Need for Speed: The Run Review
Game: Need For Speed: The Run
Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
When you think of a Need for Speed game you think of an arcade racing game that knows exactly what it’s doing, it knows exactly who its audience are and how to get them excited about the game and continue to play it even after the credits have finished rolling. I’ve been playing Need for Speed games since Need for Speed II back in 1997, it’s the game that caused me to run out and buy a force feedback steering wheel and my first ever 3DFX card. I was hooked on the franchise and nothing would have stopped me buying the next games in the franchise, more or less ever since then.
Need for Speed: The Run is developed by EA Black Box, a company that has members of the old Black Box independent company as well as members from EA Canada, the people that created those original, genre defining games back in the mid-90’s. Has the formula that they created for racing games stood the test of time or is Need for Speed: The Run a car crash waiting to happen?
STORY: The story is basically a race from San Francisco, all the way across America to New York. Why do you need to take part in this race exactly? Well, you’re being chased down by various gang members, that’s why. In the trailers that you’ve probably seen for Need for Speed: The Run (especially the one directed by Michael Bay) you will have seen the phrase “Race for your life”, and that’s precisely what you’re doing. The main character, Jackson “Jack” Rourke, got into some undisclosed “trouble” and owes some bad people a lot of money, if he can complete The Run in first place, he’ll get a huge chunk of change that he can either use to pay the people back, or just keep running; we never get to see what choice he actually ends up making.
The story is serviceable and as far as racing games go, quite good. However, it can get in the way of the racing sometimes. At certain points during The Run you’ll be asked to “Beat your rival” but the game never does anything to make you care whether or not you beat them, you’re only doing it because the game is telling you to, not because you actually care that you finish the race in front of this “rival”. It’s nice that the story is there but the people who enjoy the game will enjoy it for its other features.
GRAPHICS: Need for Speed: The Run utilises the Frostbite 2 engine, the same engine that’s running Battlefield 3, and as such looks amazing for the most part, especially during the areas of the game that are outside of the cities. When it gets to the parts that inside each of the major cities everything starts to look a little bland and not nearly as impressive as the other areas of the game world. The lighting however, looks magnificent in all areas of the game and is one of the most visually stunning aspects of the Frostbite 2 engine on the whole.
People have mentioned that (on the Xbox 360 version of the game at least) Need for Speed: The Run experiences quite a lot of screen tearing. This isn’t really a problem for the vast majority of the game as you’ll be going so fast and concentrating so hard on the road, that you’ll only notice it intermittently, but it’s something that people should be made aware of. One of the worst parts of the visuals of the game was the animation of the character while they were doing anything except driving; the walking animation look especially wooden and non-human.
SOUND: The music that plays all the way through Need for Speed: The Run sets the tone of the game very well and most players will enjoy the alternative rock music that accompanies the rolling scenery and intermittent car crashes. The sounds of the engines, which is something car enthusiasts will purposefully look for, have also been lovingly recreated and sound awesome. There’s nothing better than sitting in the Shelby Cobra and just revving that engine. Music is all well and good but the sounds of the engines really take the cake.
The voice acting, however, is one of the most disappointing aspects of the game. They’re not very well performed and can come across as extremely quiet, especially in the case of Jack who just seems to mumble every single line he has. While it is certainly a shame and of slight detriment to the game, it’s not the end of the world – the story isn’t the best example of a videogame storyline anyway, so you’re no missing much.
GAMEPLAY: The main game mode in Need for Speed: The Run is the appropriately named The Run. This is the race from San Francisco to New York City. You pick the car that you want to race in (for the first leg at least) and get going on the race. The first thing that most people will notice will be that the game asks the player to “Race to Las Vegas”, this is an exciting proposition as it implies that you’re getting comfortable for the long haul instead of the usual racer trait of just being a series of individual races. Unfortunately “a series of individual races” is exactly what Need for Speed: The Run turns into and most players will realise this after about 20 minutes of play. Everything in the game is scripted – the game might tell you that you need to get to Vegas in 150th position or less but in actual fact there’s no way you can get there in any higher position than that because everything it scripted. If a race asks you to gain 8 positions it’s because there’s only 8 players in that race. You’ll never be able to drive exceptionally well and gain 9, or even 10 positions. It’s impossible. That is single-handedly the most disappointing aspect of Need for Speed: The Run. Another aspect of The Run and one that had a lot of people concerned when they first saw it in one of the first trailers, was the use of quick-time events. While these certainly do take away from the momentum of the story by making the player perform a set of actions that is totally uncharacteristic of the Need for Speed games, they only occur a handful of times throughout the course of the game so it doesn’t disrupt gameplay as much as it was initially thought.
The Autolog feature that was debuted in last year’s Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is back in full force telling players what they should be doing at all time, via its “Recommendation” tab. This again, is the best part of Need For Speed: The Run, being able to see that that one friend that always seems to beat you in races is a couple of seconds behind you on a particularly difficult track is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Better than any feeling I got during the whole of The Run. That being said there’s only a matter of times you can keep replaying the same track over and over again, beating and losing to the same friends before you get bored and move onto something else.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is hugely enjoyable too, jump into a playlist and play against people all over the world, achieving points, awards and experience all of which go towards your overall level which, as anybody who plays a modern multiplayer first person shooter or an MMO will tell you, means everything. The multiplayer aspect of the game will be the part that will keep people coming back for more, at whatever time of day, once you’ve beaten all of your friend’s times on the Autolog, what better way to show your clear expertise than to jump onto multiplayer and beat everybody else’s time too; win-win.
LONGEVITY: The longevity of Need for Speed: The Run depends entirely on how useful you find the Autolog feature, if only one of your friends has the game and they’re stopped playing it then it’s pretty much totally useless. The multiplayer side of the game is quite enjoyable, especially with the levelling system and the plethora of rewards that are available to unlock but ultimately it will fail to keep people’s attention for more than a short while. Once something else comes along most people will probably migrate away from Need For Speed: The Run.
VERDICT: Need for Speed: The Run tries hard to be the game that a game with the Need for Speed moniker should be but sadly it eventually falls flat. It tries to be too ambitious in a world that really just wants more of the same high octane racing that a Need for Speed game tends to promise. The idea of racing across the country is an ambitious one and one that EA Black Box should be commended for attempting, but at the end of the day driving across an entire country isn’t all that exciting and neither is Need for Speed: The Run.