Need for Speed is a well-established racing franchise, which can be seen through the fact that it now consists of eighteen entries. Let’s focus on the eighteenth entry in particular, Need For Speed: The Run. EA Black Box is back behind the wheel, which hasn’t happened (on consoles) since Need For Speed: Undercover. This comes after another NFS installment this year that was developed by Criterion, which ended up feeling like the developer’s other well-known racer, Burnout.
With Black Box working on Need For Speed once again, will we be treated to the traditional formula we once loved during the days of Most Wanted? Or does this title feel out of place with Need For Speed taking on a new direction lately?
The story present in The Run takes your car and the main character Jack across the USA, from the West Coast to the East Coast. As you go from San Francisco and make your way to New York city, you’ll end up racing through various recognizable locations. Yosemite National Park, the Rocky Mountains and the New Jersey Turnpike are just a few of the areas you’ll speed through. Not only are these locations represented to accurately portray their real-life counterparts, but they look absolutely beautiful. Even as you drift corners and surpass 100MPH, the outstanding visuals are able to steal your focus from time to time, leaving you awe-struck. The best part of all is that these environments are usually teeming with hazards (such as avalanches) that add to the tension and really put your driving skill to the rest.
Variety of Cars
What would a racing game be without a large variety of vehicles? Black Box was sure to toss in enough cars to allow players some room to experiment with the different handling between cars and even car types (ex: muscle and sports cars). Looking to nail those tight corners with extreme precision? Hop in one of the available sports cars. Want to challenge yourself? Drive one of the heavyset muscle cars. Regardless of what vehicle you choose, the overall experience is (usually) a good one. Learning how fast you can make a car go, when to break and other various car control feels great in any car. Black Box successfully found a way to distinguish between each car by adding a little personality to each one.
Variety of Races
If there’s one thing that’s great about The Run (primarily the story), it’s that the races are varied. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll notice that the same race types are rarely places back-to-back. This ensures that you get a feel for everything the game has to offer without deja vu setting in early on. Some races have you trying to pass a specified number of rival racers before making it to the finish line. To keep things somewhat fresh, a variation of this mode is thrown in where you must pass the other vehicles, but you must do so on a more individual basis. Instead of giving you a certain number of cars to pass and letting you go at it before reaching the finish line, this mode (known as battle races) includes a constantly decreasing timer that only extends once you have taken over another vehicle. And, of course, there are still classic modes such as checkpoint races. Here your only opponent is the clock. This mode really lets you enjoy the breakneck speeds that are obtainable as you slam the pedal to the metal.
The Run’s most inviting mode comes from its online component. You’ll be dying to take a break from the AI found in the story that ranges from ramming oncoming traffic consistently to being able to stay ahead of you no matter what. This is where the online multiplayer comes into play. Racing against human competitors is the optimal way to play this game. All of those annoying issues such as unpredictable AI and the poorly-implemented “Rewind” feature are no longer a problem. Much like other modern day games with competitive multiplayer. The Run restricts some playlists until challenges have been completed in the unlocked modes. Fortunately, these challenges involve playing the game normally and have you doing stuff like passing opponents or finishing within the top five. You’ll end up completing challenges without intentionally doing so and end up having all of the playlists ready to go in no time.
Need For Speed: The Run really wants to prove that racing games can have great stories. We saw Fight Night Champion bring a strong story to boxing games, so maybe The Run could achieve the equivalent for racers, right? Apparently not. The story follows Jack Rourke as he breaks the speed limits in every state across the US in pursuit of the $25 million grand prize if he wins this unbelievably long race. He is doing this in hopes of being able to pay back the mob, which he seems to pissed off. How he angered this group of people and why they are going to these great lengths to kill him are never really explained. EA Black Box presents you with a dire situation, but then kind of forgets to tell you how or why you’re a part of this story to begin with. It’s storytelling at its worst.
More and more racing games are utilizing a rewind feature, and most of those games have done it well. This is not one of those games. Instead of actually rewinding the game, you’ll be taken to a black screen with the word “Rewind” on it. Be prepared to stare at this screen for an extended amount of time as it can stay up for quite some time before it actually “rewinds”, and by that I mean “revert you to your last checkpoint.” What makes this feature even worse is that the game can decide you need to rewind even if you stray off the road just a little bit. It really never tells you what is considered “too far” off the beaten path. Sometimes you can drive far off the course without any consequences and other times you’ll stray just a bit and it’ll be set off. There is no rhyme or reason to this rewind mechanic.
Remember when Need For Speed: The Run was first being marketed? One of the biggest features the game was showing off was the on-foot segments. Those ended up becoming QTEs. Even more depressing, they ended up becoming just a small handful of sections throughout the game’s story. We’ve all seen how quick-time events work. A cinematic plays and awaits player input at certain points. It’s not all that exciting most of the time, especially in this case.
While the game’s story has some great set pieces and awesome moments, it’s all over way too fast. I get that the general theme here is to go fast, but I didn’t think that applied to the story’s length. You’ll end up spending between 2.5 and 3 hours on the story. In a time where games cost $60 each, this is unacceptable. But it is a racer and story isn’t the focus, driving is. So, what’s next? There’s a set of challenges that provide the cars and conditions for you. Oh, and there’s that multiplayer aspect I mentioned earlier. What about Free Race? It’s nowhere to be found. You can’t really craft your own racing experience beyond what little tools the game gives you.
Need For Speed: The Run had a lot of potential and looked like a great step towards taking the series back to its former glory. While the cars are fun to drive and the environments are beautiful to look at, that’s really all there is and that won’t last too long. The poorly constructed story does very little to draw the player in. Even once that’s over, there isn’t much else to bring the player in either. Those with access to online will find this game’s best component, online competitive multiplayer. However, if your gaming takes place offline only, you may find this game is only rental-worthy.
[Editor’s Note: Need for Speed: The Run was reviewed on the Xbox 360 hardware. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]Need For Speed: The Run Review,