November 28, 2011
Need for Speed: The Run Review
Its November again, and we all know what that means for racing fans; another Need for Speed. This year we got something just a bit different. Last year, Criterion gave us a superb game in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. A simple racer full of speed and cop chases that hit you primal racing instincts while making you smile every time you hit the turbo button. EA Black Box finally gets to take the NFS reins again after the horrid NFS Undercover. Could EA Black Box redeem itself with The Run or will we get something more miserable and broken than Undercover? The answer is yes, but not an enthusiastic yes.
Need for Speed: The Run is an unusual experiment. Mix one third action movie, one third racer, and one third action game, bake, and what you have is something that is fun but feels awkward. When was the last time you had quick time events in a racing game? I can’t think of one. What EA Black Box has done is taken the cop chases and racing from Hot Pursuit added a paper thin story, and then laid a few Battlefield 3 quick time events for good measure and you have a game that suffers from an identity crisis. But let’s talk about what it gets right.
The Run’s racing is great. The cars handle like they should, the muscle cars back ends swing out, the AWD supercars handle like butter. The sense of speed is there, but could be better. The cop chases are fun with wild crashes involved. The visuals are brilliant. The game runs on Frostbite 2, which makes the vista and canons of the good old US of A absolutely beautiful. The only complaint I have with the visuals is the same that I have had with the Frostbite engine since its inception; the washed out colors. The orchestrated score gets the heart pounding and keeps the tension up despite the razor thin story elements. Despite the story there are some really outstanding set pieces especially the last leg of the race in New York. As much as it frustrated me I must commend Black Box for the overall designed. The career mode is designed like an action game. You have resets that act as lives, the police road blocks are scripted, you will deal with tad bit of QTE’s and you can only change cars at gas stations spread out over the race, but still at heart it’s a racing game just like any other game in the genre. The car list is impressive but most require a handful of challenges to unlock which can be a pain; and there will be pain.
The first pain to come across is the story. You take control of Jack Rourke a slightly cocky douche that has a debt with some mob and you somehow get pulled into a race across the country for some amount of money to do something andzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, yea you see where I am going with this. In a game where it’s being sold as a racer with a story, the story shouldn’t suck; which it does. The camera sucks, but this is just a personal gripe. I normally play racers with the camera farthest from the car; this game doesn’t give me that option. We get two bumper cams and an out of car cam that has me eating the bumper at every turn. Despite having some exciting set pieces half of the game consist of riding through some foothills “making up time” which transfers to time trials or in other words, filler. Even with the filler it comes to another problem, it’s short; Call of Duty short. Now this is just the story, there are challenges to keep you going and unlocking cars, but wasn’t the game selling itself on the concept of a story driven racer? So if the length is rubbish and the story is rubbish what are you left with? Some great looking vistas and a good racer that has this craptacular story façade hanging over its head. The multiplayer could have taken some hints from Hot Pursuit as well because The Run is about as fun as having the runs. You get into a lobby with 8 other people and race a series of point to point races; that’s it. Where are the cop chases, exciting one on one racing from the story, and where is does all this lag come from; shoddy multiplayer design that’s where. There is attack helicopters shooting at you during the story, there is Porsche SUVs with gun toting mob thugs hanging out of them during the story that shoot at you, there is the infamous red tint around the screen showing your health during these chases and none of this can be shared with anyone. One last gripe and we shall trot on is the reset system. I like the idea of a story racer where each race is designed to be a level and within that level you only have some many tries to get through it; that is what we call progression and I am a fan of it. What I don’t like is when after your glorious death sequence involving your supercar crushing itself against some $15,000 Dodge hatchback and metal, plastic, and glass shards are thrown throughout the air like confetti, you have to wait at least 5-10 seconds at a black screen with a pulsing rewind button breaking the action of your high speed metal twisting carnage. You have enough time to down a 12 oz. can of Mountain Dew so that you won’t fall asleep at what is essentially a load screen because someone at Black Box took the day off and failed to keep any sense of immersion.
Now, despite my gripes, I did really enjoy the game. The driving was fun, I never had to diddle with customizing cars and making them look “pimp” (I hate pop culture), and there was a real sense of excitement driving at 150+ while helicopters are shooting at you while cops are in pursuit only to switch to a QTE. There is genuine fun to be had with The Run, but the fun is dabbed into the story instead of the story bathing in it. This is worlds better and much cleaner than Black Boxes last effort but my complaints are outweighing the positives. The game is worth playing if you can get it at a good price or even give it a few days rental. The story driven racer is a unique take on a genre that really hasn’t seen innovation in quite some time. It’s a unique experiment that resulted in a stink bomb rather than a crippling explosion. With a few tweaks, a proper title update, and some worthwhile DLC this could be a title I could return to in the future. It’s not a bad game by any means, it just needed less time between the excitement, a story that won’t be blown away by a slight breeze, and a fleshed out multiplayer.
+ QTE’s don’t get in the way of the racing
+ There are some truly exciting set pieces
+ The games visual presentation is top notch
+ Mixing a story element into an arcade racer and making it work
– Reset time is irritating
– The story is paper thin
– The main character is flat and annoyingly smug
– The main character wasn’t crushed at the beginning of the game
– Call of Duty like length
NFS The Run