Reviewed: November 17, 2011
Released: November 15, 2011
When it comes to racing games I tend to steer towards the simulation side of the genre, but I have always had a soft spot when it came to the Need for Speed series, perhaps the longest racing franchise in existence. I know I was playing NFS games when they were coming on 5.25Ē floppies, so thatís old. The series has taken us from underground street racing to intense hot pursuit cop chases and even an admirable attempt at serious circuit racing in their Pro Street games, a tangent I enjoyed far more that other NFS fans apparently.|
Need for Speed: The Run attempts to spin the series in yet another direction; a direction Iíve personally been waiting for since 1981 when Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise raced across the USA in a high-octane ambulance against an all-star cast too numerous to name here. Plus, Iím betting this was the first time most Americans had ever seen a Lamborghini. Ever since that movie Iíve dreamt of the day when they would make a game that would allow players to race from coast to coast, and now we have it.
The Run takes us on an intense race from San Francisco to New York City on a route that winds across the U.S. taking us through National Parks I personally never knew existed, with stops in Vegas and Chicago, passing through cities like Toledo, Cleveland, culminated in a final showdown in the Big Apple. Such a route affords us the opportunity to drive through the majesty of Yosemite, the dangerous snowy curves of the Rockies, the stormy plains of South Dakota, and the dismal industrial side of Ohio and New Jersey. I'm still curious as to how St. Louis (the Gateway City) didn't make the cut.
Need for Speed: The Run is divided into three main sections, The Run (story mode), the Challenges, and the Multiplayer. The Run and Challenges are uniquely linked in that you must complete chapters in the story to unlock Challenge sections and you must complete Challenges to unlock new cars that will become available in The Run. Everything you do in the story and the challenges will earn you valuable XP that will level your driver and unlock skills to enhance your driving.
Speaking of unlockables, in addition to new cars and skills you will also earn all sorts of profile rewards such as hundreds of icons and background art to customize your Autolog profile. Yes, Autolog is back and allows you to link up with friends in a social networking style interface where you can share images, compete for best times on the Speed Wall and see who can ďownĒ the most stages in the main game. You can issue challenges when you beat your friendsí scores and see if they can do better.
The Run is where you will spend most of your time, at least at first, and the cross-country style racing did an admirable job of living up to 30 years of dreams and expectations. The game starts with one of three action-events (QTEís) where you are required to push a series of buttons to progress the sequence and the story. In this case, you are playing Jack, a guy who owes the mob money and finds himself duct-taped to a steering wheel of a car that is about to get crushed. Once you break free youíll hook up with a lovely red-haired savior who offers to solve all your mob-related problems and give you a 10% cut if you race and win The Run, and the race is onÖ
A between-race map will track your progress across the states in a surprisingly lengthy race divided into ten chapters with several smaller events in each. These events can range from passing a certain number of cars to reaching checkpoints within a time limit, to rival battles where you pass specific racers to win their cars. Milestones are fixed, and so is the race really, in that you must be in 150th place by Vegas and 50th place by Chicago, but by design it would be impossible not to reach those cities and meet said requirements since each individual race has its own requirements that must be met before you can continue.
There are over 200 cars when the race starts although you will never interact with more than 8-10 in any given scenario. Some events get a bit livelier when the cops show up, although their brutish tactics of merely ramming you off the road get a bit stale. I miss the old Hot Pursuit roadblocks, choppers, and spike strips. While some cops will try to form roadblocks, these rookies always leave an obvious gap to get through then act surprised when you slip past.
Your route across the states is fairly linear, although you will find a few alternate paths, some being shortcuts and othersÖnot so much. Most shortcuts end up being narrow mountain trails, dirt paths through cornfields, or even smashing through a barn door, gate, or fence to access a route that may or may not shave a few seconds off your time. I usually found that if I stuck to the main road I could maintain a higher speed than I would if I took the trickier shortcut. Still, itís fun to find and explore these orange roads that appear on your map.
The selection of cars, while limited at first, is quite expansive and the more you play the more cars you have available to you. Swapping cars in mid-race can be done by pulling into any gas station along the way, although these are infrequent and easy to miss if you arenít careful. One thing I did not like is that if you change cars at a gas station and then restart the race your changes are not saved and you must pit stop again. And can somebody explain how my entire collection of cars is traveling with me across the country, and staying one step ahead of me?
Speaking of restarting races, this leads to one of my major complaints with The Run. If you wreck your car or fail to meet the timer requirements or fail to pass the required number of cars, the game will RESET to your last checkpoint. You only get 5 Resets per event and when you use them it doesnít rewind the clock, only your position, so your completion times can get inflated. You will also lose valuable XP if you use these Resets. To that end, if I ever wrecked (even once) I would always restart the entire event.
Sadly, wrecks are inevitable and often quite frequent, and even with the game installed to my 360 hard drive, restarting a race took 30-45 seconds. Even worse, the game seems to be a bit indecisive about how far you can leave the road before it automatically invokes the auto-reset. Sometimes I could go entirely into the grass and return to the road and other times the game would reset if only two tires left the pavement.
