Need for Speed: The Run (XBOX 360 / PlayStation 3)
The Run is the latest instalment of the now 17 year old Need for Speed franchise and continues the action focused, street racing gameplay that was characteristic of Black Box's other NFS titles as we play as Jack Rourke, a driver with a mob debt which he cannot pay on his own.
Thankfully we know Sam Harper, who directs us to a massive illegal street racing event called "The Run" which is a 3000 mile journey across the continental United States, starting in San Francisco and ending in New York City. Sam informs our character that the prize money is $25 million but we will have to beat over 200 other drivers and cross the finish line first...
The Run is a tournament which consists of multiple short races between cities and landmarks. In the races we have to move our way up the field of 200 racers, go one-on-one with rival drivers, make up time through time trial challenges, escape disaster in action-movie sequences, evade the police and generally speed through beautifully rendered American scenery.
We start the game with what must be pointed out is a scene directly "inspired" by the hit movie Gone in Sixty Seconds
as we find ourselves taped to the steering wheel of a car about to be dropped into a crusher. With deft and timely use of the controller buttons we escape the doomed Porsche, steal a nearby Audi and make a high speed retreat out of the scrapyard. Calamity ensues as we find ourselves being chased by the apparently unobservant mobsters that put us in the car crusher. After a short car chase in which we dodge their automatic gun fire and ultimately lose them by passing in front a timely and unfeasibly long train at a level crossing.
We then make our way to an Asian restaurant where we meet Sam Harper, an old acquaintance from the "neighbourhood" and after a long cut scene the plot of the run is established... essentially very much a turn the brain off action movie, and we all love a bit of that.
Our race begins in the city but quickly travels onto narrow rural roads before climbing up into treacherous icy mountains, across highways, into Chicago and ultimately an autumnal New York.
We don't find ourselves engaged in a 3000 mile non-stop marathon drive, which may have made for an interesting game, the developers have divided the 3000 miles into 10 stages and each stage is broken up into about 5 short races. All in EA have condensed a 3000 mile endurance race into about 2 hours with the usual right to accelerate, left to brake style mechanic.
The races are 1 of 3 types. We are either tasked to overtake a set number of opponents, or catch and overtake a specific cars and hold the lead over them for a number of seconds before they are considered beaten with racing against the clock to reach checkpoints the final mode. The Run also adapts these race types to give us some plot progression such as when we are asked to catch and overtake a specific opponent that has a character background so not just a faceless driver. We are given the NPC bio in the load screen and sometimes rewarded with their car when we are victorious.
There are also a couple of more cinematic scenes where are need to leave the car and run. We are required to press specific button to perform unique actions, generally to evade the police or criminals chasing us before we can locate another car.
As well as the main campaign race mode we also have access to a Challenges mode. This develops and unlocks as we play through the campaign race mode and consists of events which are essentially the same as those in The Run but in greater numbers with medals and experience given as rewards dependant on how well we drive. Completing a section of challenges can also result in a new car being unlocked as well as numerous bonuses associated with levelling up through experience. We are also able to race in an online multiplayer mode where we can take on other players, again on courses that are very similar to The Run.
Need for Speed - The Run also feature Autolog. A form of in-built social competition functionality enabling us to track career progression and compare game stats.
Graphics and Audio
In terms of graphics The Run is a mixed bag. The cut scenes are cinematic in their quality but suffer from low quality face animations. That said the gameplay itself has a high level of graphics quality with the various backgrounds high in detail. The change from snowy mountain road to nocturnal cityscape is excellent and really shows off the Frostbite 2 engine which was also used in Battlefield 3.
Audio is decent thanks to a wide selection of music tracks and realistic driving effects with the voice acting also impressive though there aren't many lines of dialogue and on occasion the police voiceovers are repetitive. Overall though the explosive impacts, thrilling nitrous, and involving tire squealing enhances the experience.
User experience and Conclusion
Overall the game's campaign is fun and initially we are presented with a reasonable action movie style plot however this really could have done with more work to expand the idea past a method to break up the driving and get us to a new car. There is a real lack of character engagement which is enhanced by the very poor animation, something which is very surprising as the scenery and car elements are excellent.
Once we got past our plot issues and some very long load times we get to the racing which has a good feeling of speed but is often very unforgiving. Even a slight deviation from the road, perhaps on a badly judged corner, forces us to reset from the last checkpoint and we are limited to the number of times we can do this. The Run also suffers from the disappointing decision to ensure that the AI opponent's are never be far behind, regardless of track, car type or even if they have recently had a massive crash. We also quickly realised that it doesn't make a difference what car we drive as the AI is designed to be competitive regardless, this may have been intended to create the feeling of intense competition but actually reduces the enjoyment of the game.
Despite issues with plot and some disappointing design decisions The Run's diverse scenery does make it a visually interesting experience when in the countryside. The city races however don't quite have the same impact and all things considered this is a shame as The Run had the potential be a cross country endurance sprint with an interesting back-story, clever structure and great visuals. Sadly Black Box have produced a frustrating game with short, sharp races which could have been so much more.
Impressive car and environment graphics with a decent soundtrack help keep the player interested but a lacklustre plot and short game length disappoint. 70%