The Need for Speed franchise has bounced around the notion of having a story in their single player mode for years now. This change in the single player mode to a story-driven career has seen a whole variety of generic stories that have generally left me dry and wanting more. I eventually gave up and just complained every time a new NFS game came out, wishing they would focus on the cars because the story was usually bland. Finally, developer Blackbox delivers an entertaining joy ride.
Need for Speed The Run, EA and Blackbox’s latest story-driven entry in the racing series, puts you in the seat of the usual array of high-performance and exotic cars, this time as Jack Rourke. Opening the game with a cut scene containing quick time events was an unusual choice (and personally, I HATE quick time events), but you none-the-less wake up in a car, hands tied to the steering wheel, and proceed to escape the vehicle as it’s being crushed. You drive off in an Audi, escape the mob, and meet up with your navigator, Sam Harper. She gets you set up on your cross country run from California to New York with the promise of a nice chunk of money and to help pay off your debt with the mob. Sounds like something straight out of the movies, no?
Unlike pretty much every other Need for Speed game, The Run doesn’t have any races where you complete laps. As you might expect in a cross-country race, everything is “sprint” style, which means you’ll be driving on a long stretch of road.
From checkpoint races to the usual race to first place, The Run offers a small variety of race types. What it lacks in selection, it makes up for with some of the epic races you will partake in. Each of the ten stages has a theme to it; whether it’s mostly dirt roads, open highway, cityscapes, or icy mountain passes, there’s going to be some grand race that ends the chapter. For example, the icy stage in the Rocky Mountains ends with you tearing through a mountainside blast zone while racing against one opponent. Not only are you vying for the victory, but you spend the whole race dodging falling boulders. This sequence and one offered in the last level really made up for some of the short comings, as I was left with an adrenaline rush I haven’t gotten from a racing game in quite some time.
The loading time between events is rather a buzzkill, though. Unlike past NFS games that have a nice chunk of data to install, there is no install option with The Run. It’s aggravating to have a breathtaking moment like the one I mentioned and have it marred by waiting to load the next sequence. Luckily, once the race loads, the transition from cut scene to gameplay is a rather smooth operation.
Another big let down is the lack of tuning cars. Much like the series before the NFS: Underground games, you have a selection of pre-designed cars to choose from. While you can select a kit and color for the standard cars, that’s all. You unlock cars as you play various modes, but once you unlock the car, there is no further progression beyond that. You don’t unlock more kits and you don’t unlock more parts. It’s very straight-forward and it makes sense in the grand-scheme of the story (who has time to tune a car when you are in a race across the country?), but I can’t help feel a little disappointed. You unlock a small selection of cars as you play through the story, but most are unlocked in the multiplayer and challenge series.
Leveling up keeps things mildly fresh as you unlock an assortment of profile icons (including one for use in Battlefield 3) and backgrounds, as well as skills like nitrous and drafting. Your player level from the story mode carries over to challenges to online racing, so it pays to play the other modes before hopping in online matches.
Online racing is a lot of fun and Blackbox makes it interesting by separating things into “playlists.” You only have a few playlists to begin with, but you unlock more by accomplishing objectives in those playlists. Objectives are something I like, as they give you goals specific to that playlist. In the tuner playlist, for example, you complete an objective by accumulating a certain amount of drift points in a race. Each playlist has over a dozen objectives, including group objectives if you are racing with your friends.
After each set of races online, you select the next selection of races and a random wheel will select an additional award for winners – things like a gold trophy for the winner (that can only be won this way, mind you), a bonus car for the top three, or additional XP. The whole structure of The Run’s online mode is something I like but, again, it feels like it is missing something; namely, customization and tuning.
The last mode is the Challenge Series. After each stage you complete in The Run, you unlock a corresponding set of challenges; These are five races, each with a specific car or set of cars in mind. After you complete all five, you earn a reward based on how well you did. A bronze will unlock a car or a profile picture, a silver unlocks backgrounds, and a gold in each challenge will earn you another car. There is also a platinum medal, but I only got two of those, so I’m not sure what you earn if you win a platinum medal on them all.
With the past Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit release, the Autolog has become a standard fixture in the series. This is a competitive feature that acts like a leaderboard, but does a little more. You can find friends-of-friends that play the game and it recommends things to you- such as “suchandsuch beat your time on x-race! Go beat xx:xx:xx to reclaim your spot!” That’s not verbatim, mind you, but you get the point. It’s an endearingly mild way of antagonizing you to go and do something again and little push for you to be competitive. It even carries over to the story, showing you who has the fastest time per stage and overall.
Like every Need for Speed game, I adore the arcade-sim physics. While this isn’t overly realistic like Need for Speed Shift, it still has a still feel that is right at home with the series. My only complaints with the racing itself is the rubber-band AI and the camera. Not only is the camera too close for people like me that like the camera fixed behind the car, but the developers thought it would be funny to tie the camera button to L3. There is a reason that button is a horn, or not used at all in racing games. When things get frantic, or you put just a little too much pressure on the stick, the camera changes to in-car view. Mid-drift, this is a serious problem. And you can’t change the control scheme. It’s quite possibly my biggest gripe about the game, and I hope other racing game developers take note not to follow suit on this terrible design decision.
The rubber-banding AI is nothing new to the series, and keeps it from being a “time trial”, which games like Gran Turismo suffer from if you are better than the AI. Even on Easy mode in The Run, you can pass them on a shortcut with a five second gap, and all of the sudden, despite your perfect driving, they are hot on your heels. It’s aggravating and highly unbelievable when you are in a Porsche 911 and an 80’s Audi Quattro comes snaking up behind you.
While the story is only a few hours long, I have thoroughly enjoyed this entry in the Need for Speed series quite a bit more than the other entries in recent years. If you have any interest in racing games, don’t skip over this one. The sheer excitement some of the races can develop is reason enough, but the interesting take on multiplayer is worth checking out too.
- great graphics; the Frostbite engine is put to full use
- epic races through out the story
- unique and interesting take on multiplayer
- camera button placement, and camera position behind car
- QUICK TIME EVENTS!!!