Need for Speed: The Run
You have to love the Need for Speed series for sheer persistence. The quality of the titles across the series varies wildly, usually dependent on which studio has developed the individual title but EA still don't give up on their roguish racing franchise.
Last year Criterion's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit revitalised the series applying their expertise gained from the success of Burnout Paradise and the injection of a new social networking system called Autolog. With The Run, Black Box were tasked with continuing the success on from Hot Pursuit and adding some next-generation visuals with DICE's new Frostbite 2 engine.
Need for Speed: The Run is a bit of a departure from the open world formula that the series has used since they launched Underground 2 on the last generation of consoles. The Run is a much more linear story-based title than Hot Pursuit and aims to blend cinematic action with the high-octane street racing that has made Need for Speed so popular.
There is one added 'hook' that Black Box have incorporated to spice up the action a bit and create a bit of variety in the gameplay. For the first time some of the game will take place out of the car as the main character attempts to avoid the cops.
The story follows Jack, a crack driver who has fallen on hard times and owes the mob a ridiculous amount of money that he cannot pay back. The story begins with Jack trapped in a car being loaded into a crusher by the mob for his inability to pay off his debts. Naturally the first action is to escape the crusher, steal the nearest fast car and escape from the mobsters before they air Jack out.
Naturally Jack's best chance of getting the money together to pay off the mob and save his skin is to race and there just so happens to be one particular race that will not only pay off his debts but set him up for life. That race is The Run, a straight-out sprint across the US from coast to coast starting in San Francisco, passing through Las Vegas and Chicago and ending up in New York City.
The race is split up into stages and there are several different types of stage. There are pass several competitors stages where you just have to be the first car to the end of that stage. Make up time stages are the usual checkpoint-style races. There are also canyon-style races (reminiscent on the boss battles in Need for Speed: Carbon) where you battle a handful of other opponents to get ahead of them. There are also boss battles which are canyon style affairs with a tougher boss racer at the end. Throw in a sprinkling of police interference in these stages and that pretty much sums up the main single player story part of The Run.
The Run also features a challenge mode featuring specific challenges on some of the stages in the race which allows players to unlock extra cars and hone their skills for the main event.
Autolog is also available to players connected to Xbox Live to log how well they've done in each stage and find out when a friend has beaten their times.
So, does The Run live up to its lofty aims or does it join the mediocre ranks of so many other games in the series?
The Run at manages to achieve half of what it aimed to do. The graphics are spectacular. Frostbite 2 makes light work of both the amazing scenery that you race through and the cars themselves too. One particular treat is the Porsches. They will not be seen in any other racing game, certainly in this generation of hardware due to EA guarding their license with the German car manufacturer very closely.
Night or day, city or countryside the tracks are all very nicely rendered and the lighting effects at night time and in Las Vegas do add to the spectacle of a no-holds barred cross-country street race. However this is where the game's achievements begin to fall behind the wayside.
What lets Need for Speed: The Run down where Hot Pursuit did so well was the handling of the cars. There is something missing from the responsiveness of ever car from the stickiest tuner car to the most powerful muscle car it takes a bit more getting used to that it should to be able to pick the turning and breaking points. The cars just don't quite respond the way we'd have liked them too and it does spoil the experience somewhat.
This isn't all though. The tracks have a very tight reset threshold. Venture any more than a few metres off the road and you will be cast back to the most recent checkpoint unapologetically. Couple this with the disappointing handling and you have quite a frustrating combination of flaws.
Another problem is the variety of the racing events. As you race across the US countryside the small variety of racing events (around four in all) begins to grate and all the impressive scenery in the world can't distract from the fact you're either trying to pass between eight and ten cars of make up time by hitting a handful of checkpoints again.
They there's the 'innovative' out of car sequences. These aren't quite as innovative as you might think as they are each just a short series of quick-time events used to help Jack evade the police when he gets cornered (and only at specific points we might add).
Need for Speed: The Run could have been so much more and given some extra time for polish and a bit more imagination it could have stood side-by-side with the best titles in the series like Underground 2 and Hot Pursuit. As it stands though it is a bitter disappointment that can't be saved no matter how many Michael Bay-directed trailers EA try and use to sell it.