Developer: EA Black Box / Publisher: EA / ESRB: Teen [Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence] / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99
Need for Speed: The Run deserves praise for stepping outside of the box, for trying something new. Most racing games struggle to find their own identity, but I believe EA has something special here; wrapping a Hollywood-esque action movie plot around a racing gameplay core is a fantastic concept.
Has EA revolutionized the racing genre with The Run? Not quite. It has issues that stop it from being the must-have blockbuster it paints itself to be. But it is fun, intense, full of eye candy and, without a doubt, interestingly unique.
The Run is an action-movie-come-racing-game. You play the part of avid driver Jackson Rourke who has, in some unexplained way, managed to get himself into enough debt with some serious mobsters for them to want him dead. Don’t ask too many questions. You won’t get answers.
The game starts off with Rourke taped to the steering wheel of a car that’s in a giant crusher at the scrapyard as a mob watches to see his skull pop. Miraculously, you escape via a brief quick-time event, or QTE (yeah, it unfortunately has those), and your first few minutes behind the wheel are to escape the chasing gangsters who ram and shoot at you.
Passing the finish line in one piece marks a successful escape, before you’re tipped off by an associate about an illegal 200-car cross-country street race that has 25 million dollars–more than you need to pay your debts–waiting at the finish line for the winner.
We’re only 10 minutes into the game and already the underdeveloped plot is struggling with plausibility. Can a seemingly normal man rip his hands free from reams of duct tape, kick through a car window, and climb out in the time it takes for an industrial crusher to clamp shut? Yes. Can he then run from the crasher to a nearby car and start it before the spectating, gun-wielding mob can stop him? Totally.
That’s nothing–an hour later he’s surrounded by with what seems to be half theNevadaStatepolice force as a cop slaps cuffs on him, and STILL manages to escape them all by punching one officer, kicking another, and leaping a fence. In the process he fights off a vicious Doberman, jumps over a moving car, and causes a giant gas tanker to jackknife and roll over onLas Vegas Boulevard.
Fights, police chases, explosions, slow-mo miracle moments; the game’s full of this over-the-top, barely plausible bravado but, like we said, you just have to take it for what it is. And that’s easy because, first of all it doesn’t give you much time to think before you’re back on the road doing 160mph down a side street, and secondly because it’s the admittedly weak premise that makes for some pretty exciting racing.
The race fromSan Francisco to New York City is split into short stages lasting a few minutes each. Event types vary from racing to overtaking a number of opponent cars before a designated ‘finish’ line, from checkpoint-based time trial sprints to police chases or one-on-one races against a more advance rival.
As you race you’re awarded experience points and instantly usable nitrous boosts for putting on a good show–drafting, driving on the left side of the road, narrowly missing oncoming traffic, drifting jumping, and overtaking cleanly. Experience points increase your driver level, which unlocks access to new toys, profile emblems, and a series of separate challenge events you can take on when you’re not charging across America.
Your unfathomable route through the States takes you along an impressive variety of terrain, from open interstate highways and snaking canyon roads, to twisting city centers, dirt paths, and snowy mountain passes. These roads are populated with public cars, breakable environmental elements, and a wealth of tough-to-spot shortcuts. And the team at EA Black Box has done a fantastic job with the Frostbite 2 engine because every one of the aforementioned environments look fantastic, as do the cars and crashes.
The game gets your heart pumping even faster with special events such as dust storms, torrential rain, and even avalanches that crash down onto the road in front of you. It’s these context-based, edge-of-your-seat moments that really help The Run shine.
It’s full of the stuff your typical gearhead loves; fast cars–from American muscle and sports tuners to expensive exotics–and ladies played by Sports Illustrated models.
The cars feel nicely weighted, in control, and blisteringly fast, although the overall handling isn’t at all realistic. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about doing 170mph in a Lamborghini Gallardo on a dirt road. It’s about slamming the brakes at the last second to send your tail end flailing out as you go sideways around hairpins.
It’s all about fun. But it’s also far from perfect. The Run adopts a rewind system that lets you replay the moments leading up to a crash, as often seen in Codemasters’ racers. But unlike in Dirt 3, which gives you control over the whole mechanic, here it’s triggered automatically and takes way too long to load. This can be extra infuriating when it triggers because you drifted just a few inches too far off the road (or, more often than not, you’re pushed off the road).
Another issue is an almost insulting level of CPU rubber-banding. You’re doing 180mph in Lambo when a police car, which was moments ago completely stationary, slams you off the road like it’s moving 50mph faster than you. Conversely, if you spin off the course to a standstill, CPU cars that were just charging alongside you at 180mph slow right down, giving you a chance to catch up within seconds. For casuals that’s fine, but hardcore racers will be left wondering how much of a difference their skill is actually making.
It was also a poor design decision to have you pulling into gas stations mid-race to get to the car select screen. Gas stations are rare, hard to spot at 180mph, and in a game where the terrain changes so frequently, it doesn’t give you enough opportunities to switch to cars more suited to your specific situation. And it makes even less real-world sense than a more convenient and conventional pre-race selection.
The Run is also short; two hours of driving from SF to NYC (wouldn’t that be nice?!); maybe four hours of overall gameplay with cutscenes and the like. But if you consider that this is one long road without ever seeing the same corner twice it’s not too shabby.
Online connectivity is another of The Run’s strong elements. Autolog is back, tracking the race times of you and all your friends and rubbing it in your face when you’re not the fastest of them. A cool on-screen timer during single-player races gives you a real-time measure of how you’re doing compared to your closest friends, giving even the offline races an element of online rivalry. It’s something that the competitive streak in you simply can’t ignore, no matter how hard you try.
The actual eight-player online racing is also made cool with an objective-based system than offers up bonus rewards for completing side-tasks such as performing jumps, a certain number of overtakes, and use of nitrous and the like.
Racers are graded at the end of playlists consisting of three to five events, and a roulette determines at random what perks the top racers will get for the next round. It’s fun and just as chaotic as you’d expect as players snake off down different routes and shortcuts.
NFS: The Run is a fast, frantic, and thoroughly enjoyable racer. The idea of a movie-encased racing game is an excellent one, and despite the fact that EA’s first attempt lacks due tact or sophistication, the over-the-top plot does add extra context and excitement to the basic premise of driving at ridiculous speeds.
And speed is, in honor of the title, what this is all about. It’s a bit like going to the movies to see Bad Boys 2. You don’t go expecting a provocative, complex, absorbing plot. You just switch your brain off, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. That’s NFS: The Run in a nutshell.