The game controls much like any arcade racer, especially from the NFS franchise. Each car is ranked by Tiers that includes top speed, acceleration, and handling features. The RWD cars are a bit loose while the FWD work great in the snowy roads of the Rockies, but the AWD cars offer the most reliable handling in all situations, even if you do sacrifice some speed. You can drive from the bumper, hood, or chase view, which leads to my second major complaint in the game.
Ever since the hood view became an option this has become my preferred driving view. It not only gives me the best view of the road, it also allows for realistic handling and sensation of speed. While the game doesnít force you to use any specific view, it practically demands to be played from the chase cam when you are escaping Chicago and making your way across Ohio. In these levels you are either trying to avoid a spotlight from a helicopter, or even worse, trying to dodge these black SUVís being driven by the mob. While I was able to escape the chopper after a few attempts, the SUVís were an entirely different matter. After 30+ failed attempts along I-75, I ultimately was forced to drive from the chase view so I could see and block the SUVís as they attempted to pull alongside or pass me. The experience of driving from this view after 2400 miles of driving from the hood was intolerable and nearly ruined the game for me. Not only is the steering totally wonky (like driving an RC car), it was like playing in slow-motion from that elevated view.
My third and final complaint is reserved for the final race in New York where you are going up against Marcus, the #1 driver you must beat to win the whole shebang. This is a 10 mile race but is so heavily scripted nothing really matters. No matter how good or how bad you do for the first 5 miles the AI will either magically catch up to you or park alongside the road and wait for you to catch up so it can trigger the mandatory cutscene, and what happens after thatÖwell, letís just say that racing in an active subway tunnel is an exercise in frustration and memorization.
For those worried about those moments outside the car, there are only two scripted sequences (after the opening) where you have to hit buttons to keep things moving along and neither of them is particularly hard. You have ample time to hit the buttons and are even allowed a miss or two, and if you do fail, the checkpoints are frequent. None last more than two minutes and if anything, they should get you excited for the possibility of a Mirrorís Edge sequel rumored to be using this same engine.
The best thing that Need for Speed: The Run has going for it is track diversity. While the handful of event types will get repetitive long before you reach the Mississippi, the scenic vistas are so breathtaking it can actually become a distraction, which only makes the fact that there is no instant replay a crime in and of itself. There is a photo mode, but you can only snap a shot after hitting the Start button, so unless you are super-fast, the moment will likely have passed, and itís impossible to snap a picture of a wreck since the slow-motion Wreck-Cam takes over at impact and canít be stopped.
The Frostbite 2 engine, which I understand was created for Battlefield 3, seems to work fairly well for a racing game. There are a few events that are downright ugly, full of bad textures and jaggy cars and trucks that look very last-gen, but other events like Yosemite, the Rockies, Death Valley, South Dakota, and the autumn colors on that twisting road leading into New Jersey were spectacular. Frostbite 2 seems to handle nature and environments very well including intense action events like avalanches in the mountains, chopper chases through train yards, and escaping Chicago in a stolen police car with the entire police force in hot pursuit.
The car models are exquisite, both in the menu screens and on the road. There is plenty of cosmetic car damage; scuffs, dents, broken glass, but nothing that affects handling or performance. You have various kits that will alter the look of the car and lots of color selections, but again, itís all visual. Car stats are fixed and non-upgradable.
The soundtrack is okay. The music pretty much fades into the background drone of engine noise and squealing tires, at least on the default setting. With the absence of EA Trax actually telling me the artist and song title I almost entirely forget about music. The voice acting is surprisingly good for a first attempt at a NFS game with an actual story. The radio chatter for the cops is also entertaining and even informative at times, but expect to hear a lot of it getting repeated the longer these chases last.
Need for Speed: The Run offers a lot of content. The Run took me about 12 hours to complete, but keep in mind I was restarting after each wreck and not using the Reset system. In the future I would recommend a Rewind feature like Forza 4, perhaps with a fixed amount of rewinds seconds per race, versus the checkpoint Reset system. The Challenges basically break down each of the track sections from the story mode and ask you to complete them while meeting or beating fixed time limits to earn bronze, silver, gold, and platinum medals.
The online race modes support up to 8 racers and have you picking a series of events then competing for the top spot. These can be fun and were always lag-free, but the real meat and potatoes is in the story and the Challenge modes where you can grind that XP for month to come. Considering some unlocks donít open until level 20 and beyond, and I was only at level 15 after completing The Run and two Challenge groups, there is a lot more racing to be doneÖ
Need for Speed: The Run could have been a great game, but ultimately it is just a good game with some missed opportunities. I would have loved a real-time race with my friends across the country - not just comparing times, but actually seeing them in the race and tracking their progress on the map, and if they go to bed and I keep playing I gain the lead. While DLC will certainly expand the selection of cars, I can only dream of DLC that would add an alternate path, perhaps across the lower states through new cities, or even a second race to Miami, FL. Maybe they are saving that for the implied sequel.
I enjoyed the refreshing diversity of the 40+ track sections you get to experience as you cross our great country. If you're an overseas gamer this is a great way to experience 3000 miles of American scenery, and the racing is fun despite some problematic game mechanics, namely resets and intolerable load times, but you should definitely take this game for a spin, even if itís just for a rental. But watch out for cops and the mob - those guys play hardball.