Need For Speed: The Run Review
Review By Steve Farrelly @ 11:42am 16/11/11
What a missed opportunity this was.
Never mind the fact this is the third NFS game to emerge in the past 12 or so months while EA’s more superior Burnout franchise has been left stalled at the Kinect-powered red lights in XBLA form (though I can’t argue it isn’t just a bit fun, also NFS: Hot Pursuit -- which was developed by Burnout creators Criterion -- was actually pretty darn decent), and never mind that, for all intents and purposes as the flagship NFS release this year EA Black Box were attempting to bring something new to the table in its narrative.
In fact, you can never mind a lot about Need For Speed: The Run which, while offering a fair amount of fun along its some 4,800 kilometers of road, does little to engage what driving in videogames really ought to be about: a dynamic player-driven narrative based on reactive driving and player-choice.
You could argue that throwing a narrative like this into an arcade title is a bold move, especially with sequences that follow you, a down-on-his-luck racing type named Jack, outside the car and on-foot, but even these are an insult to the wafer-thin story being told. The entire experience holds your hand all the way through with everything following a strict, scripted path that only requires the odd quick-time event interaction from you to get to the next racing challenge and change of scenery.
For anyone interested in a driving game telling a story though, Jack owes the Chicago mob some money. Serious money. So, his last ditch effort is to enter a cross-country race that starts in San Francisco and ends in New York. That’s it. You’re never really told anything new beyond that, which leaves most of the in-game story sequences, that more often than not come in and actually interrupt the racing at-hand, as arbitrary filler at best.
Worse still is that certain levels require specific goals, like beating a particular rival to a specific spot, only half way there when you’re sure you trumped him a while back, he’s rubber-banded to your position and now an in-game cut-scene has broken the ‘challenge’ up anyway. The whole thing really is one big scripted affair that does anything but open up the opportunity for you to actually feel like your superior driving is getting Jack out of trouble and richer in pocket.
It’s not that I want any kind of open-world driving experience with an expansive story I’m in total control of, but in a game of this nature with a story foundation like this, scripted cut-scenes and specific challenges take away any opportunity for me to craft a little of my own narrative through driving style and on-the-fly dynamism against the game’s AI. Though this raises another point entirely. The game’s opposition cars are as stupid as they come, often making major mistakes and crashing into ped cars along the way when they really shouldn’t have. Moreover, the police chase sequences, which can be awesome and hairy at the times, are an all-against-one affair, with me pulling aggro every single time with the cops while the AI apparently get off scott-free (or plain ruin my day by ramming me into the Boys in Blue).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. Some of the in-game challenges and many of the less interrupted race sequences are a lot of fun to engage in, and the game feels best when it’s obvious Black Box are hearkening back to their old days of NFS development. In fact so much so, it’s the closest the series has come to its successful roots in a long time, it’s just that these moments really are few and far between, with everything else feeling more like an interruption than expanded gameplay.
You can knock the game’s single-player story out in a round two-hours or more, depending on your driving and twitch abilities, or your memory for QTEs; scripted roadblocks, hazards et al. And once all is said and done you can jump into the Challenges and vie for a series of Challenge map medals and other unlocks, as well as use Autolog to track your own score against those of your mates or anyone else around the world. Though there’s a severe lack of being able to just tackle these Challenges with whatever car you choose, as they tend to take cues from the campaign, which leaves them fairly dry and empty once you’ve completed them.
Multiplayer, which I had very little time with due to debug constraints, is also a decent affair by measure, with the obligatory XP accrual system that opens up options for you to cement yourself as a stronger contender with each round through unlocks and the like, and for the most part it looks like it’ll work, but like the game’s single-player campaign, it just doesn’t feel meaty enough. At least not yet.
Which leaves us with what the game does best - and that’s look good. Running off DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine they built for Battlefield 3, Need For Speed: The Run is one of the better-looking arcade racers out there, especially when it comes to lighting and particle effects. The poly-count on-screen doesn’t look as high as it could, and to be honest, the review build I played (not retail, mind) did show some slow-down here and there, but there’s no reason this won’t be fixed with a day-one patch, but still, it was noticeable.
The game’s environments are fairly rich in visual diversity thanks to the US locations you’ll visit, with both Chicago and the Colorado Rockies being stand-out levels for me. I did feel like the track variety lacked just that. At times I wasn’t sure if it’d just been mirrored and switched up a bit from one I’d driven on earlier, and I remembered the heyday of early Burnout titles that borrowed heavily from European-based movies like Ronin with their windy mountain-side tracks full of dangerous NPC traffic and sheer drops off to the side. I really think this series could do with a look at somewhere other than the US in the future, and knowing EA, this definitely won’t be the last The Run entry in the Need For Speed series.
All told, racing fans, or fans of arcade racers will get something out of this, though I can’t commit myself to recommend it for purchase during this busy Holiday season with so much other awesomeness around. You’ll find moments of driving glory nestled among a lot of filler or arbitrary ‘story’, and it’s these nuggets that make you wish for the series to return to its successful past. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll just look at the game as another entry in a respected series that perhaps takes too much unnecessary precedence over EA’s better arcade racing franchise, Burnout.
This one is definitely for fans of movies that are both Fast and or Furious.