the
player to adapt to their situation. One particular highlight being a stage in which you find yourself racing through the heady heights of a mountain road swerving to avoid falling debris from an avalanche. This concludes with a nail biting dash to the exit before it’s engulfed by snow.

The Run does try to inject further cinematic effect with quick time event driven cut scenes that see Jack usually trying to escape the police on foot. While these are of a decent quality and injected sparingly enough to prevent them becoming stale, the lack of any affinity towards the cast nullifies any effect these may have had.

The music throughout the races also tries its best to increase the drama with great orchestral crescendos, but when the on screen racing simply isn’t that exciting it just ends up feeling terribly mismatched. The car sounds on the other hand are as beefy as you’d expect them to be and end up eclipsing the music as the true soundtrack.

No racing game is complete without a multiplayer element and The Run is no different. The racing is split into game type ‘playlists’ and offers a wide variety of options such as Muscle Car Battles, Exotic Sprint and Supercar Challenge. Ultimately all of these simply boil down to grouping similar cars together and pitting them against one another in a race to the finish.

The Run isn’t a bad game, but it does invest too much of its time trying to provide the player with a cinematic experience without actually creating a story solid enough to care about. It saves itself somewhat by provided decent racing mechanics, stunning and varied environments as well as the occasional dramatic set piece that provides a genuine adrenaline rush. However, despite these fleeting moments of excitement, the main campaign is over far too quickly.

For a game that’s meant to be focused on story, it really doesn’t tell its tale well. The main protagonist simply isn’t likeable in any way and never develops throughout his adventure while the supporting cast complete the disappointing package by being just as one-dimensional.

Need for Speed: The Run is hard to recommend as anything more than a rental title, even for the most dedicated series fan, simply due to the severely limited and mediocre campaign offered.